Upon first assessment, Seane Corn’s catchy name, curly blonde locks and toned physique grab your attention, but it doesn’t take long to discover that something uniquely powerful exists below the surface. When the internationally-acclaimed yoga teacher and spiritual activist isn’t enjoying rare downtime with her supportive fiancé Al and their treasured cats in the mountainous surrounds of their Los Angeles home, she is busy spreading the seeds of health, happiness and hope across the globe. It’s Seane Corn’s profound commitment and open heart that brings her admirable mission to fruition; making her a precious gem amid a time when the world perhaps needs a little extra love. By By Diana Timmins
Organic transformation of Seane Corn was born in 1966 in the US working class town of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. Despite a happy home life with two brothers and devoted parents, she moved to New York after high school graduation when she was just 17 years old.
Seane Corn began working in city hot spots and loved the change of scenery; the excitement, drama, creativity – and admittedly, drugs and alcohol. She worked as an underage bartender in a gay nightclub called Heaven (situated in an old church rectory), and was adored by the male patrons; particularly a warm-hearted African American man named Billy, who – like many during the 1980s – had HIV/AIDS.
It was Billy who encouraged Corn to, “Ignore the story and see the soul… and remember to love. You will never regret it.” “Billy’s words never left my mind,” says Corn. “He didn’t want me living a life of drugs and alcohol, and was like a guardian angel that helped me make healthier choices. Many others were loving and supportive, giving me guidance when I didn’t have much. They saw my potential – perhaps they saw heart.” Her other job at the trendy Life Café presented additional guardian angels; co-owner David Life and fellow waitress Sharon Gannon, who later founded Jivamukti Yoga.
Life and Gannon’s return from visiting their Indian guru in 1987 ultimately spiked Corn’s interest in yoga. “David’s heart was already really big, but it evolved after he got into yoga,” she recalls. “I saw a deeper level of peace, acceptance and compassion, and was curious; what was he doing that changed the way he dealt with conflict so much? The people I knew doing drugs were avoiding conflict or life by numbing out.
Those doing yoga seemed to have better tools to deal with conflict and be available to life in a different way, and I wanted a taste of that – so I tried yoga. “It made me relaxed, but angels weren’t singing instantaneously. I sensed the physical practice was a gateway to something else, yet that eluded me – until one day I was smoking a cigarette after class, and suddenly it didn’t taste good anymore, didn’t feel good.
Then drugs didn’t feel good, and meat didn’t feel good. I organically eliminated things preventing me from feeling at ease in body and spirit, including relationships. After a few years of processing that way, I was able to say, ‘I have tools, I am happy and yoga actually works’.
Then I heard angels singing.” The teacher emerges In 1992, Corn moved to Los Angeles and landed her dream job as YogaWorks’ receptionist, where she practised consistently with many esteemed teachers.
It was creator of Power Yoga, Bryan Kest, who encouraged Corn to complete teacher training. She then took five 200-hour trainings back-to-back from 1994 to 1996; firstly with Erich Schiffmann, then Maty Ezraty, Lisa Walford and Kest. “I retained about 10 per cent of the first one; maybe 30 per cent of the second,” says Corn, who admits her first three years of teaching were incredibly challenging. “By the time I took my fifth one I thought, ‘I’ve got this’. For me, it was like algebra – if I didn’t understand it on day one, I would never understand it on day two. I couldn’t get the mechanics, so I had to really study until it landed in my body. “I was miserable for the first year of teaching, but faked it well. I was young and insecure, and wanted to make everyone happy – which is impossible.
If more than eight people looked at me, my peripheral vision would blacken. I would get dizzy and lose my train of thought, like stage fright. I was a hardcore asana teacher, but didn’t ‘OM’ or talk about God. I didn’t say ‘Namaste’ because my accent sounded ridiculous.
