A Conversation With Seane Corn

Conscious Life Journal: I would love to hear you talk about your conscious activism. Would you share how that came about for you?

Seane Corn: I’ve been involved in activism and social justice work for a long time, in fact, back to the 80s, but my activism lived very separately from my yoga. Activism is so outward where yoga is so inward, and with activism you always had to be against something. So I was always in it for the fight. Yoga is always inviting you to look at what you’re for. It’s looking for relationship or integration. So I kept those worlds very separate until I realized, as I matured in my yoga practice, that there is no separation, that activism without consciousness continues to create the same opposition, the same “otherizing” that creates so many problems in the world today. Instead of being against something, I needed to find ways to communicate and to express social change, but from a more integrated loving and compassionate place. Those two worlds for me are no longer separate. My activism and my yoga are one and the same.

In the practice of yoga we’re taught that we are all one and, therefore, if anybody is suffering, including the planet, then I’m also suffering, and it’s my responsibility to activate change by the choices that I make. If I don’t, then I’m not truly practicing yoga. So that’s really where my work personally began, and then I chose to use the platform that I’ve been given to inspire others into leadership.

CLJ: Tell us about trauma and how we store those emotions in our body.

SC: Trauma is defined as anything that overwhelms our capacity to cope and leaves us feeling helpless, hopeless, or out of control. In the practice of yoga we’re taught that there’s no separation between anything, that everything is connected, and that includes our thoughts and our physiology, our mind and our body. Often when we think of trauma we think of shock trauma, those big unimaginable events. But we also experience developmental trauma, events often from our childhood that are overwhelming—bullying, divorce, death of a loved one. During trauma, chemicals release from our brain into our body and hormones are released, and we’re put into fight, flight, freeze, or collapse. In yoga we’re taught that what binds us is energy. Energy is vibration with information. Often associated with trauma are the emotions of fear, shame, rage, guilt, grief. If we’re processing these emotions, if we’re given the opportunity to cry, rage, scream, yell, we move the energy through us. But unfortunately, especially as kids, we suppress the big feelings, the big emotions, and that suppressed energy becomes tension. Tension, stress, and anxiety are the number one causes of illness and disease today. And they come up in our body as sensations that we want to change. What happens in the practice of yoga is we stretch the muscles and the emotions that are living within the tissue, then that tension releases, and we begin to have an emotional experience. That’s why yoga is so profound and why it can lead not only to great healing but true insight, because the suppressed emotion that’s buried within the system has a chance to release. And it’s only through what we can see that we can actually change.

I was born flexible and strong. So when I go into a pose, I can fold forward, and someone can look at my body and say oh, that’s an advanced yogi because of my flexibility. Someone else right next to me who doesn’t have the same genetics or is dealing with injury could fold forward and barely move. And the observer says well, that’s a beginner. I might have to physically go deeper to get to the same edge as the person next to me, but the yoga begins when we get to that edge based on our reactivity. I’m a flexible person but I may be zoning out, picking at my toes, looking around the room, not present. Whereas the person perceived as the beginner may be in their edge, breathing, focused, observing what’s coming up, noticing their reactivity. That’s the advanced or mature practitioner. It has nothing to do with physiology and everything to do with the willingness to stay present with the discomfort and observe what arises. Everybody has an opportunity to connect with the energy that’s suppressed within them. It’s not how it looks, it’s how it feels.

CLJ: So where do acceptance and surrender come in?

SC: This is the beauty of the practice of yoga. You can’t do it wrong. No matter what choice you make, something will hold a mirror up to the choice that you made. Let’s say I’m in a pose right at my discomfort and I finally accept that I can’t do this anymore, so I come out of the pose. But once I do that, a voice in my head says You’re weak. You quit at everything that you do. That’s a gift. Who is that? Where is that coming from? To bear witness to those thoughts and be really present and curious is what ultimately leads to surrender. Now if you come out of a pose and you’ve accepted it and you’re just fine with it, that’s a different kind of acceptance. It’s a different kind of surrender. Neither is right or wrong. It’s really about observing what comes up and being present to that as a part of the experience. The practice of yoga is a process that brings us into deep inquiry so that we can meet our ego and be able to recognize how we show up in life.

CLJ: How do you get people to that place of first accepting who they are?

SC: The more one practices yoga and becomes stable in the experience the more self-confidence naturally develops. It goes from the physical/mental realm to the energetic/emotional to the psychic/symbolic. The first step is helping someone to get back in their skin and be reintroduced to their bones and their flesh and their muscles in a different way. In time, energy moves and when tension releases you feel different. You begin to connect to your vulnerability. Connecting to your vulnerability gets you out of your head and into your heart and moves you toward surrender, toward acceptance. When we’re tense we’re reactive. When we soften we’re more responsive. So when a student gets to that place, I might introduce looking at the ways in which society has fed us ideas about what it means to be beautiful or perfect or idealized based on some very unrealistic standard. I invite people to be in that inquiry. The practice of yoga is ultimately about love—love of self and love of others. If changing habits can help them move towards optimal health—experiencing the fullness of life, body, mind, and spirit—that’s something that I would support. My job is simply to help people get back into their bodies and provide tools for their own investigation, whatever that might look like.

