Ex-journalist Paul Fox thought yoga was the reserve of middle-aged women before he went to a festival and caught the yoga bug himself. Ten years later, and now a respected ashtanga and hatha teacher, his story is one of devotion and transformation.
"I spent 20 years in journalism before becoming a full time yoga teacher. For 15 years, until the Spring of 2004, I was writing national radio news for the BBC at the Television Centre in London – mostly news for Radio Four, Radio Two and Five Live.
Alongside journalism, my passion for yoga was growing. I started a regular practice in 1995 and began teaching two years later. I had always wanted to be a teacher, and yoga gave me an opportunity to teach something that’s precious, wonderful and life-changing.
Taking the plunge
It all happened for me in the summer of 1995 at the Yoga for Health Foundation’s summer yoga festival, where the main guest was Yogi Hari. I just went along because my then wife was a yoga teacher and the festival was a great place to hang out every August for 10 days, and a lovely environment for our two girls.
I was more interested in golf, football and running back then and was insanely prejudiced, thinking that yoga was for plump middle aged women (how insulting!). I watched Yogi Hari doing a yoga demonstration and thought he was amazing – so flexible and strong at the age of 53. I took that home with me!
For the next five years I did the Sivananda practice that he taught and organized teaching trips for him in the UK (he’s based in Florida). I was practicing intensely and a couple of years later I had the opportunity to begin the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY) Teaching Diploma Course.
This is still the industry “gold” standard yoga teaching qualification in the UK and the BWY is the Governing Body for yoga in Britain. It contains every kind of teacher from every kind of tradition and I am proud to be a member of a broad and undogmatic church. The only thing we get shirty about is short cuts to yoga teacher training which can lead to unsafe teaching!
Hooked on ashtanga
About five years ago I hit a wall with my practice and didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I was devouring yoga books at that time – about one a week, because publishers were sending me review copies for the YogaUK website, which my ex-wife set up and runs.
I was sent Liz Lark’s Power Yoga book and I thought that I had better experience ashtanga before trying to write about it. I was still at the BBC then, but living in West Somerset, so it was convenient to finish work on a Friday and run down to Notting Hill to catch an ashtanga class at The Life Centre with a great teacher called Khati. What an eye opener! The heat, the sweat, the flow of the vinyasa. I was hooked and my body started changing and opening up almost immediately.
Soon after I hooked up with John and Lucy Scott, attending workshops and a practice week and then completed the first John Scott ashtanga yoga teacher training course over two years down in Penzance, Cornwall. John and Lucy are still the biggest influence on my practice.
I am a Primary Series practitioner, but as with all yoga it’s not what you do but how you do it. I love the familiarity and depth of understanding that I get from doing the same practice every day (or at least six days a week). It is always different, and knowing the sequence deeply can get you into a blissful meditative state, as you move, breathe and flow with beauty and grace. I feel fantastic after practising: centred, calm and peaceful.
A tool for self-development
Now I teach eight classes a week in and around West Somerset, including Minehead and Taunton. I also have one-to-one students, and some students who come and stay a weekend to do back to back one-to-ones on Saturday and Sunday.
Most of my classes are privately run. I also teach In-Service Training Days for the BWY, teaching other yoga teachers how to adjust students, or introducing BWY members to the Primary Series of ashtanga yoga. I travel around a lot teaching and run a few weekends as well (one on Yoga and the Chakras is coming up in Northamptionshire on June 23 to 25.
Yoga is at the centre of my life. I try to teach what I practice, by practising and studying a lot. As well as being my passion, it pays the bills. I’m also about to start training teachers for the BWY, and am really looking forward to having the same group for three years and watching them transform into yoga teachers.
Before I practised yoga I felt my life was stuck and in a rut. Yoga is an alchemy, it’s transformative and a powerful tool for self development. That can lead to scary changes in your life – it did in mine! But it is better to live life to the full, and be awake to the essence of what is real than to get stuck in the material trap. Yoga has transformed me from a stiff 33 year old to a bendy 43 year old!
A continual process
There are constant challenges, of course. I am still working to open up my back, and dropping back into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel pose) from standing remains a challenge and something that comes and goes. I can feel Second Series looming, but I am in no rush.
There's always more to work on in yoga, physically, mentally, emotionally. It is so multi-levelled that you can never reach the end. I will continue to practice until my last breath, I am sure.
Yoga will continue to grow in popularity, I think. Many more teachers are coming through the system and I don’t think it’s a bubble that will burst. People genuinely benefit from it and feel their lives change for the better."