Tami Simon: You are listening to Insights at the Edge. Today we’re rebroadcasting a conversation that I had several years ago with Seane Corn, a conversation that particularly moved my heart. Seane is an internationally acclaimed yoga teacher who has been featured in nearly fifty different print and broadcast media, including Yoga Journal and The Today Show. She is an active humanitarian and advocate for social change, and is also the national yoga ambassador for youth AIDS and has conducted humanitarian work in India, Cambodia, and Africa. With Sounds True, Seane has created an audio program on Detox Flow Yoga, as well as a new DVD series that’s in production on Chakra Flow Yoga. Seane Corn will also be with us at the 2013 Wake Up Festival, August 14–18 in Estes Park, Colorado. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Seane and I spoke about some of the deeper dimensions of yoga practice, her unusual life story, and her work as an empowered and empowering yogini. Here’s my conversation with Seane Corn.
I am wondering just to start, tell me a little bit about what originally drew you to yoga. How old you were, what was happening in your life, how did you know that the path of yoga was the right path for you.
Seane Corn: Well, I didn’t know that the path of yoga was going to be any kind of path for me. I was really fortunate. I moved to New York City when I was just out of high school, so I was still seventeen, and one of my many jobs was working in a café down on the lower East Side called Life Café. And as the fates would have it, the owner of the café, his name is David Life, and he went with a woman who was a waitress there by the name of Sharon Gannon, and years later they went on to open the Jivamukti Yoga Schools and have become one of the most famous yoga teachers to help contemporize yoga here in the United States.
So David at that time was my boss, and they weren’t doing yoga. And around 1987 they went off to India and they came back and I noticed a real difference. And during that period, I, as a teenager in the city with an enormous amount of freedom, I was doing a lot of drugs and alcohol and partying just as one would do with that kind of independence. And I was really unhealthy, and David and Sharon came back and there was just something different about them. And there seemed to be a level of contentment, which I hadn’t really experienced in them prior to that trip to India, so I got a little curious. So I got into yoga from that point on. And at first I just liked the way that it made my body feel, quite frankly. And then I would go party with my friends after class. Smoke cigarettes. And the next day I would go do my yoga class. And after a while it just didn’t feel good to drink or do drugs and I slowly started to put all that down and yoga just became more into the forefront of my experience. But it wasn’t a spiritual or even an emotional experience at that point. I just liked the way that my body looked and the way that I felt physically. And I was committed to it from that point on.
It took about four or five years before there was a real shift for me, where I knew yoga was going to be a path that was going to impact every single part of my life. But when I was a teenager, I was just excited by the fact that, you know, I had biceps and my body just looked really healthy. So that was kind of my original introduction into the practice of yoga, so it was back in 1987.
TS: It seems that a lot of people are drawn to yoga, especially in the West, because it does make their body feel better, you know, better abs, lose weight, all of that, and that many people don’t ever reach these other benefits. I mean, you said after five years something shifted for you. Seems like a lot of people, they are just into yoga because it makes them feel better about their body.
SC: That is good too. Anything that is going to bring one a certain level of self-confidence can impact their life in a positive way. You know, yoga becoming a lifestyle choice is something that can or cannot evolve over time. How do I know? But all I do know is that if someone is practicing yoga and it is impacting them in a way that is bringing a certain amount of positivity into their life and experience, then I know it is a good thing. My hope is that they continue doing it; perhaps it evolves into something else. But that is my judgment. That is not necessarily every person’s experience. Yoga is physical, it is mental, it is emotional, it is energetic, it is spiritual, it is psychic. And there is something for everyone within that. And what is the most important thing, especially the teacher—you just have to meet people where they are at and serve that experience and not have any expectations for an end result, because then I am imposing my belief system or my expectations onto their experience. And that can’t be a good thing.
TS: Very broadmindedly put, Seane.
SC: Well, thank you.
TS: I must say. But I’d be curious, in your own life then, if you can talk to me some about the progression from the physical dimension to some of these other aspects of yoga. Spiritual dimensions, energetic dimensions, what are those for you?
SC: Well, okay, so I am practicing yoga for years and years and years. It is very physical. I am not really connected to any other aspect of it. You know, I’d put my palms into Namaste. I’d Ohm if I had to. But I really, I just didn’t have any relationship to the deeper aspect of practice, and one day I was in a yoga pose. It was a hip opener, a pose called Pigeon, and the teacher was prattling on about something, you know, who knows? Love? Truth? I didn’t matter because I wasn’t even paying attention. I was just kind of breathing and hanging out in the pose and then all of a sudden I had this, like, gulp. And I caught my breath. And I thought, oh, what is wrong? And it happened again. And I caught my breath. And I suddenly realized I was going to start to cry. And I got really nervous about it because I couldn’t quite figure out why. Nothing was going on in my life; it was nothing within my personal circumstance that would warrant tears. Yet I felt my entire body begin to shake and I ran out of the room and I went into the bathroom and I just started sobbing and sobbing and sobbing and I could feel all this energy coming out of my body. And I was actually quite…I wasn’t scared, because I kind of had heard that there as this mind-body connection. But I was confused because it was so unexpected, and when I went back into the yoga class, that same class, and I continued my practice, it was like I heard every word that the teacher was saying for the first time. And I am sure this teacher was saying the exact same stuff every single day. I just wasn’t available to it. And this shift of energy that happened in my body, it energetically released the tension and when it released the tension it allowed me to feel probably for the first time in years. Really feel. Connect to my vulnerability. And that is ultimately what led to surrender. And so I leaned that through that experience…I started to explore more and more this mind-body connection. And what we are taught in the practice of yoga is that there is no separation between the mind and the body and spirit and that everything we think or feel or experience has an impact on every single cell of our body. And so our body holds onto information like rage and anger and shame and guilt and unresolved grief. And if we are not processing the experiences within our lives—through truth, through love, through compassion—somehow just moving that energy through. Then those emotions, they are as toxic on our physical body and our emotional body as a poor diet and as drugs and inertia.
