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CLC grad and veteran yoga instructor provides 50 free yoga classes this summer

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published May 26, 2021

Stephen Willis served his country in the army for 23 years. He accidentally discovered yoga during his down time while serving in Iraq in 2008.

“It was 110 degrees in the shade, so you can’t do regular physical training out there,” said Willis. “We needed an alternative, so I taught myself yoga by watching YouTube videos and gradually built up my knowledge while abroad and brought it back stateside.”

Steven Willis practicing yoga at a tulip farmIt’s no wonder he describes his yoga philosophy as “warrior poet.” He’s been teaching since he earned his certification from College of Lake County (CLC) in October 2019.

“My classes bring out the yoga warrior in you,” said Willis in his calming voice. The heart of his classes focus on the warrior poses. ““During practice, you find the warrior’s confidence, courage and calm, without the aggression. Then you find the poet, who sees the beauty in every moment of awareness. Then you take them both with you when you leave.”

While searching CLC’s course catalog for classes to take in his free time, Willis, a Round Lake resident, discovered the college offers a yoga teacher training certificate. CLC is one of only two college-credited yoga teacher training institutions in the state. A career concentration in the dance department, students can become a 200-hour certified yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance after taking six classes. Yoga Alliance is the nationally recognized organization that regulates yoga teaching standards. Students, like Willis, who complete the certificate go on to teach Hatha yoga to groups and individuals at yoga studios, fitness centers, park districts and other places.

“Steve is a natural leader and inspired to bring yoga to everyone on the planet,” said Therese Crews, CLC yoga and dance instructor. “He served as chair of the Yoga Club at CLC and helped to create a weekly free yoga class for the community, which also gave our teaching students a place to teach. As a veteran he understands the physical and mental pain suffered by many, and his heart is moved to offer the yoga tools that can take that pain away.”

To bring yoga to everyone, Willis is organizing over 50 free outdoor community classes this summer and fall, in tulip fields, sunflower fields, pumpkin fields and across the Kenosha County Parks.

“I want to reach people who may not normally go to a studio but may try out something fun like yoga in the tulip fields or yoga in the park with friends.” he said. He describes a yoga class as a shared experience that opens your body and your mind. “Each class is an expression of that unity and union that is yoga.”

In retirement, as a former army medic, Willis continues his service by working as a medical technician at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, the local VA Hospital in North Chicago. He is studying to become a PTSD Yoga Therapist.

“Yoga is not about just a physical pose. It’s about what the pose leaves behind.” Willis describes. “More than just an arrangement of our limbs, Yoga is an alignment of those limbs that can open our hearts, our minds and our bodies. It allows us to express a unity, trust, respect and gratitude for all those around us.”

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.