City historic preservation manager Al Cox gets in touch with his spiritual side as yoga instructor

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City historic preservation manager Al Cox gets in touch with his spiritual side as yoga instructor
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By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Feck)

In the never-ending cycle of community meetings, public hearings and legislative sessions that accompany each newly proposed development, city staffers work hard to prepare presentations, briefings and other information to help city councilors and planning commissioners make decisions.

This week, historic preservation manager Al Cox recalled working through a 10-hour public hearing at City Hall last Saturday. On Tuesday he was in a morning meeting of the waterfront commission and then a Historic Alexandria resources commission that evening. The next day required his attendance at an evening meeting of the Board of Architectural Review for the Old and Historic District, which can last from 7 p.m. until midnight or later.

It all can get quite stressful and cause great physical strain, and with that in mind Cox turned to yoga to try not only to find some inner peace but give himself a physical workout and a better understanding of how to take care of himself during the long discussions.

“Before [doing yoga], you would have a Coke, go into a six-hour meeting and obviously you’re going to crash in about an hour and a half,” he said. “You sit there tense or angry or whatever; you’re not circulating blood, your shoulders are up around your ears. You’ve got to learn how to breathe. There are very simple breathing exercises you can do while you’re in a council meeting or on the dais at a BAR meeting.”

Cox first took to yoga while managing the city department of planning and zoning’s field office during the construction of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office around the turn of the century and the fast-tracking of 13 additional buildings in Carlyle to kick-start growth in the area. He was introduced to it at what was then Jungle’s Gym at 305 Hooffs Run Drive — now Onelife Fitness — and enjoyed it immediately.

“While I was out [at the USPTO], it was a fairly long and exhausting schedule,” Cox said. “I started doing yoga there because previously we had a very active group of us here in the planning office that played racketball, and I blew out my rotator cuff playing racketball so it was a physical therapy that a therapist had suggested. It’s not as intense, it’s a different kind of exercise but it’s not just sitting and meditating, although that is an important part of it for some people.”

When the field office closed, Cox returned to City Hall and now takes classes at Radiance Yoga at the intersection of Prince and South Washington streets. Two and a half years ago, he decided he wanted to understand more about the art and took a teacher training course at Radiance.

For six months, Cox spent every other weekend in the studio with 14 fellow students, two teachers and their assistants, learning not only how to instruct classes on poses, but also about the philosophy of yoga and other aspects like improving your diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Having qualified from the 200-hour course, Cox said he does not want to become a teacher just yet, but gained a new appreciation for yoga as an art form.

“One of the things I got out of my yoga training was a profound respect for every teacher who ever stood up in front of a class and tried to lead them for an hour and 15 minutes in a good flow,” he said. “You have to give clear directions, you don’t just stand up there and say, ‘OK, everybody, now we’re going to do an arm balance.’

“You have to warm them up. The class doesn’t even realize that the various poses that you’re doing are leading them up to stretching their hamstrings so that you can do a certain pose or warming your back up so you don’t harm it when you’re doing a back bend. I’ve done public presentations for four years, but it’s a whole different deal.”

As for the future, the 62-year-old said he is looking forward to retirement and has already given some thought to teaching yoga in retirement communities, while some of his fellow classmates are considering instruction at military bases and for personnel returning from the frontlines with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the short-term, Cox said he has been asked by City Manager Mark Jinks to teach classes for staff at City Hall on how to reduce stress, something he said intrigues him, especially with the stress of holidays not far away.

“[Jinks’ request] certainly added to my stress, though that wasn’t his intention,” Cox said. “I’ve been talking to my teachers and doing some research to try and put together some simple classes to try and help some of the staff cope with the meetings that we have to go through and sit through and the case workload we have here.

“Our September for BAR cases is twice the volume it was last September. We have one of those hamster-wheel workloads here.”

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