And so what I began to understand then is that these repressed emotions also manifested as tension, stress, and anxiety. Tension, stress, and anxiety affect the immune system, the hormonal system, and the nervous system. So there is the practical connection between the mind and the body. And so through the practice of yoga—or rather let me put it this way: these emotions manifest as tension and tension is what we use to maintain a certain amount of control. Control is what blocks our emotions. And out inability to feel is what doesn’t allow us to move beyond reason. It doesn’t allow us to connect with this fantastic. We have to stay in the practical, literal, logical mind, the left side of our brain rather than the right, and so through the practice of yoga you can effectively release the tension and that is what can allow us to find out how the tension got there in the first place. And that was really the part of the yoga practice that just blew my mind, that my body was holding on to so much and it was just kind of part of one’s survival just to get through life. We just block ourselves from out bigger feelings, but it also cuts us off from the mystery. So that is the connection that I am still to this day so fascinated about. And through the practice of yoga there are these energetic centers throughout the body that are called chakras and there are seven major chakras that we work with and each chakra either receives energy or expels energy and depending on where these chakras are placed in our body they impact certain body parts. And so once you understand the languaging of the chakras, it almost becomes like a psychological road map and you can start to figure out based on your tension or even injuries what else might be going on in your life that has not been resolved spiritually. What other resentments or areas where we remain victims, shut down, based on what is happening within our body. And you can design entire yoga practices to help activate some of these energy centers, so as to gain a greater understanding of self beyond the body. Does that make sense?
TS: Well the part that I was a little confused about that would be helpful if you could expand on it a bit, is what do you mean that the chakras receive and expel energy?
SC: Okay, so there are these, there are thousands of chakras throughout the whole body, but like I said there are seven major ones that we work with. And anyone who has had acupuncture done knows about these meridians and the seven major chakras line the length of the spine from the perineum all the way to the top of the head. And they are…you can’t see them. But like emotions you can feel them. So they are energized. And based on experience—trauma, abuse, just life—each of these chakras take in emotion as a vibration, and depending on what the stories are, what particular experiences or traumas, it renders the vibration of these chakras to either spin slow or too fast. What we are looking for is a rate of energy that moves up the body that is balanced. But when the chakras are impacted, if they are either excessive in the flow of energy or deficient, then it affects the whole of the body physically and mentally.
So for example the first chakra, which is located at the very base of the spine at the perineum, it holds on to the information that is related to home, safety, family, security, prosperity, boundaries, whether or not you feel the world as a safe or an unsafe place. It is really our foundation. It is the base of who we are. And so if we have experienced things in our life that can disrupt this feeling of safety, let’s say poor boundaries with your parents, major surgery or illness, parents who grew up in a war environment or even in the Depression, divorce of loss of a loved one. All of that can impact one’s feeling of a good foundation, a foundational self. And so that could render the chakra to either have too much energy in it or not enough. And that can block the prana, the vital energy, that goes into the legs, that includes the ankles, the knees, the lower intestinal tract, into the lower back, and all the solid parts of your body, that includes your teeth, even your blood, and your bones. And so it became really interesting in yoga that as a student if my hamstrings are really tight one day and not the other it was one thing to stretch your body. That was of course positive. It was another thing to ask myself what else might be going on in my life today mentally, where I am not feeling as safe or as secure in my emotional or familial environment. And is there something that I need to look at to heal. And so that level of self-inquiry is what allows yoga to go one step deeper, beyond the body. And now it might never open up my hamstrings. But it might change my life.
And so this was the part of the practice that I found really fascinating. And if you listen and are really interested in understanding more about this work, there are some great resources. Caroline Myss has a book out called The Anatomy of the Spirit, and Anodea Judith has two amazing books, one called The Wheels of Life and the other is Eastern Body, Western Mind, which is my energetic bible. And it makes the connection between the psychological body and the physical body and how the two are intrinsically connected.
TS: Now I can imagine someone thinking, now, you know, I thought that I was going to go to yoga so that I would feel better, and here you are talking about the breakthrough moment coming when deep, emotional, buried pain is being released. Do you think that part of yoga if it is done at these deeper levels involves this kind of release of difficult emotions? And so a fabulous yoga class may be a yoga class that you cry all the way through?
