Globe-trotting yoga teacher and social activist Seane Corn raises millions of dollars for sex-trafficked children, indigenous tribes trying to save their rain forests, and other forgotten people in developing countries. She trains emerging leaders to do the same. So where, exactly, do the poses fit in? Corn’s philosophy: Explore your own pain through the breath and body, so you can relieve it in the world. It’s not being a beautiful pretzel on the sticky mat. It’s feeling raw sensations in your own skin, plumbing breath into body, letting energy move. Otherwise, and here’s a fairly radical idea, you add to the collective trauma that causes conflict. In other words, it’s an inside job. In her words, there is no them. Corn’s strategy is quite effective. Off the Mat, Into the World, the nonprofit she cofounded, has raised $4.5 million dollars in the past six years for projects such as a children’s eco-center in Haiti, and a birthing center for mothers with AIDS in Uganda. Here’s some wisdom she shared at the International Gathering of Eden Energy Medicine in San Diego last fall, where leading minds in alternative health talked about big ideas.
Corn’s philosophy: Explore your own pain through the breath and body, so you can relieve it in the world.
Watching Corn engage hundreds of people with her street-smart brand of impassioned charisma appears as innate as her wash of sandy blond curls. But Corn insists she was once afraid of public speaking. As in freezing up and turning beet red. As in getting vertigo, laryngitis, and headaches. Corn describes how she lost words when trying to teach her first yoga pose. Feeling tears push out from her eyes, she thought she’d never be a teacher. “My challenge to all of you [is] look at what’s possible. Ask what can be created with the skills and talent you have. I recognized that my fear of public speaking was going to get in the way of me being in service to spirit. We are always challenging our shadow, our limiting beliefs, the things that are blocking us and saying ‘who me?’”
It’s not that you deny your fears, Corn says. You move into relationship with them. Notice the stories you tell yourself. (They can be quite entertaining.) What thoughts come up again and again? The simplest portal back into your body is your breath. Can you pay attention to the breath for one, two, three breaths before the mind wanders? Oh, those again. Now back to the breath. This strategy isn’t just for yoga; it’s for life.
Like life, yoga isn’t all rainbows and incense. We’ve all had experiences that overwhelmed us and left us feeling helpless or hopeless. That’s Corn’s definition of trauma. If we’re not processing those experiences, they stay in our body and become the tension, stress, and anxiety we feel. If we don’t know the way out, food, alcohol, drugs, and sex are tempting vehicles of escape. Corn says she used to scream at rallies for perfectly good causes before she realized rage was the way she disconnected from her body. Then she began learning to feel her feelings, especially the ones she wanted to avoid. “Our work is to see the way in which we’re disconnecting from ourselves because of trauma or our shadow side, which we deny. In the practice of yoga, because we recognize that everything is energy, the unrealized shadow energy is a primal animal that will find its way up and out if we don’t honor it, acknowledge it, and rinse it.”