Healing Through Art and Yoga
This former sheriff and Homeland Security officer found an unusual way to heal from the trauma of his high stress jobs.
Ron Giddings was a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles County for 20 years. Over the course of his long career, he saw the unbelievably horrific things people were capable of doing—to themselves and others. “I never realized how I was being traumatized by my work,” he says, “until the day I was prepared to shoot the right person for the wrong reasons.” That’s when Ron knew his career was over. “I had racked up a number of injuries over the years and qualified for occupational retraining. My wife Libbie (who is a saint by the way) and I decided I should retire and do something less stressful. I wanted work more in line with my passion for aviation.”
So in 2002 Ron went to work for the TSA, in what proved to be another high stress position. Saint Libbie had been teaching yoga for a couple of years by then and convinced her husband to take a few classes to reduce his stress. Although he had no intention of teaching yoga, Ron agreed to take YogaFit’s Level One training. “I wanted a better understanding of yoga and I wanted to have a shared experience with my wife,” Ron remembers. They took several trainings together—just for fun—as Libbie embarked on her 500-hour journey. “I was gaining some insight into the benefits yoga was producing in my life, but I was still not understanding why I was feeling better,” Ron admits.
The TSA, and later Homeland Security, was a very toxic environment. Ron left there and landed at a small private college. One of the benefits of the new job was reduced tuition, so he decided to finish a degree he had started more than 40 years ago. “Because I needed an art class, and I am a hands-on guy, I looked for something more physical and stumbled into ceramics.,” Ron says. He soon found he was spending more time at the throwing wheel than on his work. “I could not understand why it felt so good to create stuff.”
When Ron sits down at the wheel, he says he feels an energy, a connection between his thoughts, his hands and the clay. As a piece is created, that energy becomes part of it, passing through the fire to emerge a finished work—sometimes as art, but mostly as a functioning piece. “I love making functional pieces—mugs, bowls and pitchers—because that allows me to pass along some of the good energy I have put into the work.”
One of the things Ron learned from yoga is the importance of giving back. In his job at the college, he has between 10 and 20 student employees stay with him for much of their college experience. “Each year I make a different series of bowls before graduation,” Ron says, “and I give each student the opportunity to pick a bowl as a way of thanking them for their work.” He sends each piece out with the following commission. “A bowl is just a bowl; you fill it and empty it over and over. It is just like life—we are constantly being filled and emptied. As you go through life, when your bowl is empty have the grace to accept the gifts of others, and when your bowl is full have the wisdom to share.”
In 2013 Libbie and Ron took the Yoga for Warriors class together, which was an incredible eye opener. As they entered the room, Ron immediately staked out a place against a solid wall where he could see the exits. “Being hyper-vigilant, I began to run a threat assessment on all of the people entering the space, he admits. “It probably sounds dumb. I mean, how much danger could a bunch of yoga people present? Still, at the time I had an exclusion zone of 21 feet; anyone within that range had to be classified a threat or non-threat.” Ron did not like to be touched, especially hugged. During the course, Ron was finally able to put a name to his daily experience: PTSD. “I thought PTSD was something for military personnel, but it’s actually real for many people. As a retired cop, I was finally able to understand and learn how to cope with the stress my body was in. Let’s just say I had a meltdown, and I even let Shaye hug me, Baby steps.”
Ron became determined to complete the Warrior 100-hour program, which he did in 2016. “I believe at some point there will be an opportunity to teach in a law enforcement environment,” he says, “but for now I am content to keep learning and exploring the healing process that yoga has introduced me to.” You can reach Ron Giddings, aka The Pottery Guy, at firstname.lastname@example.org