SC: It could be. It is not for everybody. It depends on where someone is at. It really depends on what they are open to. My guess is that if someone comes into a yoga room and they’ve made some silent declaration to spirit saying that they want to heal, it is going to happen. And usually healing is an excavation first. It is an emptying to be filled. It is the confrontation of all the blocked parts of yourself, the shadow part, and that is the part that people tend to be afraid of or think is bad or unspiritual, and to me that is the most holy of places. It is the initiation. You have to go into the shadow to understand the light. You have to understand what love isn’t in order to understand what love is. And so for some people in the yoga practice, they will get to those places, but only when they are ready. Only if they are open to it. Otherwise, it is an amazing form of exercise. It will help to detox the body and increase the circulation. It can do so much to the physical body that will make one happen. But if another person is ready, if they feel that they are open to transforming their life, the practice is one more transformational tool that can be used to help people investigate the self and create environments for self-inquiry. So it is a possibility.
TS: Now you said this interesting thing. If you go into the yoga class and make a silent declaration that I am ready and open to healing, what do you think happens when somebody makes a declaration like that?
SC: It will happen. It happens. It is going to be different for all beings. I remember now my mantra always is when I want to make…because I believe so strongly in the power of co-creation and because I take very seriously that spirit, that god answers your prayers always. I used to say when I was younger, okay spirit, bring it on. I don’t do that anymore, because that is exactly what would happen. My relationships fell apart, I got fired from my job, all the things that I was like, wait a second, I didn’t bank on this.
When I look back on it, it was exactly what needed to happen in order for me to return to myself, that level of…kind of that stripping away of the ego and all my attachments, that was part of my journey. Now I say to spirit, bring it on, gently. I try to qualify it. Because I don’t necessarily want that kind of drama in my life, so I am much more sensitive about how I choose to communicate with spirit. But I do believe that for some people they will come into that environment and they will make that declaration to heal and the rug will get pulled out from underneath them and other people it will be a much more gentle process. But I do in my heart believe that no matter how challenging, no matter how seemingly bad it might be, I can’t help but believe in my heart that it is exactly what is needed, and it is that initiation that is going to help that particular being transform in a way that they never, ever thought possible. And so my hope for anyone who is going through those challenges is never to pray for an experience to change, but to pray for the strength to perceive the experience in a new way. That is the best that one can really hope for. Because what we learn on the path of yoga is just because you get into a spiritual process, it does not mean you are exempt from pain. It doesn’t mean that your heart doesn’t get broken and that people that you love won’t die. All of that happens.
What is does give you, though, are really amazing tools, so that when you are confronted with the realities of life, that you are able to handle them in a way that is more integrated and more whole. And instead of living your life as a victim, feeling like why is this being done to me, you are able to stand in the face of that, of any challenge, and just breathe and stay present to it and feel your feelings, but not allow each of those moments to define who you are, for better or for worse.
TS: Now do you think there is anything in the design in the asanas, the yoga postures, the sun salutations, any of the sequences, that it is actually sort of designed to bring forth this shadow material as you are talking about? As if that was part of the original idea of these exercises? Oh do these and this spiritual process will somehow happen because of the way the postures are sequenced?
SC: I don’t know necessarily about the sequencing, per se. I know the individual poses will definitely stimulate parts of the body that hold of to different information. So hip openers, for example, will stimulate the first and the second chakras. Twists and backbends open up the third and the fourth. So you are dealing with information when you are in these poses when you are holding them and breathing and the deeper layers of tension are starting to release. So are the emotions that are embodied underneath it. So hip openers, especially for women, can be very, very intense. It relates to the second chakra, which is all about sexuality, emotions, even the energy around prostitution. I don’t mean that necessarily literally, but it is the willingness to negotiate or sell yourself in regards to seductive forces like sex or power or money or drugs or even other people. And so second chakra energy is where you hold on to information like betrayal, deception, insecurity, jealously, obsession, all of that resides. So if you haven’t healed your sexual relationships, if you haven’t seen that being that crossed your path and maybe broke your heart, they were a teacher, a spiritual guide, they came into your energetic field. Their wound, your wound, match. You came to do very deep work together. So therefore it is necessary to look at that being, see not their physical self, but their spiritual self, and give it back to god. Forgive them. And let that energy sweep through your body.
But if one is still holding onto resentment and holding onto the story of you did this me, again, that anger, that jealousy, is an energy, and it gets stored in the hips. So if you are doing some asana, and you are just pushing into that energy and breathing into it and sensation is coming up to the surface, then yes, the asanas are going to bring certain emotions, maybe even memory, up to the surface. And so certain sequences can be designed to help instigate certain physical reactions. And other sequences are just to help make you stronger. It really is going to be dependent upon the teacher’s skill to facilitate not just a yoga class but an experiential journey, and a teacher has to be pretty literate in the mind-body languaging to be able to express it in a way to make the student feel safe enough to go to some of these deeper places.
TS: You know, I mean I have heard about the practice of self-inquiry as part of meditation, but I have never heard any yoga teacher use that term as part of the yoga practice. So I am curious what you mean by it. How do you teach your students to work with self-inquiry?
