For many, the name Seane Corn is easily recognizable in the world of yoga and social justice. She is an internationally celebrated teacher and activist who raises awareness through her work and philosophy on and off the mat.
Her teachings, practice and passion have led her to touch, encourage and help people around the world. Besides her fundraising efforts for causes like AIDS and shelters, she is most known for her Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM) campaign, which has reached many people in the yoga and wellness communities and beyond. Worldwide she is considered a modern yogi who isn’t afraid to raise real questions and get her hands dirty.
For Corn, it all started about eight years ago, as an individual effort to mobilize the yoga community around social justice issues. Recognizing the work that needed to be done, she envisioned working with people and helping them utilize their strength through self-inquiry. Corn believes that if we are not prepared to work with different populations, or even understand them, we could burn ourselves out or do more damage than good.
She was teaching workshops called “Spiritual Activism,” through which she realized the need in the community. But she needed collaboration and support, so she joined forces with two of her friends who were involved in social justice — Suzanne Sterling and Hala Khouri. Together, they created a curriculum that bridged the gap between yoga and social justice and taught people how to be part of a collective and apply yogic principles. The idea was to develop a small circle model of leadership and to mobilize a grassroots effort around the U.S. So, they came up with a model in which they trained leaders, the leaders then would go back to their community, work with small groups of people and through this process to tie back to projects in the local community.
Additionally, OTM’s Global Seva Challenge has raised millions of dollars for programs worldwide, giving participants the opportunity to work in “impoverished communities, providing support and aid, implementing projects and teaching yoga when appropriate,” according to their website. They have done projects from building safe houses to transitional homes, libraries, micro-financing, programs for policy makers, advocacy — and won a global green international leadership award for sustainability for their projects.
“It continues to evolve and grow,” Corn said.
Corn likes to create conversation at all social levels, one of the projects was called: “The Huffington Oasis” (OH).
The OH project came to fruition one day, after a conversation between Corn and her student, Arianna Huffington who is an author, columnist and the chair, president and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group. The idea started with how the HuffPost wanted to create a space where people, especially those in the world of politics, could recharge. They both asked themselves: “What would it be like to create sustainable practices for people in power who are making decisions on our behalf, and what would it be like to try to get practices like yoga, or mindfulness practices into government?”
So they created the Huffington Oasis at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). It was an environment where politicians, media, lobbyists and delegates could come between sessions and get organic food, yoga, meditation, tai chi, massages and even organic facials to create a calming environment. DNC is such a big party and there is so much activity that Corn and Huffington thought: “Why not to create something different just to see how it was received?”
“It was a huge, huge success. Very meaningful experience,” Corn said.
For Corn, both her personal practice and her work in the community are very important. She has six things that are non-negotiable in her life, without which she can get “reactive,” she said: yoga, meditation, prayer, therapy, sleep and diet. She is committed to being engaged in the community and to do that effectively she is committed to doing deep inner work. For her, this is especially important in the face of conflict, so her mind and body can stay centered no matter what. If young people are passionate about activism, Corn believes it is important that they are centered, otherwise it is not sustainable.
“I challenge my own perspectives quiet often; I didn’t use to,” she said. “Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know.”
As everyone has, Corn has made some mistakes in the past. Through her spiritual practice she challenges herself daily; she is constantly thinking about her “motives or to look past her own privilege or understanding to see the bigger picture.”
“I try to learn from people who are more informed or more educated than myself,” she said. “I hope that people will never stop challenging themselves.”
Corn sees the media as an important vehicle to share knowledge including the benefits of yoga with the broader audience, but sometimes she is concerned with how some media outlets support the one-dimensional ideals of beauty — often excluding people of color, different abilities and body shapes.
“I would love to see advertising to become much more inclusive, of course,” she said.
Corn believes the representation of diversity in different communities has improved, but still, there is more work to be done.
“To perpetuate the standardized idea of beauty is very detrimental, especially to our young girls and boys,” she added.
It would be helpful if advertising is more diverse overall, she believes, where we would see more people of color or people with varying abilities. She suggests that advertisers can work on expanding their perception of beauty and take more risks, which would ultimately reach people from all walks of life. Also, she believes that creating more low-cost or free community classes would provide accessibility to people who most likely cannot afford a $20 class. Another idea to expand the community, she said, is to provide a sliding scale, not only for classes but also for students who are interested in teacher trainings, but perhaps cannot afford it.
“Yoga is really expensive,” she said and often the people who commit to yoga as their daily exercise are not making a minimum wage.
Corn suggests that with just a few changes, advertisers, studio owners and teachers can be instrumental in broadening the scope of the community, and that will attract more people, she believes. And that is not to say that many people in the community have already been doing and continue to do a tremendous work to invite and work with people from all backgrounds and abilities.
If this united effort takes place, Corn believes that everyone “may feel that [a] studio has a place for them and that they are safe and represented in that studio. Wheel chair accessibility, for example, is also important, or cross gender bathrooms where people who are gender fluid or trans can feel safe coming into that environment,” she said.
“Let’s think about the ways we exclude, so the hypocrisy doesn’t fall on us,” she said. “Let’s be mindful when we say ‘we are all one,’ but who is excluded and how do we open up so they feel as they are at home.”
Corn also believes that some of the most important work she has done is through volunteering.
“There are so many organizations in our own back yard,” to support – you don’t have to go overseas.
“Also, it really matters where you are at in your life,” she said. “At different times of your life your service to the community may look very different. If you have a couple of hours to give, even stuffing envelopes, do it,” she said.
She wishes that every school had a curriculum requiring every student to do volunteer work in order to be able to graduate.
“Getting young people to understand the impact these relationships have and how empowering they are, not only in the communities they were helping, but really on one’s self, its so utterly invaluable,” she said. “Being of service helps to put things into perspective.”
Get to know a bit more about Seane Corn:
The person she would have wanted to practice with at least one more time: Her father. A huge part of her relationship with him consisted of practicing together. Doing so would give her “more joy than her body can handle,” she said.
The person she would want most to collaborate with on a project: Eve Ensler — who is an enormous role model for her, she admitted. ”I would love to do something with her.”
Her fears: Burning out. She is afraid she might do so if she isn’t careful as she shared that her “work ethic is pretty intense.” She also shared that: “It can never be about myself, it has always to be about the bigger picture, the collective.”
The most simple things that make her happy: Her small family. Because of her strong family, their love and support she is “able to fly and create,” she said with a smile.
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