“The one thing I’ve noticed that I’ve definitely bought into is this, ‘I don’t give a fuc#$-ness . . .’ My lack of concern for someone else’s point of view is dialing up even more, and I think that comes with age. I like that part of it a LOT.”
You don’t have to do yoga to know who Seane Corn is—or, at least, to recognize her trademark smile and lion’s mane hair. Arguably one of the most famous yogis to date, Seane is the quintessential ‘celebrity yogi,’ having graced the cover of over 20 of the most widely read yoga, fitness, lifestyle, and health magazines and featured in over 30 publications since her teaching career took hold in 1994.
“[50 is] an important milestone, not that it’s this demarcation point from youth to age, but definitely it is a moment of pause. A lot of our identity gets caught up in the way that we look.”
Although most models and fitness figures come and go within a few short years, Corn’s longevity of over two decades—as a model, international spokesperson, practitioner, activist, and world-renowned teacher—are unmatched. She is as compelling and relevant today as she was when she first started. But that longevity isn’t without complications or anxieties. That’s part of what we hoped to discuss when we met with Corn last month: Having entered the yoga scene in her early twenties, how have things shifted both externally, with time and a committed practice, as well as internally, in response to mainstream media and the commercialization of yoga?
“My hope is that, as I walk through this process of transparency and disclosure, it inspires other people, men and women alike, to get curious about what age is for them—the gifts they can gleam from this experience, but also any limited beliefs that they might be harbouring.”
For better or for worse, when Seane first started teaching at 23 [confirm] she fit the western concept of yoga: she had the hair, the eyes, the smile, and the body that mainstream media continues to endorse as the perfect image of health and beauty. Corn will be the first to admit that her rise to yogic stardom had, perhaps, less to do with her innate teaching talent and profound spiritual wisdom and more to do with her aesthetic appeal.
In an earlier interview with “Illumine,” She says, “I realized that I’d be able to make a career out of teaching yoga in a way that most of my peers, and even my teachers, weren’t going to be able to do—and for no other reason than that I was young, strong, flexible, pretty, and white.”
Stereotypes are nothing new and arguably little has changed since the early nineties, but what is new and refreshing is how Corn continues to capitalize on that marketability, carving out a clear voice of dissonance among the status quo. She offered that voice then, in her twenties, and continues to speak out on sensitive topics today, as she moves into her fifties.
But that transition into middle age wasn’t seamless, and it took Seane a period of silence before she felt confident to speak up again. She took a one-year sabbatical from teaching to step back and reflect on what it meant to be entering her fifth decade of life in a culture so fanatical about the myth of eternal youth and so heavily identified with how we look. Despite celebrating and ritualizing this new level of adulthood, she says, “I didn’t want to bypass some of the other things that come up, questions and emotions that are part of that transition”— emotions like grief, fear, or confusion, and questions, including “Who will I be if I don’t look the same way?” “If I’m not as attractive to the world, will that impact my self-esteem”? And, “How can I do this without assuming the perspectives of society, which say that you dry up, you become invisible, you’re less valued?” She says, “I wanted to see for myself, ‘What can I discover about this process’? What can I reclaim, and how can I define the aging process within my own body, mind, and spirit?”
These are questions that most of us have had and would love to know the answers to, especially in a world where the boundaries between real life and Photoshopped social media and print platforms aren’t so clear. From the outside looking in, any woman featured on the cover of a magazine has nothing to worry about in terms of being ‘beautiful,’ but in fact, those star-studded idols often struggle the most with the transition. Corn says, “People have been watching me age for years now, literally, on the covers of these magazines. You can get photos of me online where I’m 27 years old. . . Magazines and other things will grab these pictures and keep them in circulation, so that when I show up, I’m not that body; I’m not that skin; I’m not that hair; I’m not that personality. I’m SO MUCH MORE. And yet, because those pictures might look more mainstream, they keep getting circulated, which is a disservice to me as a human being, but also sends out this message that, as a 50-year old, I’m not as viable or interesting as I was at 27.”
The not-so-subtle message being conveyed is that “women of [this] age are unworthy, unlovable, or irrelevant.” It is a message that Seane refuses to accept, let alone spread: “I’m committed to transparency and disclosure, to being public about my face and my body and all of the changes that are taking place. I’m owning the parts of the process that I’m comfortable with, and I’m owning the parts of the process that I’m not comfortable with, too. I’ve lived a GOOD life. And that life is on my body.” Ferocity of spirit—not eternal youth—is what Corn insists is worth chasing after.
What You See is What You Get
A “no-Photoshop” clause in a model’s employment contract is about as common as Big Macs at Wanderlust, but Seane is anything but typical. Most of us would jump at the opportunity to be professionally touched up, slimmed down, filled in, or otherwise “enhanced” before being presented to the world, but not Seane. As a publisher, if you want to post her images in your magazine, you must sign on the dotted line committing to no unsolicited edits or adjustments. She affirms, “I’m committed to being very public with the changes in my body, to being public with the changes in my face.” This takes courage! Courage, which according to Seane, is one of the greatest gifts she’s received in her years of devoted practice:
“I’m grateful that I get to be this age; I’m very healthy in my body; I have an enormous amount of confidence and it’s because of the practice of yoga.” A movement practice like yoga, she explains, will increase strength, stamina, and flexibility. That’s the physical aspect. But more than that, increased tension impacts us emotionally and psychologically. It can make us feel more reactive, less present. It can make us feel afraid, unworthy, unlovable. The practice of yoga releases that tension and regulates the central nervous system; it gives us space for breath and room to pause, so that we can remember who we are, so that we can be more present with life—no matter what happens—and with that, we can be more at peace with ourselves and with the world around us.”
"Like everybody else, there are moments when I look in the mirror and think Jesus Ch@#$t; what the F$% is that? And I have to take a deep breath and smile, internally, and know that I have lived life well. Sometimes that life has just trampled allover my body, but I’ve lived to tell the story and that story also lives on my face. I’m proud of that.”
Surround Yourself with Beauty
In that period sabbatical, Seane was inspired by the answers she received surrounding herself with older women and encouraging them to share their wisdom. She asked what aging meant to them and to their bodies, about menopause and death; she asked about how it feels to have children growing up and moving on and about becoming, perhaps, invisible. She asked the hard questions, and in the process of asking, she got her answers.
“You have to consider, ‘How do I identify myself in the world, and how do I value these things’? When I let myself feel ‘bad’ about ME, I stop and I think, ‘Where is that coming from? Where did I learn that to be true?’ I don’t surrender to it. I challenge myself, that belief that I might not be a loveable, sexual, viable being the way I once was when I was 25. Where does that belief live in my body, and how does it influence my choices?”
“I’ve felt society’s expectations of me want to succumb to a projection. I feel that all the time. I just don’t have that interest or desire to play into it. If our family and friends are buying into society’s expectations, it is really hard not to.” In her commitment to moving through this next phase of life with fierce confidence, wisdom, and self-awareness, we as a yoga community benefit. She says, “I want to be part of that conversation so that I don’t have to feel alone in the process.”
In that journey, but even more important, in her willingness to be honest and real with the world, Corn reassures us that we don’t have to feel alone in the process, either.
Printed in Sweat Equity Magazine August/September 2017