SC: It is about taking responsibility. You see, one of the most important things to me as someone who has been very…my experience in the world has been in the darker realms because of drugs and alcohol and working in New York City at a very young age. Some of my jobs were very suspect to some people. I worked in gay and lesbian clubs. I worked in sex clubs as a bartender. I was in some environments that other people might think as hedonistic and bad, but when I look back at it now I cannot believe how blessed I was to be in these environments where I met some of the most unique and interesting people doing very, very deep work on themselves. And one of the things that I was able to learn in that process of being in those environments is like what I said earlier: to truly understand what it is to be in the light, you have to also understand what it is to be in the shadow. Because it is one thing to hold the light within myself, but how can I hold the space for another being when they are in their shadow and still love them? And not judge them? I am only going to judge them if I am still judging me.
And so because of some of these environments that I surrounded myself with, it was a very early education about acceptance, self and others. Whether it was people doing drugs or people who were prostitutes or men and women who were homosexual, my environment was very, very broad and some of the most amazing people I came across at that time, who really awakened me to the different levels of personality that exist and that love shows up in a lot of different ways and it is very often not in the way that we expect. And so I became very involved politically, especially around HIV, AIDS issues at a very young age, and one of the things I believe in is that everything that happens out in the world is only happening because of the manifestation of our collective thoughts, is happening because there is this high level of fear that is being perpetuated, this sense of otherness, separation, a me against you, an us against them. This is what is creating war and violence and terror and disease rates. And if we really want to change what is happening out in the world, the first thing that has to happen is that we have to look within ourselves and see where are we living in interpersonal war, psychic terrorism, where are we creating an otherness, a separation, and once we can heal that within the individual, this is how we can heal it within the collective. And so for me the practice of yoga, whether it is yoga or meditation or therapy, the program, all of these practices are opportunities where we get to confront the ego self, the mythology or our ancestry, some of these cultural beliefs that have got us stuck in kind of dogmatic perspectives, that if we can really confront those shut down places within ourselves, deal with our own anger and rage and sadness, our own prejudice, if we can recognize that all the beings who have crossed our paths are actually our teachers, divine teachers, no matter how gross or evil the story might be, that there is a spiritual perspective that we can put upon it that can transform our lives. If we can do that for the individual, then we can then be responsible for healing this planet.
And that is why, for me, within the practice of yoga, when we release the tension and begin to feel, the student will hear the information in a very different way. If I pray in the beginning of class, before the student has the chance to move their body, I can see it, you know, their palms are together and their eyes are closed, sometimes, and I can tell they are not really engaged. If I offer that same prayer at the end of class, there is a whole different relationship. They are hearing not from their heads but from their hearts. Because the truth is that as a teacher it is not my job to teach anything, that would be incredibly arrogant. It is my job to guide; it is my job to inspire. It is more importantly my job to help remind people of what they already know. Because the true teacher already exists 100 percent, wholly and fully, within each individual. But what blocks that grace, that light, that god is life, is experiences, is fear. It is, like I said before, ancestry and mythology. And so in a good yoga class a teacher can play the right song, can recite the right poem, can say just the right prayer, that can help the student remember who they truly are and that is what affects the whole of their day. That is when they go home and they treat their partner a little differently, they communicate with their children a little bit differently... And maybe that level of awareness lasts one day, maybe two days, but at least it is the beginning of a cycle of transformation. And the more the person keeps doing their yoga, the more they are remembering, and that to me is what…it is really what my job is. It is why I show up in the yoga room every single day. If it was just to help people to get a better body, I don’t think I could do this. It would just be too, for me, it wouldn’t be inspiring. But I want someone walking out of the yoga room not necessarily liking their body. I want them liking their life, no matter what drama is going on. I want them to just sit back with absolute gratitude that everything is unfolding perfectly and they are right where they are supposed to be and that all the information that is coming to them are seeds being planted and when they are ready that seed will germinate within their souls and they will remember.
TS: Very beautiful. I am curious about the program you have created with Sounds True, Detox Flow Yoga, and just specifically your passion around the whole area of detoxification. Why you care so much about that.
SC: Well, it goes into two folds. One is that in that particular program there is a physical practice that helps to stimulate the vital organs and helps to create an environment in the intestinal tract where the toxins that might be accumulated can release, though your sweat and through your breath and when you go to the bathroom. And it is just a really nice starting point to help to purify the physical body. But a lot of the information that is being talked about within that program is also around emotional purification, a huge part of that is forgiveness. That the area of the body that we are focusing on in detox flow is the intestinal tract, is the liver spleen, pancreas, and the kidneys. The whole center point of your body. It is also directly impacted by the third chakra. The third chakra is located at the solar plexus. The third chakra in the body is where we house our soul and our sense of self. It is our self-confidence. It is the magnetic core of our personality and our ego. When we define ourselves from the physical world, when our sense of self is being valued by the way that we look or the money that we make or the relationship that we are in. What we find is that there is never enough of anything--money, power, sex, or even food--to fill a void. And so people who don’t have a strong sense of self will very often turn towards food or drugs or alcohol or cigarettes to self-regulate. And so a huge part of this program is also identifying where you have lost your power in terms of your own story. So if this third chakra is being impacted because of low self-esteem or low self-worth or low self-actualization, or the opposite, A type personalities such as manipulation, control, the need to be right, the need to win. These are just high ego, low ego; powerful, powerless; neither is empowered. Well when that third chakra is impacted it affects our digestive tract so that is the mind-body connection. It will create an environment which could lead to things like IBS, for example, or even eating disorders.
