‘Tis the season for giving back, but where to start? Easy—just step onto your yoga mat.
So says Seane Corn, who knows a thing or two about goodwill; the yogi is as renowned for her in-demand Detox Flow sessions as she is for her activist spirit. In the past three months alone, the Angeleno orchestrated the community-building and social justice-centric Game Changers conference, hosted a fundraiser at Wanderlust Hollywood for the one-to-one startup Conscious., and began preparing for January’s presidential election-focused Mindful America event (which will feature the likes of Ohio congressman and wellness-advocate Tim Ryan).
Corn’s been straddling the realms of yoga and philanthropy for decades—back in 2007, she launched the Off the Mat, Into the World leadership initiative that trains yogis to develop and launch service-oriented projects—but it’s only been recently, she says, that the yoga world at large has started to really get down with the idea of activism.
“There are workshops I can have now that I couldn’t have five years ago,” says the yogi. “If I was talking about stepping into your purpose and finding your voice as a leader for social change, I’d have 10 people in the room. But this past year, every time I did a talk like this it was standing room [only].”
So what’s behind that shift—and how can we all get involved? Read on to learn Corn’s tips for using yoga for good, how to uncover your philanthropic passion, and which trailblazing teachers you should be following for inspiration. —Erin Magner
Why do you think so many people are eager to lead and be of service today?
I can’t speak for the community in general; I can only express what happened to me. I would look at the world and see how many people were suffering, and I felt this immediate sense of my own privilege on every level—[including] access to tools like yoga. I wonder if more and more people are having that same sense.
How can we all take what we’ve learned on the mat and apply it to causes we care about?
First, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Go into your local community and see what’s already being done. For example, if you’re passionate about animal rights, go volunteer in the shelter. The quickest way to burn out is to try to do too much and not have the experience to be able to follow through effectively. If you’re a yoga teacher and you have a platform, talk about the things that are important, but try to do it in a way that’s very inclusive and doesn’t polarize… which can be hard. Create food drives, little events, or donation-only classes to help raise money for things in your local environment.
What about those who haven’t pinpointed their passion project yet?
Very often we’ve seen that your wound becomes your purpose. The thing that brought you onto the mat—meaning that you’ve experienced domestic violence, or drug abuse, divorce, or loss of a loved one… there might be a certain wisdom that you’ve accumulated based on your own individual self-work. Your compassion and empathy make you a perfect candidate to be part of the very community you needed to heal from.
Who are some up-and-coming yogi philanthropists that we can look to for inspiration?
Kerri Kelly, who runs [community organizing nonprofit] Ctznwell out of New York City, and Jacoby Ballard of Third Root Community Health Center in Brooklyn are using their platforms phenomenally well. Dr. Melody Moore is a therapist as well as a yoga teacher [who focuses on] body dysmorphia, [while] Nikki Myers does yoga for 12-step recovery. And the guys at the Holistic Life Foundation, Ali and Atman Smith and Andy Gonzales, they’re doing incredible work offering youth justice in their own backyard in Baltimore. Their programs are huge and growing. There are a lot of yogis out there who are using their skills in a very proactive—and very positive—way.
The yoga world can do a lot of good—but does it also have a guy problem? One group’s trying to change that.
(Photos: DJ Pierce / Jesse Kramer)