“Grief smacked me like a tsunami in the face.” –Seane Corn is a celebrated yoga teacher & activist
Grief is inevitable. It’s very, very challenging. Suppressing grief, denying it, rejecting it, being overwhelmed by it, is very common in our culture. It’s not something a lot of us talk about, and it’s very unique to each person. You can’t say to anyone, “I know exactly how you feel,” because when you’re dealing with grief, you can’t even define it. The depth of grief and the nuances are so individual that it’s demeaning to say, “I know how you feel,” when odds are, they don’t even know how they feel.
The more we get in touch with our grief, the more that we can talk about it and normalize it. That’s invaluable. I’ve had many different types and levels of grief over my life. The most significant was the loss of my father who I was very close with. My father was a yoga teacher. He expressed to me that I won’t understand and I won’t truly be a decent yoga teacher until I know grief. He said, “You think you know what grief is, but you’ve only intellectualized it. You’ve had sympathy for people, but you’ve never been able to have empathy.”
“You won’t know until I take my last breath.”
He was right. Grief smacked me like a tsunami in the face. No matter how prepared I was – my father walked me through the process beautifully – it didn’t matter. The moment my father passed, a wave of energy and the layers of grief that had nothing to do with my father came. Every cat, every boyfriend, every trauma just piled on top. I missed everyone. I grieved everyone. It was nuanced and beautiful.
I don’t recommend it, but we’re all going to face it. It was really generous of my father to get me to communicate my feelings often. He wanted them out of my body before he died. I can’t even imagine what the experience of this loss would have been had I not walked through it the way that I did. We spent a long time talking about it. Processing it. Looking at it to make sure I wasn’t suppressing what was incomprehensible to me. I knew my father was going to die. I intellectualized the loss. It was something heavily discussed, but I bypassed actually feeling anything about it until the very end. I was 44 when he died.
I introduced my father to yoga. I practiced yoga for a really long time. Between my diet, my practice and everything else I did, I was the butt of every joke in my house. My family saw that I was consistently happy, and I didn’t try to jam yoga down their throat. If they asked about it, I would share; otherwise I wouldn’t forward much information.
I let my life speak for itself. Eventually, my father got curious and the local library was holding a yoga class. My dad and mom decided to take the class. My mother tolerated it. But my father was hooked. That was it. It was over from the very first class.
He took my classes from time to time. I wasn’t his teacher – I was and I wasn’t. We were both each other’s teachers in different ways. He practiced, and was an incredible student. Really gifted and after a while he decided he wanted to become a yoga teacher and took the training.
Actually, he took the training to improve his yoga teaching as we all do. From there, he eventually became a yoga teacher. My father also had a job so we taught at the studio for free. When I took his class for the first time I was surprised how similar we were in our teaching style. He shared a lot philosophically, emotionally and was very present in the room. I really appreciated it. The idea that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, somehow fit. It was just within our nature to be that way.
When he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, he began accepting donations so he could raise money for cancer research. His classes were very popular. One day, when my dad was pretty sick, I flew home. I got to the hospital room and my dad said to me, “What are you doing here?”
I said, “Seeing you.”
He said, “You can’t. You’ve got to go back to Jersey. I need you to teach my class.”
I said, “Dad, I’m not going to teach your yoga class.”
He goes, “I don’t have a sub. You have to teach it.”
I said, “You’ve got to be kidding,” and got back in my car. This was a real lesson in ego and humility because I knew there was going to be like 10 people there, all housewives. I walk into the studio and I said, “Hi everybody. My name is Seane and I’m going to be teaching for Stewart.” They just looked at me. You could see it, like, “Damn it.” They drove all this way to see my father and it’s me.
My father referred to me as Cece, which is my nickname. So then I said, “My name is Cece and I’m Stewart’s daughter.”
After that it was like, “Oh my God, we love your father.” I never bothered telling them that I actually did this for a living and who I was, but really up until my dad died, every time he was in the hospital, I subbed his class. All these housewives only knew me as Cece.
They loved yoga and they loved my dad and they loved me because I was my father’s daughter. It wasn’t until the very end when this woman came in with a copy of Yoga Journal that they were like, “Is this you?” I said, “Yes.” Looking back that was some of my favorite teaching I ever did – subbing for my father’s classes while he was dying.
I first learned about yoga back in the `80s. As destiny would have it, one of the first jobs I got in new York city was working in this café on the lower east side called Life Café. Life was this dive café on 10th and Avenue B. A man named David Life, who went on to invent Jivamukti Yoga, owned the cafe. Sharon Gannon, his partner, was the head waitress. I was 17 when they hired me. During that time Eddie Stern was our delivery boy. He had hair all the way down to his butt.
I was doing a lot of drugs at that time, as everyone who worked at that café was. There was a real demarcation moment. The menu started to change. We started carrying more vegan options. David was more and more serious about us not using drugs at the restaurant. People either quit or stayed. Those who stayed got into mindfulness practices. I was one of them.
I was introduced to yoga around 19. I liked it, and I started feeling better and very quickly stopped drinking because it didn’t make me feel good. I stopped doing drugs because it didn’t make me feel good. I stopped smoking cigarettes. I stopped eating meat. It was like one thing after another. The things that didn’t make me feel good I didn’t want to do anymore.
Eventually I moved to Los Angeles in ’92 because New York City yoga wasn’t popularized at the time. I had heard that the alternative community in Los Angeles was a little bit more progressive and I was curious, so I went. I got a job working behind the desk at YogaWorks, the first Yoga Works on Montana before it was a franchise. I was a receptionist there and Maty who owned YogaWorks eventually became my mentor. I started my first teacher’s training in 1994. Meditation was always a part of my young world. My first experience of real meditation was transformative. In 1994, I also had my first 10 day sit in Vipassana and that changed my life.
1st part of The Yoga Blog in-person interview series with Seane Corn at Yoga Journal Live 2016 in San Diego, CA. Interviewed by Hung Tran, Dawn Morningstar, and Jack Greene. Edited by Dawn Morningstar and Hung Tran.
Photo credit: Seane Corn & Yoga Journal
© 2016 The Yoga Blog