So in detox flow it is a twofold…my hope is that people will see it in a couple of different ways: the physical purification as well as the emotional purification. But it is also about really common sense practices. When we are turning toward certain foods and we are not conscious about it, it is not only impacting our health and our wellness but it also impacts the planet upon which we are living. And so to eat more consciously, to eat organic whole foods, locally and seasonally grown, impacts not just the individual but really the collective. And so it is that idea of it is not what you are eating but what is eating you that really matters, and also how close is the food that you are eating, how many hands have had to touch that food before it actually got to your plate, and can you decrease the amount of energy that has to be utilized in order for it to be made ready for ingestion. And also about practices looking at the environment—the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the food that we are eating, the cosmetics we are using, our personal care products, all of this. And choosing to be more conscious about what it is that we are purchasing, ingesting, or putting on our bodies, that the idea of detoxification to me is a political…it is making choices in how you spend your money, how you feed your children, what kind of energy you are cultivating within your life physically and emotionally.
So I started doing detox years ago and what I loved about it is that it drew…because of the word detox, it attracted a very, kind of a very practical body-oriented individual: people who wanted to lose weight, people who wanted to clean their body. And once I got them onto the mat and was able to give them a really strong practice that satiated that physical need, it also allowed me to bring in information, both psychologically as well as globally, that my hope will be food for thought, so to speak, and will help people take more responsibility in their life and what they are putting into their bodies and how it affects everything.
TS: Without even being able to quote any scientific evidence, it seems that it is pretty apparent we live in a world where we are challenged by more and more toxins all the time. Would you say that is true? You might know a lot more about this than I do.
SC: Absolutely. It is everywhere. It is big business. It is just big business, and we have to just use our common sense. Would I take an apple, inject it with hormones and certain chemicals so that it is redder and fluffier and fatter and then hand that to my kid and say eat this? I wouldn’t do it. Yet, every single day parents who are lovely, loving people are feeding their children meat products that are just filled with chemicals and even carcinogens that are hurting their children. And because it is marketed really well and because the government supports it and backs it, we buy into really these big business agendas, even political agendas, and I think it is really important that people just use some common sense when it comes to what they are putting into their bodies and their children’s bodies. Stay away from anything with chemicals in it, with food coloring, refined foods, refined sugars, hidden fats and salts and all that stuff. Stay away from it. Our body doesn’t want it. It doesn’t need it. And it can get its nutrients and nourishment when we get as close to nature as possible.
TS: Now this is a little personal Seane, but our producer who worked with you on the audio series for Sounds True came back…I am telling you a little bit about the experience. And one of the things he said was, you know, it was remarkable. Seane wasn’t wearing any makeup. And you mentioned makeup as a source of toxins that most people are applying, and I am curious what it is like to be, you know, in LA, etc., on the cover of so many magazines and not to be wearing any makeup.
SC: you know, I don’t really think about it too much. I choose not to wear makeup. I am choosing…I am forty-two years old and I am choosing to get older naturally and not to really…not to say there aren’t mornings where I wake up and I am like, oh, god, like botox would be really interesting right about now. But that is just not the direction I am going to choose to go in. I don’t want that. I don’t judge it for someone else though. I do hope that if they are choosing to wear makeup, they use makeup that is going to be…that is not tested on animals, that are as organic as possible, and there are quite a few products out there.
And I also have very sensitive skin, so when I put makeup on it hurts my skin. I don’t like the way it feels. And I actually think I look better without makeup than with makeup on. When I put makeup on, I don’t like it. I don’t like it when I have to do it for magazines. And for magazines I do do it. But I am not opposed to it. I feel pretty fortunate that I don’t necessarily have to use it at this point. Who knows how I will feel ten years from now. You might see me and I am slathered head to toe. And I come across sometimes as a fanatic, but I am not. I just want myself and other people to make as conscious choices as they possibly can. But not to say that I don’t flip here and there. I try to hold myself accountable, but I choose not to wear makeup. I choose to wear products that are all organic. Probably the unhealthiest thing I do is that I do highlight my hair and I have been doing that for a very long time. And it is probably the most chemicals that I am introducing into my system.
TS: And then you do a lot of detox flow yoga to compensate.
SC: I do about four detoxes a year actually. Physical detoxes. And I practice yoga every day. And I just eat well. But I try not to obsess on it. Every once in awhile I have something that I just indulge on. And I think everyone should. I would just like to see people not eating in their cars when they are driving. And not throwing food on their kid’s plate and picking on it. And not being aware of just what it is they are putting into their body and how it makes them feel. I know that when I eat a big meal at 9 at night, I don’t feel good. It affects the way that I communicate with my partner. It definitely impacts the way that I relate to the kids, his kids. And those are the things that I want…I want to be present and really in my body, grounded and open minded and open hearted, no matter what the conflict or the crisis is. And if I am numbing myself with food and with alcohol, I can’t then know that my emotional response is going to be authentic, is going to be in truth. My guess is that it is going to be reactive. So my staying as clean as possible, eating really good, healthy foods is one way that we can insure that we are going to live a healthier and a more vital life.
