Cop's venture to re-energise after the force with Yoga Energy Menai

Arena to exhale: Sutherland Police officer Kate Karpenko is on a new mission, to support emergency service workers with the effects of on-the-job trauma. Picture: John Veage
Arena to exhale: Sutherland Police officer Kate Karpenko is on a new mission, to support emergency service workers with the effects of on-the-job trauma. Picture: John Veage

From the police force to the yoga space, Kate Karpenko is rolling out the mat and stretching her sights on a different type of service.

The Sutherland Police senior constable is leaving the force this month to pursue a passion where she hopes to give back to the community.

Mrs Karpenko, 42, of Menai, has been an officer for the past nine years, working on the frontline.

It was in her eighth year of work when she began to experience signs of burnout and anxiety.

"I've been to many bad jobs - suicides, family violence, some that have triggered nightmares, and I've had trouble sleeping," she said.

"There's been so much trauma, death and destruction. I've been punched, spat at, threatened, intimidated, followed, and stalked one too many times."

On one of her last incident call-outs, she vomited continuously at the scene.

"The trauma that not only police but others in emergency services go through can shatter resilience over time," she said.

"Making yourself available to the community in moments of despair when in uniform, you are a comfort but you allow their pain to transfer to you.

"A lot of the time we feel less of a person when we say we're not doing so well."

The mother of four launched into a sphere of relaxation - yoga, which she says helps her "reset".

Her husband suggested she try it out, and she has been practicing Bikram since 2010.

One night when leaving a session, she did some online research into yoga in the force. She discovered a program in the US, called Yoga For First Responders.

"I found myself on a plane to Chicago and completed the training as the first international Australian Police practitioner," Mrs Karpenko said.

She returned to Sydney and enrolled in yoga training, picking up other skills along the way including trauma sensitivity and hypnosis. She was on a mission to roll out the same framework to NSW Police and other emergency services.

"I reached out to an assistant commissioner, the head of curriculum at the training academy, and management in our rehabilitation programs," she said. "All positive interactions, however there was no progression in skill set."

So she started to run free classes at Club Vulcan Menai. Most were fully booked, with emergency service workers from across the shire and beyond attending in solid numbers.

They were asking for more, so she opened Yoga Energy Menai, a dedicated, restorative, healing space for people to de-stress after a traumatic day.

Other "empowered" women have jumped on board - psychologists, nurses, teachers and mental health workers. She has also attracted interest in her venture from Police Legacy NSW.

Mrs Karpenko hopes to expand into the corporate sector to increase office productivity, student well-being in schools, and also help those with a disability, sufferers of chronic illness and victims of domestic violence.

"I want to create a ripple effect and create positive energy towards the reduction of mental health," she said.

"Any negative force that needs positive recalibration."

She also wants to apply for council grants to help fund the program, in the aim of providing "survival tools" to reduce conditions including post traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Mrs Karpenko says she is sad to leave the force, and hopes to see officers feel better supported.

"It's slowly coming about but the force is a little old school," she said. "I would have loved to stay but I walk away a different person but with trauma tools to share with all the people I've met."

She will have a pop-up stall at Menai Marketplace on October 8.