The founder of the Prison Yoga Project in San Quentin and other U.S. prisons has expanded his reach into Europe.
“The demand to have yoga in Europe was high,” Fox said in an interview on Nov. 9. “Europeans understand the value that yoga has for the person, just like Americans do.”
Fox had just wrapped up one of the many yoga classes he holds in SQ’s ARC building, where he teaches his students how to do downward dog and tree poses. He has been making the trip inside the prison to share his unique yoga skills with the SQ residents since 2002, only two years after receiving his certification to teach.
Thirty-four years of practicing yoga outside and inside of prison has been more than fulfilling to Fox, but he had to share the benefits of yoga with the world, he said.
“Yoga is an in-depth path to peace,” Fox said. “U.S. yogis call it the karma effect of yoga service. It’s about taking the benefit of yoga and the tools of it and applying it to others. The personal rewards are the benefit of service,” said Fox.
Fox is determined to share the benefits of yoga with any and all who desire to learn it. However, his teachings are geared more to incarcerated individuals. Moreover, he said that for the past 10 years, he’s noticed that yoga is being more recognized by those in the health care field
“Yoga deals with people’s symptoms related to trauma, and we realize that incarcerated people deal with a multitude of traumas. It takes an embodiment practice to deal with trauma,” said Fox.
There is a distinction between the circumstances that European and American PYP teachers face: European PYP teachers are dealing with refugees. Their issues are a bit more complex, Fox said. They suffer from war and trauma beyond American prisoners’ ordeals.
“Although, the European PYP practices are for the overall wellbeing of the incarcerated refugee person and their approach is the same as PYP practice in the States,” Fox said. “The entire focus is to provide the skills and practices to calm the nervous system of all who are dealing with trauma.”
Fox’s overseas venture got started when the benefits of teaching yoga in prison became widely recognized in the States.
In 2011 Fox started a teacher training program for people who wanted to teach yoga in prison. A friend of his took the course and relocated to France, which ultimately led to having the Prison Yoga Project there.
Once Fox’s counterparts in Europe recognized the potential of having the PYP organization there,
Fox took a three-week trip to Europe this fall to fulfill the demand and launched Europe’s first Prison Yoga Project.
To date Fox has his organization in France, the Netherlands, Sweden and 19 states in the U.S. With up to 75 active teachers in the U.S. and 12 based overseas, he is looking to expand to even more places.
The overseas project is managed by a friend of Fox’s named Josefin Wikström, who is the European program director, Fox said.
“While I’m away, we have staff that take care of things and keep the organization going,” Fox said.
During the program’s expansion, a former correctional officer from an English prison who became a physical education teacher asked Fox for training. Fox said that is the audience he wants to train one day in America.
“We really want to get to a place where we get to share our practices with staff in the prisons so that they can understand what we do and that the CDCR could see the benefit of it,” said Fox.
He commented that his work in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service was quite an experience for him. He also mentioned that Swedish public service television is doing a story on his organization.