And that is really what I would hope for anyone. But it is not about extremes at all. You know, people who drink seven days a week love it. Drink one day a week and see what happens. Notice the difference. Cut down to one cigarette a day and notice that difference. And start to make subtle movements towards a healthier lifestyle. Like I said, when I first got into yoga I would still party. I partied my tail of. I was also seventeen years old. I can get away with it. But after awhile it didn’t feel good to smoke. It didn’t feel good to do blow. None of that felt good anymore. And after awhile it didn’t feel good to eat meat. And it didn’t feel good to eat refined sugars. And slowly over the years I have eliminated more and more things. And maybe that is why at 42 I don’t have to wear makeup.
So it is my hope that everyone finds the balance for themselves and makes really good decisions that is going to impact their health and their children’s health in a positive way.
TS: Okay, now I am going to ask an even more personal question, if it is okay, because our producer, in addition to saying when he returned to Boulder from recording with you that you weren’t wearing makeup, he said, “Tami, she is the most physically beautiful person I have ever sat next to.”
SC: Wow. Good old Randy.
TS: Yes, this is what Randy said.
SC: I love him for that.
TS: And he said it was actually was quite an experience for him. And what I curious about is what it is like for you. I mean, do you have a sense that other people respond to you as an unusually, uniquely beautiful woman and what that might be like for them? Or are you immune to it? You don’t pay any attention to it? What is it like for you?
SC: I mean, that is a huge complement. And when I see Randy I am going to give him a big huge hug and a kiss from it.
TS: He’s going to like that, yeah.
SC: I love that. But I don’t know how to relate to that really. I don’t see myself in that way. I come from a real blue collar background. I come from a hard working…my work ethic is very, very strong. And I come from a no-nonsense kind of family, a family that really doesn’t…especially from their children. And I think that if I ever took myself too seriously or bought into things like, even my success, or things like beauty, I have too many people around me who are going to clock me on the side of my head and tell me to get a grip, that I don’t put much stock on that kind of stuff. I am very grateful for that kind of comment, but I don’t think I am aware of that. I am not a classical beauty. I have gigantic teeth. I have a scar that runs through my eyebrow. My nose is crooked. I don’t see myself as a real beauty that way.
I hope that my heart and the way that I communicate makes me prettier than I actually am, because what I do know about myself is that I have an enormous amount of love and I have the ability to communicate certain kinds of information that might be normally not that accessible—but I can translate it to other people. And, because of my experiences in life, I am not judgmental at all. I am always amused and sometimes amazed by being in the presence of different kinds of people. I might not want to indulge in their lifestyle perhaps, but I am fascinated by what makes them tick and can certainly hang in those spaces. And I often think that people feel very comfortable around me and feel that I am there to just…hopefully my authenticity and my heart is something that is more important than the way that I look. And I also know that…things like that change, like everything else, and I don’t want to live my life too attached to that. But what I am grateful for though is that the way that I look is relatable enough that it has managed to put me in the public eye, where people have trusted me first, because I look…I look like someone you could hang with, maybe your sister, maybe your girlfriend. I am not a threatening kind of personality. And maybe that my mainstream…how mainstream I look draws people in and then allows me to teach in a way that people can hear.
o again, I really appreciate Randy having that experience, but I am not 100 percent sure…I don’t see myself as a great beauty.
TS: Well thank you for answering it so honestly.
TS: So we’ve been talking about the deeper dimensions of yoga, talked quite a lot about the emotional processes that can potentially be released. And you mentioned one thing in talking about detox, which is the idea of forgiveness and how if there is something that we haven’t forgiven that creates a kind of toxicity in our body. And I am curious how you see that working. So we haven’t forgiven someone, what kind of toxins does that create?
SC: Well, again, hate, anger, shame, blame, guilt, it is creating that separation, that otherness. Remember what I said earlier, these emotions are just as toxic on our body as a poor diet, because it affects the immune system, the neurological system, and the hormonal system. And so it is really important to recognize that if I am holding a resentment toward another person it is like a poison that I am taking, hoping that someone else with die. I am not seeing a bigger picture. And what this bigger picture is, spiritually—if you are literal minded none of this will make much sense. But if you are a spiritually minded person it is easy to connect to this. And in yoga this is a mystical practice, and mysticism recognizes that god exists in all moments light and dark, not just the ones that we prefer…that god transcends all time, all experiences, and then therefore everything that happens to us, happens synergistically and purposefully in order for our soul to transform. So even though bad things might happen, it is our perception that an experience is bad, but we all know this. Sometimes people have gotten their ass handed to them and years later they turn around and look at it, and they say thank you god. That is exactly what needed to happen, because look what I got to do as a result of that experience. I got my power back. I got self-confidence. I learned how to stand in my power and my truth. And so was that experience bad? Or was it blessed?
