Ep. 1 — Zoe James — learn the two words that sparked a 4,000 mile journey

In this podcast, you will learn:

  1. The two words that sent Zoe on a 4,000 mile journey.
  2. How a master of planning learned the art of not thinking.
  3. Why you should choose to have no choice.
  4. How a dreadful experience may be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.
  5. Why your day job might not be as bad as you think it is.
  6. How to free yourself from the anxiety of freedom.

I first met Zoe ten years ago in a busy digital advertising agency. She was an accomplished project manager, and I was pretending to be one.

She was calm under pressure. I was just nervous.

And now I know why: by using yoga to keep her “monkey mind” quiet, she let the craziness pass over her. And when her “Seriously?” moment came, yoga gave her the answer.

Zoe told me about her journey to becoming an established yoga and hypnobirthing instructor. But you don’t need to be a yogi to benefit from her story.

Zoe’s experiences can be applied to your own passions, to help you start your own sideline business doing what you love.

Resources and links


Zoe James worked for over a decade in digital advertising, until one event made her realise this that this wasn’t a career she could be in for the rest of her life. I wanted to know what she did to become a full time yoga and hypnobirthing teacher, so I caught up with her after an early morning yoga class at the 52 Club in London.

Zoe: In the early days of my yoga practice, I think I needed the yoga so much because of the stress at work, because it is, it’s super busy. You fly around all day; there’s a lot of pressure on you, especially as a project manager, because everything kind of is your fault, even when nothing is. Nothing’s ever “yeah, you’ve done a really great job”, but everything is always your fault.

So it was really important for me to maintain a regular yoga practice, because it gave me that balance. Rush around all day at work; let whatever comes my way come, but I’ve got my yoga practice. And I was going about three times a week. And it was so important. It just gives you that space to put thoughts out of your mind. There’s nothing else, apart from when you’re on your yoga mat and you’re practising. Nothing else matters, and it sometimes takes half a class to get into that state, because your mind’s still going “I didn’t do that, I’ve got to do that tomorrow, oh my God, I didn’t speak to that person, I need to phone this person, oh God, that’s happening tomorrow, and I didn’t prepare that for it.” You know, these millions of things going around in your mind, but actually, halfway through the class, they’re gone and you’re just centred and you’re focusing, and you’re tapping into those really good hormones that allow you to calm down. And then by the time you leave, you’ve got so much more clarity.

Paul: It’s really hard, isn’t it, that ‘not thinking’. When we were lying down, earlier on, and I knew I needed to concentrate on my breathing, but I was thinking “where will I put those lights, for this interview?” “No, no, no, Paul. You need to be concentrating. That’s the problem. Forget about the lights. Think about that later.”

Zoe: Yeah, it is, it’s difficult because when we meditate, we’re trying to, sometimes we have a point of focus, so it might be a visualisation, or it could be the breath, or it could be a spot, or a candle, or something. Or sometimes we’re trying to not focus on anything. We’re trying to empty the mind, so we just let the breath flow without any real anchor point. But it’s really hard, because the nature of the mind is to think. And what’s really interesting is, we think of one thing, and that thing leads to another thing, which leads to another thing. And if you imagine, there’s a term “monkey mind”, and the mind, as it travels through one thought to another, it’s almost like a monkey, swinging through branch to branch to branch in the jungle, and sometimes it’s got miles away. And the worst thing we can do is go “how did I even start thinking about this?” and then retrace your steps. And you’re like, “oh right”.

What we need to be doing is, when we catch ourselves thinking, which is perfectly normal, to go “OK. Thinking. Now I’m just going to come back to my breath.” So we let that go. We don’t judge ourselves. Like “oh my God, I’m so crap at meditation. I’m so crap at yoga. I’m supposed to be concentrating. Why can’t I concentrate? Everyone else in the room is concentrating. Why am I not concentrating? Now my knee’s really sore. I shouldn’t have sat like this. I should’ve sat somewhere…” you know, and our mind just goes and goes and goes, so it’s “No. No judgment, no attachment. Just focus on the breath. Be centred.”

And then the mind starts again. But we bring it back. And it’s the more we train ourselves to bring the mind back, to whatever it is, our focus, the more natural that will become and the more space we create in our mind. So we get more clarity, about every aspect of our life. But it’s about really trying to find that space, that emptiness.

Paul: Wow. How soon after, kind of, taking up yoga did you actually start teaching? Because that’s a huge step. I mean, I can’t even imagine it, how…

Zoe: Yeah, it was. To be honest, I was practising yoga for about 12 years, before I finally went to India and got myself a teacher training certificate. Our teaching was about 12 hours a day, for about four and a half weeks.

And we did have… I remember, we did have some Sundays off. My teacher, Lalit Kumar, from Himalaya Yoga Valley, he had been practicing yoga since he was about seven years old. He’d been in Ashrams. His teachers were B.K.S. Iyengar, and Pattabhi Jois. So, really big yoga names, really well thought about teachers, gurus. So that lineage was really important to me as well. So I could learn from Lalit, who had learned from these gurus.

And I think I always knew I wanted to be a yoga teacher, but the timing was never right, the money was never there. And to be honest, I just think, project management for me was amazing. I absolutely loved it. I loved working in Advertising. I loved… the projects I worked on were exciting, but most importantly, the team of people. Everywhere, I would meet fantastic.… you probably know this yourself, but you work with such incredible people, that that kept me in project management for as long I did. But one time, I was on a project, it was a Christmas campaign, and it was, it was challenging, we had a challenging client, and getting the content on the website, which is always one of the biggies, was incredibly challenging. And there was a team of seven people, myself included, who did two all-nighters, back-to-back. So we went into work on the Wednesday and we finished work on the Friday evening.

Paul: Wow.

Zoe: And we worked right the way through.

Paul Ford

London-based digital marketer, helping global brands improve their online marketing for 22 years.

Find me on: Web


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