When Seane Corn first informed her parents she wanted to be a yoga teacher, she didn’t put the odds in her favor. “I told them I would never make any money doing it, but I would live my life feeling happy,” she says. “No one is more surprised than me that it actually ended up being a career!”
That’s putting it mildly. Today, 19 years later, Seane Corn is one of the world’s most renowned yoga teachers and has graced more than 20 magazine covers, done numerous television appearances and starred in four yoga DVDs. She’s also a longtime HIV/AIDS activist and co-founder of Off The Mat, Into The World, an organization that has raised more than $4 million for programs in Cambodia, South Africa, Uganda, Haiti and India.
Seane spends about 250 days out of the year teaching yoga, heading up workshops, speaking at festivals and conducting teacher training. When she’s not on the road, she’s at home in Topanga Canyon, California, soaking up the sunshine, hiking and watching true crime stories on television. She’s a woman who knows her dark side — before discovering yoga she “did a lot of drugs to numb myself” — but prefers to nurture the light within herself and others. Here’s my conversation with Seane Corn, Sweden With Love‘s August cover story:
Seane teaching a class at Wanderlust, a four-day yoga festival, in Whistler, Canada.
Ulrica: You first discovered yoga at 19 and left everything else to pursue it. Why?
Seane: It just felt so good! I was working as a waitress in New York at a place called Life Cafe and my bosses were both yoga practitioners. It pretty instantly changed how I felt about my body. At the time, I was drinking and smoking, and the more I practiced yoga the less I wanted to introduce things into my body that was bad for me. Yoga turned into this tool that helped me make good choices for myself. At the time, I wasn’t interested in anything but perfecting my downward dog! It was all about the physical. It wasn’t until after I did my first yoga teacher training that I got curious about the mind-body connection.
Ulrica: Most of us have experienced moments when what we do is in perfect alignment with who we are. But often we are too scared to follow our calling. What gave you the guts to pursue yoga as a profession?
Seane: I just felt utterly and completely committed. I was so filled with this feeling that this was right. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, even if I never made a dime on it. One of my teachers during my first yoga teacher training told me that to be a yoga teacher, you have to be so filled with yoga that it overflows. That was me. It became my purpose. I just knew that if I could wake up and teach one person yoga, I would be happy. I didn’t even think it was possible to turn it into a career. My parents actually paid for my first yoga teacher training and said it was the best check they ever wrote!
Ulrica: What’s your best advice for others?
Seane: If you have a calling, trust it and stay open to it. Don’t be surprise if it shows up, and when it does go with it! The world needs all of us to commit to love, and self-love is the first step. We can’t love the world if we don’t love ourselves. So go out and find your passion!
Ulrica: Apart from the physical benefits, how has yoga helped you in life?
Seane: It’s given me the tools to be present in my life, and it’s given me the ability not to feel overwhelmed when things get tough or they don’t go my way. It’s basically given me the tools to deal with life, and that’s pretty amazing. Our body holds so many emotions and they have a huge impact on our stress level and wellness. Once I’d made the mind-body connection, there was a wonderful sense of peace.
Seane teaching and lecturing at different Wanderlust locations across the United States.
Ulrica: You’re on the road most of the year. What do you do when you hang out at home in Topanga Canyon?
Seane: I spend a lot of quiet time! Teaching is very social, so when I’m not on the road I want to be very quiet. I love hiking. I also love watching true crime shows or murder mysteries. I’m fascinated by it and can watch it all night long! It’s really dark, I know, but for whatever reason it calms my mind. Some days I’ll watch one after the other. I’m absolutely fixated, and it’s got to be a true story.
Ulrica: That seems to be a little morbid for someone as positive as you!
Seane: I know how bright I can be, but I also know how dark I can go. I definitely have a strong dark side myself. It’s just not activated. If it was, it could be dangerous for me because I did a lot of drugs to numb myself before I found yoga. Now, I don’t want to numb myself anymore. I want to be fully present. And watching those shows gives me an understanding of human nature. How can I appreciate love if I don’t understand the opposite? I’m not afraid of the shadows. They help me to be more empathetic to the human experience.
Ulrica: We all want to find our life’s purpose. Do you feel you’ve found yours?
Seane: Yes, without doubt. Yoga has helped me find my purpose and given me the confidence to activate that purpose. Yoga is about connection, and my purpose is to be of service. If there’s anything happening in the world in terms of the environment, inequality, war, suppression, social injustice…we have to go towards it and shine a light on it. We can never turn our backs, no matter how hard it is. I want to inspire people to get out of their comfort zone and take action. Six years ago, I helped found Off The Mat, Into The World, which is a leadership training program that help people go into action. We’ve raised more than $4 million. We’ve created a birthing center in Uganda, a sustainable bakery in South Africa, helped build transitional homes and done a variety of work in Cambodia, Haiti, Ecuador and the United States. Being of service is one of the most meaningful contributions I can make with my life. That’s my life’s greatest purpose.
Seane Corn was given the Global Green International Environmental Leadership Award in 2013. You can read more about her on her website, on Off The Mat, Into The World, and follow her on Twitter @seanecorn.
Photographs by John Felix Photography, Mario Covic Photography and courtesy of Seane Corn ©2013.