The Whole Story: Seane Corn’s Recipe for Changing the World

May 26, 2015    BY Rebecca Tolin

When Seane Corn is teaching, there’s this electrical charge in the room. I once took her vinyasa class at a yoga conference and rose into sweaty euphoria from her unyielding calls to live all-out. There were hundreds of us rising and bowing in sync. In those awkward poses, I suddenly believed I could do anything. Be anything. Months later, I found my way to Corn again in a more personal setting. A dozen of us sat in chairs at the International Gathering of Eden Energy Medicine in San Diego. Intimacy added intensity. Corn’s almost-transparent blue eyes shone a determined power that made me sit fully awake for those six hours.

When Seane Corn is teaching, there’s this electrical charge in the room.

So why would this superstar yoga teacher and social activist be speaking at a conference on energy medicine where nary a sticky mat nor pair of boldly patterned yoga tights could be found? Yoga is about moving energy, not just the physical body. And moving energy is about shifting consciousness. Animal-print leggings aside, Corn explained the two disciplines have shared goals. “I’ve always thought of the yoga classroom as an environment where we create magic,” she said. “The magic is simply shifting energy at will. As intuitives, as energy workers, that’s what we do every single time we work with someone with the intention to move them from one state of consciousness into another. We become priests or priestesses of our art.”

That certainly elevates the "yoga-as-exercise" school of thought (though it works beautifully for that too.) Corn has me mesmerized by her street-smart poetry and get-things-done humanitarianism. Her non-profit Off the Mat, Into the World raised $4.5 million dollars in the past six years to help children who have been trafficked for sex, indigenous people who are saving their backyard rain forests, and other oft-unheard or forgotten voices. Off the Mat's guiding principle: Actions come from self-reflective inner work that empower them and the emerging leaders they train to break through personal trauma. Corn is gut-wrenchingly real about her purpose. There’s a living force around her that calls us to step into our own.

“If we want to change what’s happening out there, the violence and all the war, then we can’t point our fingers out,” Corn said. “We have to recognize that what’s happening is a manifestation of our collective thoughts. And if there’s any part of any one of us who’s living in otherness, who hasn’t seen the bigger spiritual picture, who hasn’t let go of their story, if there’s any part of us who has a 'me,' a 'you,' an 'us,' a 'them,' then we are part of the problem.”

I’m thinking that would apply to myself and almost everyone else (maybe not the Dalai Lama). And isn’t that a radical shift, to admit that my humble little self is part of the collective destruction of the planet, and at the same time, a vehicle for its salvation? We know plastics are creating islands of trash in the ocean and hamburgers are displacing rain forests in the Amazon. And what about our diet of thoughts? In a fairy-tale and Hollywood-driven culture, it’s easy to condemn bad guys and hail good ones. But yoga says we’re all interconnected expressions of the same whole. To borrow Corn’s words, there is no "them."

And isn’t that a radical shift, to admit that my humble little self is part of the collective destruction of the planet, and at the same time, a vehicle for its salvation?

“Have we recognized how we’ve needed to make someone else wrong to make ourselves right?" she asks. “If we stand in judgment of someone else, what’s being reflected back is our inability to love. Therefore we have the work to do.”

I live in Southern California where we’re blessed to such a magnitude that roadways seem the closest things to battle zones. When a driver ignores my blinker and fervent attempts to enter his lane before missing my exit, my mind makes up stories about him eating TV dinners alone at night. Another day I’m in a hurry and don’t let a driver in my lane, viewing her as a menace to my mission. I may look up to a yoga teacher and down on a passerby. On and on the mind goes, creating division, even while living in the grace-filled purple mountain majesties of a peaceful land.

Corn’s invitation is to confront those stuck places inside ourselves and notice that our finger-pointing (at our lovers, partners, bosses, teachers, friends, enemies, whoever) is simply a mirror of our own blocks to love. But this doesn't mean it's all "our fault," or that we should slip into self-condemnation. Consider Corn's definition of trauma: Anything that overwhelms our capacity to cope and leaves us feeling hopeless and helpless. These can be fleeting moments long vanished from conscious memory, but they still leave indelible imprints in our psyche. Parts of us shut down to protect these hot embers from getting stoked again; other parts grow sad, or angry, or loud. When Corn began social activism work as a young woman, she used rage to numb off from her own pain, trying to fix things out there. In Western culture, food, alcohol, sex, drugs, and media are readily available vacations. At least for a while. I used frenzied deadlines for a good decade to bypass a rising well of pain I didn’t even realize lived inside me. It wasn’t until my body physically gave out that I began to confront my own scared and desensitized shadow—and even then, not until years had passed and all attempts to find a "miracle cure" and return to my old life had failed woefully. Yoga, along with Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, ayurveda, and Transcendental Meditation provided the container to hold me while pent-up traumas began surfacing.

After a torrent of powerful talks during the week-long Eden Energy Medicine conference, including Corn’s workshop, I lay on my yoga mat one morning and cried. Tears and memories dropped like autumn leaves from a tree. I held pigeon pose—which, if you’re not familiar, can be a red-hot stretch for the hips—feeling the quivering and burning and telling my body "you are safe." I’ve repeated that pose often.

Corn describes it this way. “Yoga means to come together and make whole. It recognizes that there’s no separation between heaven and earth, matter and consciousness, you and I, and there’s no separation between the mind and body. That means that every experience we have has an impact on our cellular tissue. If we’re not processing the experiences, the trauma in our life, then the vibration— actually energy is vibration with information—that vibration has no place to go, but stays in our cells.”

“Yoga means to come together and make whole."

The trauma becomes tension. And who among us doesn’t feel tension in their body, or mind, or relationships, or life? As Corn says, we’ve got work to do. And that work is inside us. Whether you practice yoga or chi gong, paddleboarding or couchsurfing, pay attention to the voices in your head, the sensations in your body, and the rhythm of your breath. In this moment. This moment. And this moment. Whether you're brushing your teeth, scrubbing the floors, tapping the laptop, making love, dinner, or sense of the world.

While leading us through simple poses on the hotel carpet, Corn asked, “How many breaths before you disassociate from your body?” She gauges a person’s commitment to their yoga practice by sustained, steady breath, rather than by how far they can contort their body. What if we gauged our lives this way?

Our daily habits are like the foundation of a house. No amount of expensive framing will later fix a broken floor. And then there are breakthrough events that suddenly open a sweeping window. Sometimes they come as accidents, illness, birth, death, marriage, divorce, graduation, or promotion. And sometimes they happen when in the presence of a person who lives their mission uncompromisingly. Corn shows up on the world stage in a big way, her yoga mat being the door of entry. We each have that opportunity everyday in our own quiet ways, befriending body and breath, boldly walking through whatever doors the world opens to us.

Rebecca Tolin
Rebecca Tolin is a freelance journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker living in San Diego. She writes about Yoga, Ayurveda and holistic living for Yoga Journal, Mother Nature Network and other publications. Rebecca has studied various forms of yoga philosophy, asana and pranayama over the past 10 years. She's an avid practitioner of Transcendental Meditation and is currently enrolled in a year-long Maharishi Ayurveda Wellness Educator Training program.