Seane Corn is an internationally renowned yoga instructor and activist whose work with HIV/AIDS has touched youth across the globe. We sat down with Corn to discuss her Off the Mat campaign, her journey with yoga and how a struggle with the shadow self can lead us to unimaginable heights.
Conscious Connection: It’s a pleasure to be with you, Seane. Please tell us how you got started with yoga and when you were first introduced.
Seane Corn: I was first introduced to yoga in the eighties. I lived in New York and worked at a restaurant called Life Café. It was owned by David Life and Sharon Gannon, who later opened the Jivamukti yoga school. At the time I was young and partying a lot. [David and Sharon] got into yoga, and as a result of learning more about yoga and applying some of the tools I stopped drinking, stopped smoking, stopped eating meat and became more aware. I’m making it sound like it happened overnight but it was a long process.
Conscious Connection: You were pretty young when you worked at this café. How long did it take before you transitioned to a more yogic lifestyle?
Seane Corn: From 17 to 19 my partying was pretty hard core. When I got into yoga it took me another year. I mean, I would do my yoga practice and then party with friends. One to me had nothing to do with the other. It’s just that suddenly drinking didn’t feel good on my body. Then coke didn’t feel good. It wasn’t a deep thought process, it was very organic. Things just stopped feeling good and yoga felt better than coke. It felt better than ecstasy. It felt better than all that stuff.
The more yoga I did the happier I became. It didn’t mean conflict went away, I just cultivated tools to deal with stress in a different way. If something pissed me off I was able to stay in my body. I didn’t need to scream, shut down, overeat, or do drugs. I just dealt with the situation as it was and tried to be mindful.
I haven’t been given that luxury of moving into the light aspects of the human experience. I’ve always had to dance in the shadow. But it’s my connection to the shadow that’s allowed me to be as compassionate as I can be. Because I know very well its opposite.
We desire enlightenment. In yoga it’s called the Samadhi. But to understand the light you also have to understand the dark. The closest I can come to understanding enlightenment is that it’s love. I know, if I believe I’m in this conscious body to learn what love is, then the opposite must also be true. To understand love, I have to understand and respect what love isn’t. How do I move into the experience of forgiveness, of compassion, without also understanding heartbreak?
Yoga teaches us that everything is connected. The word means “union,” which means we cannot make something like our shadow self separate. We have to be in relationship to it. From rage to unresolved grief to shame to guilt, everything in life is vibration. If we don’t have the skills to process these feelings and we repress them, that’s suppressed vibration or energy that becomes tension in our bodies.
If we’re not comfortable looking at these emotions, we use food, sex, drugs or alcohol to numb ourselves, rather than just being present to that normal part of our human experience. Yoga teaches us not to change who we are. It encourages us to embrace what is, but to shift our perception so we can learn from it, grow from it, expand.
Conscious Connection: I think that’s great advice, especially for our readers who feel lost on their path of self-habilitation. Tell me a little about your work with activists and organizations you’re involved with now.
Seane Corn: The organization I cofounded is Off the Mat Into the World. It came from my need for now what? Now that I’m happier and healthier and have tools to deal with my stress, trauma and feelings, what do I do with this energy? I’ve always had issues around injustice and yoga taught me to have my passion and values but not make someone else wrong so that I can be right. I saw in the yoga community people with high ideals and shared ethical beliefs.
Off the Mat takes people through a process of self-inquiry. It starts with the individual and moves to the collective by helping people find and activate their purpose in their local communities. We’re trying to motivate the yoga community to get involved in action.
The Global Seva Challenge is an annual program within Off the Mat that challenges the community to raise $20,000 and focuses on a different culture and theme such as Cambodia, Uganda, South Africa and Haiti. This year we’re focusing on environmental justice in Ecuador, a country that’s sold millions of acres of rainforest to China.
Conscious Connection: You’ve built a successful career and used it to give back so much. What advice can you give our readers who want something similar for their own lives?
Seane Corn: I think it’s a great question because I don’t want to assume the way I’ve gone about it is the way. Service shows up in a different way and people can get into that place of comparing.
My contribution looks kind of big, and in some ways glamorous. I hope people look at their lives realistically, take a conscious inventory about what they can and cannot create at this time and know they have talents that are essential. Somebody might be great at spreadsheets and spreadsheets become their service. Be realistic while exploring the edge a little bit. I explore my edges as an activist. I see the places where I shine and I certainly know the places where I don’t.
For people who want to get involved with service, check where it’s coming from. Check if there’s something you want to change or if you just want to fix something else because you’re uncomfortable in your own skin. If you have that call, answer it, but continue doing work on yourself and check in with the idea that service should look a specific way. Really, any time we’re acting for the good of others and in alignment with spirit is a form of activism that creates major shifts. It’s those shifts of consciousness that ultimately create peace.