A (very) thin blue line

I could hear my heart thumping in my inner ear, like it was about to explode.

My palms were slick with sweat. Perspiration had dripped from my forehead into my eyes, making me partially blind. It was almost as bad as that time I accidentally pepper-sprayed myself.

I struggled to focus, adjusting my grip and locking my fingers under foot to control the left leg, which was contorted and kicking toward the back of my head. I looked around for some guidance, but found none. It was clear nobody was coming Code Three to bail me out of this one.

I could see Constable Tyler Urquhart, my good friend and former partner, out of my blurry left eye. He was in rough shape.

To my left was Sergeant Mark Steinkampf, doubled over and panting, with both hands on his knees. In front of me, the Great Toby Hinton —  judo master — looked like he was about to lose his lunch. Here were two of the toughest street cops I know, reduced to trembling legs and pools of sweat.

In one last effort, I adjusted my grip and regained my balance.  I leaned forward and kicked my right leg back while stretching my left arm forward for three…two…one…

“And change. Now it’s time for Tuladandasana — Balancing Stick Pose,” the instructor said, as Constable David Steverding walked out of the studio, looking disgusted and defeated.  “Right leg forward, left leg up, arms out like a T.”

“T is for Torture,” he quipped.

Nobody laughed, and I thought about joining Steverding out in the lobby.

We’d arrived here at Bikram Yoga Vancouver about 45 minutes earlier for what Sergeant Hinton had sold as a team building exercise.

Some police units have summer barbecues and Christmas parties to build morale. Others go to football games or do tough-guy Canadian stuff like ball hockey, laser tag or paint ball.

Csts. Andrew Pope (left) and David Steverding take a stab at the Standing Bow.

But sweaty yoga?

At first it sounded like a great idea — a way to burn off a little steam and have a laugh. It’s been a tough few months around the Beat Enforcement Team, with too many calls and too few police officers. Now, with most of us poised to spend Christmas and New Years walking the beat on Hastings Street, it seemed like the perfect time for a good pick-me-up.

I had been excited for the challenge when I walked into the yoga studio, which was heated to 40 degrees Celsius.  I’ve done two Ironmans, and if I can endure 11 hours of non-stop swimming, biking and running, surely I could handle 90 minutes of stretching.

Or so I thought.

I continued on to the next pose, swinging my right arm under my left then twisting my forearms in front of my face. I sat down in an imaginary chair while swinging my right leg over my left and hooking my foot behind the calf — Eagle Pose. My hips felt like they were on fire and I swore my shoulders were about to break off.

P is for pretzel, I thought, wondering how any of this could be considered fun.

I looked around the room one more time. Sergeant Hinton was now face down on the floor. His cotton t-shirt looked like it weighed 20 pounds. Seriously. Who wears cotton to sweaty yoga? Sergeant Steinkampf was shirtless and seated on his mat, sipping coconut water. Constable Urquhart was putting on a brave face, but it was obvious he was losing the battle. There was still no sign of Constable Steverding.

Sergeants Toby Hinton (grey) and Mark Steinkampf.

“Great idea, Toby,” I heard Sergeant Steinkampf say between sips, possibly realizing this effort to build unity was backfiring and sending morale to an ultimate low.

There was no response.

Then the studio door opened and a rush of cool air followed Constable Steverding in from the lobby — a phoenix rising from the ashes.

As he grumbled over to his mat in the corner of the room, he endured an onslaught of chirps and cat-calls from the troops, who appeared to now be finding their strength in his weakness.

He shot back with a “bite me,” as he resumed the posture, or something loosely resembling it.

It’s then that I remembered why we were all here — to have fun and to make fun of each other. After all, only on the West Coast could a burly beat cop’s manhood be questioned for failing to finish a yoga posture.

It’s said that as police officers we are the thin blue line that separates a civil and ordered society from chaos. Here in the yoga studio it’s a thin line indeed — thin as a pair of sweat-soaked Lululemons.

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17 Responses to A (very) thin blue line

  1. MBFA says:

    Oh this made me giggle. Especially imagining some of the officers I know attempting to do this.

    Granted, I wouldn’t be so great at it either. I remember face planting into a mirror once.

  2. Mel says:

    I’m laughing my ass off over here. You all were brave to try it! Yoga is torturous enough without doing it in a boiling hot room. I confess I don’t understand that part of it.

    If you want to take it a step further, you could go to a ballet class. There’s one cardinal rule with ballet: if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not trying hard enough.

  3. Helen says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Thank you for sharing.

  4. Pingback: Eastside Stories: Diary of a Vancouver Beat Cop – A (very) thin blue line | Odd Squad Productions Society (OSP)

  5. Linda says:

    I see your Bikram Yoga and raise you a bellydance lesson 🙂 Great job!

  6. Michael O says:

    This is my favorite blog and I eagerly anticipate each new posting. Being born and raised in Vancouver, but currently (and for the last 6 years) residing in Toronto, this is very welcome read that makes me feel closer to home. Thank you for doing this. I hope you are able to maintain it for a while. m

  7. Jethero says:

    This was a great read and it’s something to smile to after a rubbish week. I’ve been practicing yoga, just about all styles, for about a year and a half and it can still be extremely taxing. No matter how easy one thinks yoga can be a rude awakening is always around the next corner. I echo sentiments of bravery for trying Bikram’s for your first go. Next time something less brutal at another studio can be arranged if you’re all not completely turned off by now.

  8. Walt Southern says:

    Good work Toby but I think there were too many “lucky” challenges in your younger years. Keep up the good work.

  9. Mrs. Jones says:

    You boys work so hard to keep everyone safe. It may be brutal but Bikram’s yoga is the fountain of youth. Take the challenge and keep doing this practise and it will keep you safe while on the streets. You will be clear and your body will work like a well oiled machine even into your elderly years. Its literally the best team “building” idea your lead man could have had; nice job.

  10. Andrew S says:

    Excellent post, Steve; very entertaining. You’ve got an elf? He’ll not hang around for long if you keep pepper-spraying him though.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the subtle heads-up on the typo. My mom does most of my editing, but I guess she dropped the ball on that one.

  11. Dora C says:

    I really enjoyed reading about your first experience with bikram yoga. I was invited by my son David and daughter in law Angela to take one of their spots at Bikram yoga during my most recent visit. I am a retired Marine and recently retired LEO recovering from cardiac surgeries and TIA (in the past 3 years). I have been curious about yoga as a way to become and maintain physical fitness and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it out. Boy howdy! My decades of training, discipline, and sheer willpower were all required to get me through the 90 minutes of intense heat, nonstop poses, and what felt like acidic sweat pouring into my eyes and nostrils. It was not a pretty sight. Nor was it a complete success…but, I loved the experience. And the next day I found that my body was noticeably tauter and straighter.

  12. Gracespirit says:

    Thought of your yoga experience as I read this ad and thought you would like to know you are not alone in your pain… ;o)

  13. sue says:

    You must have fixed the “elf”. You’re a good writer, poet and photographer which all makes your blogs that much more enjoyable to read

    • Steve says:

      Thanks so much for the positive feedback. It’s a big part of what keeps this going. I’m glad you’re a fan

  14. Jonquil Hallgate says:

    Steve – I so admire what you do and how you put a different face on your profession so that people truly understand that you are there to help.

    We are fortunate to have caring colleagues of yours in our community as well.

  15. Pingback: Eastside Stories: Diary of a Vancouver Beat Cop – A (very) thin blue line – ODD SQUAD Productions