Seane Corn believes that the future of Yoga is seva, selfless service. But, it’s not just a belief, it’s something she is helping to manifest as an activist working as the Yoga ambassador for YouthAIDS and as cofounder of Off the Mat, Into the World®. In this interview, she shares the inspiration that led her both onto and off of her mat.
Integral Yoga Magazine: Who inspired you in your Yoga journey?
Seane Corn: I got into Yoga when I was 19. I never had a singular teacher though I had many teachers who were enormous influences, like Sri Aurobindo, Sri Pattabhi Jois, Marianne Williamson, Erich Schiffmann and others. Over the years, my teachers have changed and supported the maturing perspective of my practice. For some, having one teacher is a necessary component, but this is not necessary for all. From the teachers with whom I’ve been blessed to study, I’ve learned that Yoga is an art—key word: art, a creative expression subjective to the individual. As one grows and matures, the art grows. The moment we get it into our heads that our Yoga should look one way, with absolutes imposed, we lose that need to take responsibility and individualize the spiritual practice in accordance with our relationship with God. I’ve had many incredible artists who came into life and brought many colors but, ultimately, handed me the brush.
IYM: How do you view the many styles of Yoga available today?
SC: I believe that there needs to be myriad styles to support myriad personalities. I may not be attracted to the same kind of Yoga as another person but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t find my style. So, I try not to judge the various types of Yoga because I think Yoga is bigger than I think it could be. Yoga is continuing to grow and morph. I don’t know how it will look in the future. I just know that there are millions doing Yoga who didn’t 10 years ago. I may think a particular style is not really Yoga, but some teacher could say what I was doing 20 years ago wasn’t Yoga. It took me 10,000 pushups before I could cry. I needed the physical to get to the emotional.
Today, Yoga is being popularized, and I support its growth and the various voices. I trust we are all in the mystery. I’m proud to be a contributor. I’m committed to keeping my voice authentic, and my voice may change as I grow and mature. I simply try to keep my side of the street clean, be an example, be a good mentor and provide the space to let other teachers ask questions and not make them wrong. I have faith in the direction this practice is taking us.
IYM: What drew you off the mat and into the world?
SC: For years, Yoga practice was about me, especially when I was younger. My practice as all about how it could change my body, my breath and my ability to perceive. Then, something unexpectedly happened gradually after years of doing Yoga: the practice became less about the individual and more about the collective—the Yoga of community. Without reaching out, Yoga practice is so limited. Yoga is about service; it’s not about the stretch but about the reach. That means taking Yoga beyond the mat and living it in all aspects of our lives. Getting on the mat is the first step of awakening. The only step I know now—I’m sure it will deepen—is getting off the mat and extending myself to my community and seeing the connection and knowing it’s my dharma to serve their karma. It’s not my dharma to change their karma but, through love, to serve them.
IYM: How can we best serve?
SC: There are a variety of ways to serve. It can be serving at-risk youth or trying to parent and guiding the soul you’ve been chosen to raise. It took me years to understand Yoga as union—what it means to unite and make whole. The violence, war, terrorism and poverty in world exist as a manifestation of our collective perspectives and actions. The first radical act of activism is to heal that which is disconnected in us and between us, the world and God. A sense of separation and otherness is the opposite of Yoga. It took me 15 years of Yoga to see this interdependency and to realize I could be part of the solution. I had to really look at how much responsibility I was willing to take in my life and in my relationships. Yoga provides us with the understanding of how emotion is trapped in the body. We can use Yoga to access, surrender and deepen our relationship with God.
IYM: Can you tell us about your organization and how others can participate?
SC: The organization, Off the Mat, Into the World, offers a leadership training which helps people learn how to find their purpose and how to activate that purpose in their communities by building organizational skills. We also harness money in the Yoga community to support these activities. We do this by offering a Seva Challenge, wherein individuals try to raise $20,000 in their communities. We take all the money raised and go to places where we can make an impact. One year, we took the funds to Cambodia, and helped out this wonderful organization called the Cambodian Children’s Fund, which actually goes in and rescues children from large garbage dump labor centers and gives them supplies, an education, a home and living skills. We reward those who raise money from the Seva Challenges, by bringing them along as part of a program to have a hands-on experience in the country for which they raised the funds.
Another year we went to Uganda with 20 people. There, we set up an eco-birthing center for people with HIV/AIDS, built a seven-room schoolhouse, and a rehab facility for kids with HIV. We also do challenges in the USA. One year, Seva Challenge participants came to Los Angeles to work with gangs, prostitutes, and at-risk kids.
Our program participants learn skills to enable them to be more effective leaders in their communities. The program includes Yoga, meditation, eating well and finding a spiritual practice. Without these tools, it’s hard to sustain one’s seva, and it’s easy to burn out. We’re trying to put our money where our mouths are by harnessing the ever growing community of yogis. When you do Yoga, you feel better, and then you ask yourself what to do with that. My answer is that service is the future of Yoga. I’m very excited about our community of yogis. My prayer is that our community becomes more unified, regardless of teacher or style. We recognize that what we do is karmic, and it’s a privilege to practice. If we work together utilizing our time, energy, money, Yoga and prayers, we can be impactful. You have to have a certain amount of affluence to practice Yoga—it costs money to take Yoga. So, this community has money and is powerful politically. If we work together to harness our heartfelt values as a community, in unity we can really impact issues of the environment, health care, children’s rights—we can be a force with which to be reckoned.
IYM: What do you hope the current Yoga teachers transmit to newer teachers?
SC: I hope that, as teachers who are more seasoned and experienced, we see beyond our successes and the limitations of fame and continue to reach out to younger teachers to help support their voices and visions. It’s an initiation that has to be passed down. Informally, there were many teachers who recognized my voice and reached out a hand to me and helped support any success I have had. They said, “I recognize your voice, I see what you are doing, here are my phone numbers. Call me if you need any support.” In that spirit, I didn’t have to seek out mentorship, they freely offered it.
We have to pass the baton by supporting younger teachers, by being guides and mentors in whatever way is needed; we need to recognize the voices and talents of a new generation of teachers. I will do that too and make sure, no matter where I’m, to always provide the next generation with as much information and inspiration and to pass the baton. Only then will our commitment to Yoga continue to flourish.
Seane Corn is an internationally celebrated Yoga teacher known for her passionate, dynamic and inspirational style of teaching that incorporates both the physical and spiritual aspects of the Yoga practice. She has authored several DVDs through Gaiam: “Vinyasa Flow Yoga: Uniting Movement and Breath” and ”Vinyasa Flow Yoga: The Body and Beyond,” as well as “Detox Flow Yoga” through Sounds True. Seane is the National Yoga Ambassador for YouthAIDS and is co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World®. For more information: www.seanecorn.com and www.offthematintotheworld.org.
To Donate to Off the Mat: http://www.offthematintotheworld.org/give