J. Steven Willard is an asana teacher, meditation coach, podcast host, officiant, contrarian, and Stoic. As a yogi, his intention is to share the tools that both saved and changed his life. His podcast There Once Was A Yogi is fun, informative, and provocative, an unfiltered, unedited, and totally in the moment experience. Follow him on Instagram at @thereoncewasayogi and on Facebook at @jstevenwillard.
1. What first drew you to Stoicism?
I’ve been down almost every “spiritual” path. I rarely found solace in them. They fit like a shirt purchased at an outlet. Did the job, but was ill fitting. I bristle at the idea of “change your thoughts, change your life,” it’s not that easy… I find the ideas of fortitude, resilience and cultivating virtue to be much more practical and frankly obtainable.
2. How would you describe your practice of yoga?
My practice in my 20s was very physical. How can I advance? Go deeper in a pose, etc. In my 50s I’m more focused on sustainability and function. How can I keep my body strong and healthy? I used to approach my practice as something that had to be challenging everyday. I had to get sweaty. Today I honor my body in that moment. Some days are vigorous, some calming.
3. What similarities do you see between your practice and Stoicism?
Yoga means union, joining your ego and your true nature. Stoicism is about learning a way to not have my actions controlled by my emotions. Can I respond vs. react? Controlling the things I can has made its way to the mat. If I have aches or injuries, I honor that and back off or work around it.
4. What lesson could Stoics learn from yoga?
Our bodies are great barometers about what’s going on within. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Remember too that many common annoyances are pain in disguise, such as sleepiness, fever and loss of appetite. When they start to get you down, tell yourself you are giving in to pain.” Breath, movement, stretching can be great tools to pause, question, then respond. Or not.
5. When was the last time you screamed your lungs out for any reason?
A few days ago! I read about a group of mothers that get together once a week and just scream for 10 minutes. I’m a big proponent of releasing emotion! Be it laughter, sadness, or anger.
Bonus question: What should we have asked you, and what’s the answer?
Hmmm, I’d love to explore Stoicism & LGBTQ+ community, but that is a very broad topic. Instead, here’s one of my favorite quotes, from Epictetus: “Remember that it is not he who reviles you or strikes you, who insults you, but it is your opinion about these things as being insulting.”
Great read! Steven sounds like an extremely wise fella. I had no idea what stoicism was before reading this, and absolutely love it. Without knowing its name, it is something I’ve been slowly incorporating into my own life.
That’s fantastic, Erin! There are lots of great resources for learning about Stoicism. In addition to our book “Wise Up,” Sharon Lebell’s translation of Epictetus, titled “The Art of Living,” is a very accessible introduction to Stoicism. Donald Robertson’s “Verissimus” is a biography of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in graphic novel format. You could also try signing up for Ryan Holiday’s “Daily Stoic” emails, which will give you a good nugget of wisdom each day. Good luck on your Stoic journey!
Steve! Bravo! So wise to consider how Stoicism and the LBGTQ+ communities unite!