"The Life-Changing Moment for Me": A Conversation with Seane Corn
Seane Corn is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher and impassioned global activist. Featured in magazines, on NPR, and on Oprah.com, Seane uses her platform to educate, unite, and awaken people through the practice of yoga and beyond. In 2007, she cofounded the nonprofit organization Off the Mat, Into the World.
1440: What compelled you to make the leap from yoga student to yoga teacher?
Seane Corn: Happenstance. I was being dragged by God—kicking and screaming the whole way. It was not my game plan. I was coerced into it by an ex-boyfriend and my mentor who both basically said, “You should do a teacher training. Forget about teaching, it’ll just be good for your practice.”
I went into yoga teacher training very naively. I did not go into it thinking that I would become a teacher. In my first training, I was so overwhelmed and anxious. I found I had an unnatural fear of speaking in front of people, especially when it came to talking about yoga because I loved it so much. Yoga had been a part of my life, at that point, for eight years. It had changed my life, and I never thought words could adequately express my experience of it. I worried that words would minimize yoga’s beauty, power, and the passion I felt for it.
I was also incredibly intimidated, shy, and managed to get through my whole first training without ever teaching a pose. I am challenged when it comes to grasping information, especially mechanical information. I don’t learn in a very linear way. I never have. And so, when someone says, “Well, this bone connects to this bone and that bone connects to that bone,” I’m already lost. My brain can’t grasp that information, so I struggled with the mathematics of it all.
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My first training confirmed for me (or so I thought) that I would never be a teacher, which made me sad. I knew deep inside that I wanted to share this practice. I wouldn’t let myself admit it at the time, but I was deeply disappointed in myself and my patterns of behavior.
The life-changing moment for me came in an advanced teacher training.
How I got into that course, I have no idea because I still hadn’t taught anyone at that point. The time came for our final exam, which was to teach a pose. I remember us all standing rigidly at the front of our mats—me praying to God that when I was picked, I wouldn’t be asked to teach Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose). And sure enough, that is exactly what happened.
I came to the front of the room, and I started to teach. For about three seconds it went well, and then started to spiral. And exactly what I was afraid would happen, happened. I felt dizzy. I lost my train of thought. I forgot the words. I choked. I tried it a second time. My voice cracked. I tried a third time. I almost started to cry. I was so ashamed.
And the next moment really changed my life. I turned to my teacher, Lisa Walford, and asked, “Can I try something different?” She nodded.
I stepped off the mat at the front of the room, I walked into the middle of the room, and once no one was focused on me, I was able to do it. All the words just poured out of me.
I remember feeling this equal exchange of energy—as I spoke, I could feel the energy of the students. Their energy fed me and my energy fed them.
Instead of teaching, instead of leading, I facilitated.
And it was in that moment that I knew I was going to be a teacher. I didn’t know I was going to be a good teacher. That took a lot of time and practice and five back-to-back trainings. But, I knew I was going to teach, and I knew it was in my body to do it. That was 1994 and I have taught yoga ever since.
1440: What would you say to someone eager but afraid to explore this possibility—making the leap from student to teacher?
Seane Corn: I’d say do it. I’d say confront the fear. If I had said no to that experience, it would’ve created the space in my life to say no to everything that scared or intimidated me. Whether I ultimately became a teacher or not was irrelevant. What was important was confronting my limiting beliefs that told me I couldn’t speak, that my words weren’t adequate, that somehow I was unworthy to teach a sacred practice.
I had to burn through that, and the only way to do that was to confront it, and that’s what I would encourage anyone who has that same inkling, who has that small voice within them that says, “I really want to do this, but …” Open your mouth. Take the risk. Had I not done that, had I let the fear in that moment in my very first yoga teacher training exam overwhelm me, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you today. That moment was really defining for me.
Pushing through resistance lets us see what’s on the other side.
And it’s not to say resistance doesn’t continue to come up for me, of course it does. I just have more confidence to break through it, and I’m not overwhelmed whether I succeed or fail.
It’s a matter of going toward that which we resist or what scares us to learn what’s on the other side. I would encourage others to absolutely do the same and develop the confidence to communicate what this practice means to them.
Whether someone is going to be a teacher or make a living at teaching yoga is not the issue. Time, practice, and experience will let that unfold the way it is meant to unfold. But taking the first step is essential. So, I say go for it fully—100 percent.
1440: It can be easy to place yoga teachers on a pedestal and imagine they are “more spiritual” than everyone else. How do you respond to this?
Seane Corn: Yes, that’s true. I respond to this carefully, cautiously. I’ve been a part of the yoga scene for a really long time, and I experienced—at a very young age in my growth as a teacher—a certain amount of visibility and celebrity.
Luckily, I had great guidance, and I was a student of yoga above anything else. My mentors taught me to really see the yoga in this imagined persona people created about me as a “celebrity teacher”—and to notice the attachment and the ego and the ways in which it is an example of the external validating the internal and how that is a huge trapping. It’s a massive trapping. And it’s a massive yoga practice to see that.
There’s also some incredible privilege that comes with having broad reach as a teacher. And so, I took advantage of one while processing the other—meaning that I used the platform in a way that I felt like I was in service to the world around me, rather than my ego. And I made sure that I never bought into the hype.
Becoming a yoga teacher, especially one that gets a lot of attention and is celebrated, can be dangerous if you aren’t paying attention. If I don’t feel good about myself, if I’m feeling insecure or doubtful or whatever, all I have to do is book a class, show up, and I’m going to have 100 people telling me that I’m amazing and incredible. That really can feed the ego in a way, but it’s not sustainable. More importantly, it’s not real.