Seane Corn Demonstrates “Body Prayer”
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
For Seane Corn, yoga is much more than a practice in flexibility. It’s a way of applying spiritual lessons to real-world problems and personal issues. One way she channels her energy and love is through a practice she calls “body prayer,” as she shares in this video from Yoga from the Heart.
She shared this perspective about “body prayer” with Krista Tippett in our show, “Yoga, Meditation in Action”:
“I trust that if I do my yoga practice, I’m going to get stronger and more flexible. If I stay in alignment, if I don’t push, if I don’t force, then my body will organically open in time. I know that if I breathe deeply, I’ll oxygenate my body. It has an influence on my nervous system. These things are fixed and I know to be true.
But I also recognize that it’s a mystical practice, and you can use your body as an expression of your devotion. So the way that you place your hands, the ways that you step a foot forward or back, everything is done as an offering. I offer the movements to someone I love or to the healing of the planet. And so if I’m moving from a state of love and my heart is open to that connection between myself and another person or myself and the universe, it becomes an active form of prayer, of meditation, of grace.
And when you’re offering your practice as a gift, as I was in that particular DVD, as I do often, I was offering to my dad who’s very ill. And so when I have an intention behind what I’m doing, then it becomes so fluid. Because if I fall out of a pose I’m not going to swear, I’m not going to get disappointed or frustrated. I’m going to realize that this is my offering, and I don’t want to offer that energy to my father. I only want to offer him my love. And so I let my body reflect that. And when you link the body with the breath, when my focus is solely on getting the pose to embrace the breath that I’m actualizing, then the practice, it’s almost in slow motion.
It has a sense of effortlessness. When people can connect to that, it takes the pressure off of trying to do it perfectly. It just becomes a real expression of their own heart. Sometimes it’s graceful and elegant, other times it’s kind of funky and abstract, but it’s authentic to who the person is. It’s their own poetry.”
The Practical Mystery of Yoga
by Krista Tippett, host
After my interview with Matthew Sanford a few years ago, I started thinking about yoga. I had dabbled in it intermittently across the years, but until very recently the structure of my life did not yield happily to new “non-essential” commitments. I would sign up for a weekly class and then only attend once or twice.
Then I discovered a studio with a full and flexible schedule — drop in classes literally morning, noon, and night — and I was off. Initially — and this is how Seane Corn describes her experience too — I was mostly aware of how good the physical workout felt. (I’m doing “core power yoga” — a fusion that is indeed more of a sweaty workout than I’d experienced in yoga classes before.) But at some point a few months on, I realized that yoga was working in far more significant ways on my energy, my sense of spiritual and mental well-being, the way I moved through the rest of my life.
Several of my colleagues were nearly simultaneously going through a similar process with yoga in their off-hours. And we’re not special or strange in this. The past few years have seen a surge of cultural and journalistic attention — some wary, some appreciative — to the way yoga has suddenly taken in cities, small towns, schools, and workplaces. Perhaps I’m justifying the fact that this show, as much as any we’ve done, indulged an enormous curiosity that has grown in me privately as well as professionally. But when I read Sebastian Faulks’ James Bond redux novel and found that he has the Chief Spymaster M instructing his agents to practice yoga for strength and focus, I felt we had no choice but to at least devote an hour to it.
Seane Corn is a wonderful and surprising voice for this exploration. She is a master teacher and a star in the ever-expanding universe of yoga teachers and trainers. She appeared as the beautiful face and body of yoga in a Nike “goddess” ad campaign. But the cadence and intensity of her voice — as she’s quick to point out with some pride — reflects a blue-collar New Jersey upbringing and the fact that she is one of life’s fighters.
Nothing in her early life prefigured her current embodiment of yoga’s alignment of strength, energy, and grace. She left home and school to move to New York City at 16, found work as a waitress, and partied hard. She discovered yoga at 19, as she was on the edge of sanity. She had been battling an undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder, which she believes was connected with an episode of childhood sexual abuse.
The drama of Seane Corn’s story makes for a fascinating conversation. But she is also a very down to earth guide into the basic facts about the practicalities and power of yoga.
I’ve written a more personal essay about the changes this practice has affected in me — the very unexpected lessons it has brought to the rest of my life. On this point, too, the intensity of Seane Corn’s story is compelling. But it also throws into relief parallel experiences I’ve had and heard about in others that have practiced yoga in varying forms and degrees. She had been practicing yoga for years until one day she was filled, walking home, with an utterly strange sensation, which she finally understood to be a sense of joy, of happiness.
Her practice of yoga is thoroughly interwoven, at this point, with her understanding of grace, God, and love. The way she comes at that — and expresses it — is anything but light and airy. The joy and love at the heart of yoga drive her to be ruthlessly honest about the darkness in herself and to face the darkness in the world. She takes yoga’s sense of the teacher in every experience with utter seriousness — working with organizations helping get teenage prostitutes off the streets, for example, from Los Angeles to Cambodia.
Like meditation, this ancient spiritual technology lends itself to interpretation and incorporation with many spiritual sensibilities and religious traditions — just as its range of practices are adaptable to any type of body at any stage of vitality or disability. I also see this yoga phenomenon as part of a larger move that we’ve variously explored towards rooting — or rather, reintegrating — the body into spiritual and religious traditions, from Judaism to Pentecostal Christianity. There is some wonderful, fundamental insight here that many of us are reclaiming from wildly different directions. And as Matthew Sanford still so memorably put it to me, the more completely we inhabit our own bodies with both their strengths and their flaws, the more compassionate we become towards all of life. That’s the kind of earthy, reality-based mystery I love.
Living with Yoga
Kate Moos, managing producer
I went to my first yoga class in eight weeks last night, and remembered that we are broadcasting our program with Seane Corn this week, which we originally produced about a year ago. At that time I was in the local Bikram yoga studio three or four times a week, sweating and smiling at the instructor’s injunctions to “struggle harder!” I love the arduous athleticism of Bikram practice.
But I had foot surgery over the summer, and am still nursing it eight weeks later, my right foot three sizes larger than the left. It’s healing nicely, but it takes a long time, and the Bikram heat just isn’t the right thing for a swollen, healing appendage. That has meant no yoga for the first few weeks, and then being restricted to some basic stretches and breathing execises at home. I miss the community, the sense of building on other peoples’ energy and strength that I get in group practice, and I was nourished to join the teacher and two others holding long, slow, challenging poses in an extended floor series last night.
During my hiatus, people told me to do any yoga I could manage — even if it was just mindful breathing at my desk at work, or listening to recordings of asanas while lying still on my mat. One tool I turned to was this video of Seane Corn, which I watched in my early recovery, when I could barely hobble to the kitchen.
Corn reminds us that the yoga we do on the mat is only part of the story, and that yoga is not only for beautiful, young bodies. That’s a message also underscored by our program with Matthew Sanford, who was rendered a paraplegic at the age of 13 after a car accident. His unique experience of the mind-body connection, and the lessons about inhabiting his entire body, is related in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence.
Even a temporary disability like the one I am now impatiently enduring has an effect on one’s sense of self, of one’s personal power, and one’s vulnerability. The “spiritual technology” of yoga, these teachers help us understand, gives us a way to be more fully ourselves, whatever our physical strength or limitation might be.
What’s your practice? How do you bring body, mind, and spirit into alignment?