YJ People's Choice Seva Award scholarship nominee, Good Karma Awards
Founder and Director, Prison Yoga Project
San Francisco, California
After earning his yoga teacher certification in 2000, James Fox decided to reach beyond the yoga studio and bring the practice to people not typically exposed to it. He began teaching youth at a residential treatment center, which led him to teaching in juvenile detention facilities and then adult prisons. “Violence and addiction are the common denominators for most anyone incarcerated,” James says. “I grew up around those influences in Chicago, so I believe I have something to offer these young men.”
James started his program at San Quentin State Prison in Northern California 12 years ago, and he has taught several weekly classes ever since. That teaching provided the catalyst for something much bigger: the Prison Yoga Project, an acclaimed model for bringing yoga into prisons across the country. James’ classes focus on asana, pranayama, and meditation to help prisoners “get into their bodies to release trauma and break through the resulting dissociation,” he says. Also, by teaching students to find their breath and disengage from the reactive mind, it helps them learn impulse control and to defuse potential violence.
Since 2011, James has trained more than 1,000 teachers who teach in more than 75 prisons, jails, and recovery centers both in the U.S. and abroad. His book, Yoga: A Path for Healing and Recovery, was self-published in 2009 and has been sent to more than 10,000 prisoners free of charge, including some who use it as a guide to lead classes behind bars themselves.