This semester, Wednesdays are silent in the aerobics room of the Fitness Center. With closed eyes, students forget about all of life’s distractions and focus on their breath, posture and the moment of “now.”
Stephen Gillum, a resident of Sarasota, offers over 40 years of experience in the practice of meditation and yoga in his teaching.
Gillum was first interested in yoga and meditation at the age of 18, when he had a spiritual awakening while enduring basic training for the National Guard in the late 1960s. “A euphoria came over me, my ego just kind of dropped, my mind got really quiet,” Gillum told the Catalyst. “At that time I had no experience with yoga, it was just kind of spontaneous.” He said the feeling lasted for several days, in which he was able to let go of his physical and mental stress.
This experience, along with the loss of his father as a teenager, led him to seek out yoga classes. While attending the University of South Florida, Gillum was introduced to teachers from the Sarasota-based Light of Yoga Society. While Gillum admitted “they were kind of culty,” he gained several years of teaching experience from the organization.
Gillum said that he has always been inspired by Japanese Zen philosophy, and also spent time studying under a yoga master in Srinagar, Kashmir, India.
After the Light of Yoga Society disbanded, Gillum opened a restaurant in Cleveland, OH. He moved to Sarasota in 1999, and most recently was the proprietor of the popular Bistro du Monde, which was located just south of the New College campus.
The bistro closed in January after leasing disagreements, so Gillum found himself in retirement, coming to NCF to teach meditation for the first time in years.
Every day, Gillum wakes up at 4:30 every morning and meditates until 7:30 a.m. “Religions didn’t really do it for me,” he said. “The only thing that really made sense to me was yoga.” He emphasized that meditation was always the most appealing portion of his yoga practice, and has plans to write a book about the subject, which would focus on a practical application of the spiritual philosophy behind meditation..
Gillum promotes meditation as a prescription for reducing stress and enhancing the quality of one’s life.
“Just a little bit of practice everyday can really relieve stress and help give you a really good, concrete tool that takes away the tension and stress of busy schedules . . . it’s really insane the pace of life we live today,” he said. “It’s a very good way to calm yourself, to take control of busy situations and to make them fun.”