Tom Gillette, a yoga teacher with over 30 years experience hosts a guided meditative yoga class with live sitar music by Srinivas Reddy at All That Matters. We spoke with these incredible souls to highlight the importance of meditation and how their life path has led to a passion of wellness that we all can benefit from.
How does meditation play a role in your life? Why is it important?
Meditation is a very important part of my life, more so now that I teach both the theory and practice of meditation in Contemplative Studies at Brown. My music is also a type of meditation but it’s different than taking time to focus and develop the mind. Music and meditation go hand in hand for me.
You were an assistant Professor in Gujarat, India for 5 years. Have you lived in India before? What was that experience like?
I spent a lot of of time in India and lived there for long stretches of time but I never lived there until the Gujarat job. It was a challenging experience in some ways, but also an incredibly rewarding one. For good and bad, these days the world is becoming more and more homogenized.
After traveling the world you have come back to Providence, Rhode Island teaching at Brown University. What brought you back to the Ocean State?
Various factors both professional and personal brought me back to RI which has been my family’s home for over thirty years. It feels great to be near family and to be back at my alma mater. Although many things have changed, I’m more amazed by how much has not changed.
What were some of your first impressions of Providence?
My family moved to RI in the late 80s so I went to high school in RI, and then Brown for undergrad, so I knew Providence as a kid but moving here for college was a totally new experience. I enjoyed the eclecticism of the place, and I still do!
After graduation you moved to San Francisco, what brought you there?
I moved to SF to learn Indian music…Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was there, as was his college of music where I studied for some time before I met my guru Pandit Partha Chatterjee.
You have three albums to your credit; Gita in 1999, Sitar and Tabla in 2001 and Herman and Jog in 2008. Albums can be like your own children that you love in very different ways. What makes these creations of art unique?
Each album is indeed a unique entity, a reflection of the time and creative space that I was in at the time. GITA is a solo guitar album and in some ways was the end of one phase of my musical life. After that it was all sitar. Sitar and Tabla was a short EP but in those days you still needed recorded material in the form of CDs or tapes or whatever. Nothing digital. Later we did Hemant and Jog which was more polished but taken from live concert recordings.
Not only have you released albums but you have also released works of literature. Can you tell us a bit of the teaching in these writings?
I work on premodern Indian literature in Sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil. My first book was a translation of an epic poem written in Telugu by a famous south Indian king in the 16th century, and it tells the story of Andal, a young girl infused by a divine love for god. The next two books were translations from Sanskrit of two works by Kalidasa, the most celebrated Sanskrit poet. One is a comedic court play, the other a fanciful love letter.
You travel a significant amount with your music, do you have any future trips coming up?
I just finished a few concerts in Virginia that were really nice. Right now we’re working on a tour of Portugal for next Spring. Usually though I play in RI or MA.
How long have you been accompanying meditation and yoga classes with your live Sitar playing?
Tom and I co-developed Sitar Yoga over the past decade or so. It’s always a delight, and I’ve learned so much from him. A lot of why it works is because we both understand each other well and can let things flow in a natural way.
You have learned from so many wise mentors and gurus? What are a few pillars of advice that has helped build your foundation?
I’ve been blessed with the best teachers, they are the greatest gift. One thing my sitar guru would often say that I always return to is “Mind the present and the future will shape out of it.” For music, I often remember the words of Ustad Amir Khan who said “Music is born from the soul, and to the soul it returns.” Beyond that, my parents are my greatest teachers who taught us to love all.
photo taken from his awesome blog
Tom, We are here specifically to speak about your guided meditative yoga class with Srinivas Reddy playing live Sitar music. Explain the power of having live music in the studio of a class you teach.
This is always a rich moving mystical experience. Ragas, Indian music, have been shown to introduce whole brain synchronicity. When we have a group of people slowing down, getting quiet, put them sweetly into different shapes with their body, and then get the room filled with sitar music, it is like a healing factory. For over 12 years, Srini and I have been running this healing factory and people have reported the most extraordinary things. We attract a packed room.
You have recently started a course called The Next Breath, an online course that leads students through a breath system. Can you tell us about this program and why it’s so important, especially in this day in age?
Breath is fundamental to life. When the breath leaves your body for the last time, that thing you call “You” leaves. This is a big clue. We take the breath for granted and yet it is responsible for all of our life moments. Our mind literally “rides” the breath. When the breath gallops, the mind races. When the breath is slow, the mind goes slow, and starts to become very focused and powerful. The yogic path is about slowing down the rhythmic breath and all these wonderful things happen with the heart and organs.
When did meditation become an important part in your life? Do you meditate daily?
1973 I started Transcendental Meditation. I meditate one hour in the morning from 530 – 630.
What is one piece of advice you would tell your 20 year old self?
Practice yoga poses, enjoy them and get all that they have to teach you, but more importantly, get a breath practice going with the understanding that all the good stuff in yoga and meditation is about the breath. It has always been about the breath. The Breath is your Spirit, your most essential part of your being coming into moment by moment manifestation. Focus on that. When you get old, you will be glad you put your attention there and not get too lost in the postures.
You can experience Live Sitar + Meditative Yoga Wednesday, April 24th from 5:45-7:15pm and every last Wednesday of the month at All That Matters
interview by Chrissy Stewart
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