CLJ: Is there any guide to getting started or choosing a place to do yoga?

SC: If you can afford it, and if you have access to a teacher and a school, then I recommend being in person because it’s just more helpful to know that there’s a teacher nearby who can help you make adjustments in your body. That would always be key. If it was my mom, I would want her to go to an Iyengar certified yoga teacher who understands alignment. That kind of yoga is very therapeutic, it’s very instructional, it can often be quite dry, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But when you learn how to do these poses you can go into any dynamic flow class in the world and know how to take care of your particular body. You’ll know how to make your modifications, you’ll know how to use your blocks, straps, and all your props. If they’re going to do it online, because that’s what’s most convenient, accessible, or affordable, I would recommend teachers who are driven by alignment, like Jason Crandell and Annie Carpenter. Then I would recommend going to classes and just exploring and noting maybe you like music in the room, maybe you don’t. But learning alignment, learning breath, learning some of the basic principles of yoga can really help to deepen the experience in the long run and avoid injury. Then make this a part of your curriculum. Make the commitment to do an Iyengar class once a week, then the rest of the time you can just go rogue.

CLJ: Tell me a little bit about your book and your video series.

SC: The Yoga of Awakening DVDs contain three programs, thirty hours of content. The first DVD deals with the mind and body connection—how to do the poses, how to breathe correctly, what’s happening in the experience, and how to modify the poses so you don’t get injured. The second program, Chakra Flow, goes much deeper into trauma, the mind/body experience, and the way in which narrative lives within our body and how we can use yoga as a way to unleash some of these suppressed stories or narratives so that we can get insight and feeling. I talk symbolically about what stories or traumas get held in those particular body parts and how to stay present to the sensation, especially when you want to cut and run. The third program, Mystic Flow, is about the “we,” the collective. How can I, through the practice of yoga, begin to use this energy to be of service, pray, to engage, to activate change. My book is a balance of personal narrative from my experience of yoga back in the 80s to different life experiences that happened to me. After each narrative is a teaching that invites everyone to reframe their own narrative, to see the value even in the devastation, in the heartbreak and in the loss, to see how the universe seems to conspire to mature our souls, to bring us to love.

CLJ: You said our stories are stored in some of our body parts. Can you give me an example of a body part and what possible story can be stored there?

SC: Remember, energy is vibration with information. The chakras are responsible for delivering prana or energy to different parts of the body. Each chakra holds a different kind of information and impacts a different part of the body. Let’s say I’m in conversation with someone and I notice they’re putting their hand over their belly. The third chakra is the way we give away our power or take it back. It affects all the vital organs in the body that include the liver, gall bladder, spleen, pancreas, kidney, adrenals, and the stomach itself. When someone puts their hands over their stomach like that, it means they’re starting to feel insecure, doubting, second-guessing themselves, or I’m being too intense and they’re trying to protect themselves from my energy. But this is historical. It’s not happening in present time. They’ve actually time traveled to another trauma when they didn’t have the words or ability to call their power back.

That’s why yoga’s so important. That’s why understanding chakras and the energy system is important, and understanding the way in which trauma and our personal narrative live within our body, not just in present time but also historically. It’s important to look back at our history, our ethnicity, our religion, our education, our gender, and see what is it that we learned. How does it live in our body? How does it affect the way in which we see the world today? How does it affect the way in which the world experiences us?

Yoga gives us insight. It’s so much more than just the stretch. It’s the experience. It doesn’t matter what physical limitations you think you have. Because it only happens based on what we’re willing to see, and within that awareness we can change our perspective and, as a result, become empowered. And if we become empowered and walk around making healthier, more mindful, more loving choices, then who cares if you can bend over and grab hold of your ankles? Who cares about that extra five pounds or whatever you’re kvetching about? It’s about the love. The yoga practice helps us to see the ways in which we separate ourselves from our own empowerment and heal that. And that’s where real change comes from.

Seane Corn is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher known for her impassioned activism, unique self-expression, and inspirational style of teaching. Featured in commercials, magazines, NPR, and Oprah.com, Seane now utilizes her national platform to bring awareness to global humanitarian issues. In 2005, she was named “National Yoga Ambassador” for YouthAIDS and in 2013 was given the “Global Green International Environmental Leadership Award.” Since 2007, she has been training leaders of activism through her co-founded organization Off the Mat, Into the World®. Seane has spent time in the US, India, Cambodia, Haiti, and Africa working with communities in need, teaching yoga, providing support for child labor, and educating people about HIV/AIDS prevention. Seane is also co-founder of the Seva Challenge Humanitarian Tours, which have raised roughly $4.5 million since 2007, getting the yoga community involved in fund and awareness raising efforts across the globe. Her self-authored DVDs are available through Gaiam and Yoga Journal, as well as her most recent ground-breaking 3-DVD set “The Yoga of Awakening” through Sounds True. She is currently working on her first book. www.seanecorn.com