And so by not allowing ourselves to see that there is a bigger picture at play, we stay stuck in the story. And because there is a process of co-creation happening all the time, we continue to manifest that same story again and again and again until we get the lesson. And so I know for myself…I know that if I had issues around abandonment, it is a guarantee I am going to continue to pull in relationships in my life that are going to affirm that belief system, because I cannot be abandoned unless I believe that is true. SO god is going to conspire to help co-create those experiences that allow us to either choose love or to choose fear. And so these are the initiations that I was talking about. Most people though…it seems unspiritual going into the shadow. It seems bad or wrong or just ugly and unattractive, so people reject it. They repress it. Repression is what leads to depression. Depression is not an emotion; it is the suppression of emotion. And it is this depression that can really lead to an unhealthy perspective and even a lifestyle. And so it is important to look at all of our experiences. It doesn’t mean we condone the circumstances. But we do have to look at that person and see not the drama behind it, but to see the opportunity, the soul. And this is really kind of a lesson that is something that I work on everyday. And I struggle with it every single day. And I am not kidding myself in thinking that I’ve got this down at all. You only ever teach what it is you need to learn, quite frankly. And I know that for myself there are few beings in this world that I forgive in terms of just the languaging, but had to be really honest with me, you know, I forgive to a point. Like I don’t want them that happy, I don’t want them that rich. And I don’t want them that skinny or happy. Any of that. So I really have to work on that. I have to go in there and say, really? Are you holding on to that toxicity, that anger? And how is that impacting the way that you, what you are drawing into your life? So, seeing that bigger picture is all about self-responsibility. And seeing that co-creation: why did I pull that person into my life? It just didn’t happen haphazardly. There was a reason that I was drawn to this experience, so is there an opportunity for my individual growth, not in spite of, but because of.
So to me there is no greater yoga practice and there is no more challenging practice than the practice of forgiveness.
TS: In talking about these deeper dimensions of yoga, where my mind is going is beyond the emotional processes that we are describing, the word “moksha,” which, you know, I don’t know that many terms from the yoga tradition but this one term which I have heard is the goal of yoga, which people translate as “liberation.” And I am curious what you see is the ultimate goal of this process of forgiveness, this process of releasing toxins: doing our hip openers, working out our shadow. Where is all this taking us?
SC: My hope is that it is empowerment. I am not angling toward enlightenment. That is something…you know, we’ve got a lot of karma to burn and we are going to be doing these, for me, I believe we’ll be learning these lessons again and again and again as we work through this karma. But what we can become in this lifetime, right now, today, is empowered, by looking at these experiences and calling our power back. So if I am holding…if I have a relationship that I, I am still holding onto the story, then my energy is invested in that experience. I am not in present time. That means if my boyfriend says something to me, he might say something that is going to make me feel like something that happened maybe ten years ago, twenty years ago. I don’t even realize this. It is in my body. But it is called time traveling or triggering. And so I get triggered, he says something, I feel disempowered, I am not conscious of this, so I react. I attack him or I become passive. I become either powerful or powerless. Either way it is not a healthy response to what happened in that immediate moment because I am not in present time.
And so when I can start to heal my past experiences, when I can see the bigger picture, where I can see the value, it allows me to become more empowered so that if my partner says something to me, I might start to time travel. It might catch my breath. I might see myself want to react, but I take a moment and I say I am going to take a breath and I am going to go into another room and maybe beat a pillow a little bit, cry, journal write, and I will come back to this conversation when I am more in my center. But if I do this…if I go into this conversation right now, I am going to rip your throat out.
And so empowerment is something that we can come to terms with instantaneously when we start to see that there is a bigger mystical picture at play. We are here to learn what love is. In order to learn what love is you have to experience the opposite. It is just life. And so the more we can go though these challenges and understand that it is teaching us compassion, it is teaching us awareness. I know because of the work I’ve done on myself over these years that when I am confronted by someone who is doing their crazy dance, when they are acting out in ways that other people might think are inappropriate or shut down or unconscious, I can hold that space for another person because I see their humanity, I get what they are working through, and I don’t know how many times they are going to have to do this crazy dance. But it is not my business. My business is to love them, is to hold space for them, and maybe even pray for them. But it is not to judge. And the only way that I am going to judge them is if I am still judging me. And so by doing the work of empowerment allows me to create that space where I can empower others, not by teaching or preaching but just simply living as an example and holding space for someone to do whatever they need to do.
You know, when I learned these lessons so fortunately at a really, really young age. And I learned them to some people might be in some of the most bizarre ways. But the very first lesson of yoga that I was ever given, and this was before I even got on the mat, and again, remember, I will tell you the story, but it is the idea that god is in the mystery, that god shows up in some of the funkiest ways. And our angels reveal themselves in sometimes in questionable personas. And if we are in our literal mind, we can’t see the magic. But if we are in our spiritual mind we will see that the magic is infinite and it is all over. And so when I was seventeen I worked…one of my first jobs was working illegally at a gay nightclub called Heaven in New York City and I was a bartender. I was the only woman allowed. I wasn’t even a woman, I was a girl. I was the only young girl allowed in that club and I worked behind the bar. And I worked in the disco, so where the sex was happening was in these other side rooms. I wasn’t allowed in those rooms, but it didn’t matter, because what I saw on that dance floor was enough for any young mind.