I loved yoga so much, and thought putting my words to it would minimise my students’ experience.” Regardless, her popularity rapidly grew within the yoga community and the media. “I wasn’t better than half the people in my teacher training – in fact, I was probably the worst – but I got opportunities that others didn’t because I was physically marketable,” says Corn. “I realised that was a trap if I bought into it, and that I had to take advantage of this privilege to help others have a healthier, happier, abundant life.” During this period of soul-searching, Seane Corn became enthralled by mind-body connection and subtle energies, and followed the work of Caroline Myss and Anodea Judith.
Seane Corn also travelled throughout India to study Ashtanga yoga with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and spend time with spiritual mentors at Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Finding her voice for greater good Inspired by many diverse teachers, Corn is renowned for her eclectic approach and magical way of weaving prayers into her teachings.
It turned out that finding the courage to share the poetry in her heart proved to be a leap worth taking. “When I finally decided to pray and offer an intention in class, I was scared – what were people going to think?” she says. “When I opened my eyes, people seemed connected to it. That felt authentic in my heart and I found my voice.
I realised I had ability to hold a transformational space, to be in touch with something greater than my small self in that environment. Once class is over, it dissipates and I am just Seane.” Considering her commitment to activism for social and political change, being “just Seane” is impressive. In 1998, Seane Corn established a yoga program at a Los Angeles shelter for sex trafficked teenage girls, Children of the Night. Motivated by this work and her interactions with gay men during the HIV/AIDS crisis, Corn became a representative for YouthAIDS in 2004 and was named their national yoga ambassador the following year. Regardless of her many accolades, Corn confesses she wasn’t always a healthy activist. “I always had issues around injustice, even as a child; bullying especially triggered something primal within me,” she says.
“I was passionate, but didn’t know how to listen, deal with rage or engage. It took lots of training to learn how to serve in an effective and mindful way.” Sean Corn’s journey led to the birth of non-profit leadership training program Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM), which she co-founded in 2007. OTM bridges the gap between yoga, transformation and social justice by guiding students on an inward journey that enables them to make a difference in their community and beyond.
OTM’s global seva (selfless service) challenge has raised over 4.5 million dollars to fund approximately 40 different projects that address the needs of communities in countries like Cambodia, South Africa, Uganda, Haiti, Ecuador and India. This year’s challenge assists females in Kenya facing the horror of genital mutilation, including the establishment of a safe house. Corn’s commitment to OTM keeps her on the road over 200 days a year, which she manages thanks to her six non-negotiable needs for self-care; yoga, meditation, prayer, good diet, sleep and spiritual therapy. Healing heartbreak One of Corn’s most influential teachers is her Dad, Stuart, who sadly passed away from kidney cancer in 2010 at the age of 67. Corn had introduced him to yoga after her enhanced happiness encouraged him to try it, and he instantly fell in love.
He completed his teacher training in 2003 and taught at Highland Yoga in New Jersey; a job that – unlike his Styrofoam business – was for love not a living. “Yoga was all we talked about; poses, philosophy, psychological aspects,” she proudly recalls. “Dad delved deep and was an excellent teacher.
He was diagnosed with kidney cancer when he began teaching, and donated all the money to the Kidney Cancer Research Centre.” Three months before her Dad passed away, he urged her to teach “yoga for a broken heart” classes. He was concerned by how isolating the individual process of grief can feel, and wanted her to model how to deal with grief publicly, intimately and sincerely; which she began six months after his death when her own grief was raw.
“When Dad was dying, he wasn’t willing for us to suppress our fear, and created a lot of space for our feelings; rage, denial, utter sadness,” Corn says. “He said you have to pray for strength to perceive the experience differently – and yoga helped me perceive his death in a very different way, helped free tension in my body. “Our inherent nature is of God consciousness, of truth and love; the only thing blocking that is trauma, heartbreak, loss, fear. Yoga releases our fragmented pieces to expose what is already within.
I don’t want people walking out of my class thinking ‘I love my body’ – but rather ‘I love my life’. Even during conflict, they recognise that they are being divinely guided and there is opportunity for growth. And the prayer is this; don’t let me miss this moment, but be present so I can learn and grow – not in spite of it, but because of it.” For information on OTM’s leadership programs and online training, visit offthematintotheworld.org.