And I loved it there. I loved working there. The men treated me fabulously. I made great money. I never felt safer. And I worked in many, many different clubs. And there was a man who used to come into that club, his name was Billy. And he absolutely adored me, and Billy really hadn’t been in the club for awhile and I hadn’t seen him in about 3 or 4 weeks. And he showed up. And on this one day that he showed up, he had these sores on his neck and on his arm, and I asked him what they were. And remember, this is 1984 probably. And I asked him what they were, and he told me they were symptomatic of his disease and I asked him what was wrong, what he had. And he told me he had AIDS. And now because it was 1984 there was an enormous amount of ignorance and misinformation and prejudice and even though I worked in a gay sex club I was not immune from my own prejudice. There were only forty reported cases at that time. Now there are forty million. So I must have recoiled. I must have had some reaction. And Billy asked me if I wanted to understand more about his disease, and I said yes. And he explained to me how he felt he contracted it. I asked him if I could get it if I kissed him or if he sweat on me, etc., etc., etc. And he answered everything in a way that I felt comfortable with, and then I asked him if he was afraid…well, what was going to happen. And he told me that he was going to die, that there wasn’t a cure, there was no vaccine. There still isn’t. And I asked him if he was afraid. And he told me that he wasn’t because he had such strong faith.
Now Billy was an African-American man from I think it was Ohio, came from a Baptist background. And when he came out of the closet, he was ostracized by his family. His wife left him, of course, and his children stopped speaking to him and he was essentially kicked out of his church and he moved to New York, so that he could live the life that was true to his soul. So he was a very lonely man, very lonely but beautiful.
So I asked him if he was afraid to die, and he told me that he wasn’t because he had such strong faith and he asked me if I believed in god and I told him at that time, I said I didn’t. I didn’t. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know. I was agnostic than anything. So he said to me, do you want to see god right now. And I kind of smiled because we were in a sex club, and I said sure. So he points to Danny the Wonder Pony, and Danny the Wonder Pony was a white guy that came into the club every night, but naked except for a pair of chaps and a saddle. And for one dollar you could climb on Danny’s back and he would trot around the dance floor and you could hit his with a switch. And so Billy says to me, points to Danny the Wonder Pony, and he said, “God is right there.” And then he points to a transsexual man, ugliest cross dresser I had ever seen, used to come in with sensible shoes and a gray wig with a hat and a veil and a pocketbook, something my grandma would wear, and a housedress. Huge. Like 6’ 6”. And Billy points to this person and says, “God is right there.” And then points to two gentlemen that were arguing in a booth. They were wearing business suits like my brother would wear, and Billy said, “God is right there.” And then Billy took my hand and put it on his heart and he took his hand and put it right on my chest and Billy said to me, “Seane, God is right here.” And he held my….he held his hand on my chest and I had my hand on his, and he said to me, “I am going to tell you something, and I want you to always remember this.” And he said to me, and when I look back at it now, like I said this was my very first lesson not just with yoga but also my first introduction with HIV which ended up becoming a real pivotal turning point in my life as well. But Billy said to me, “Ignore the story and see the soul. And remember to love, you will never regret it. Ignore the story, and see the soul. And remember to love, you will never regret it.” Those words stayed with me the whole of my life, and it is probably the most important teaching that I was ever given. And when I tell this story, very often I know that people can get into all sorts of judgment about it. It is a gay sex club. I am underage serving alcohol. This African-American man with AIDS. Yet I look at it and think, Billy showed up as my angel, saying to me “pay attention, everything is unfolding.” “You probably are not going to even remember this moment, but I am going to plant a seed that is going to inform the whole of your soul.” And working that night club, had I not worked there I would have not have known Billy and that moment wouldn’t have happened. And I realize with all the yoga I have done and all the teachings that I have had, and I have had amazing teachers, there is still not a greater teacher in my life than Billy. And because what he said to me was yoga. Ignore the story and see the soul.
And so when I come across people over all these years, when I see them going through their drama and their trauma and all their little stories, I try to ignore it and go underneath it and just look at the soul, look at the depth of that being. They are exactly where they are supposed to be, learning exactly what they are supposed to learn, opening their heart to truth and love in their time, in God’s time, not in mine. And the most important story that I need to ignore is my own. I need to let go of all of that other stuff. I cannot possibly know what is really going on. All I need to know is that I need to dignify the human experience as it is with no attachment to the end result. And love bigger than I ever imagined possible.
o I share with you that story because it really is one of the most significant things and when I look at yoga and what are we supposed to get from it. Is it about enlightenment? Is it about liberation? I don’t know. All I know is that we are in these bodies for too short of a time and that it is a true privilege to embody these spirits. And I want to love in a huge way while I am in this conscious body. And I want to be present to the human experience with gratitude and just create a space for myself and for others that is really of acceptance. I am not always going to do this life right. I am going to have really unconscious, really bad, days. And I hope that people will extend to me the same respect and allow me to have that experience so that I can learn and I can grow. Otherwise I stop from living this life.
TS: Seane, it has been fabulous to talk to you. I think of you as the empowered and empowering yogini.
SC: Well, thank you very much.
TS: Thank you.
SC: That is very nice. I appreciate that.
TS: Really wonderful to talk to you. Thank you.
SC: You are very welcome. It was my pleasure.