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Empowered by the Heart

A generous, supportive, and truth-centered leadership style is emerging in the yoga community.

By Kaitlin Quistgaard

Be Supportive

More than a decade after Walden appeared in her class, Corn, now 44, showed up at the class of another Los Angeles vinyasa flow teacher, Kathryn Budig, 28. Though Budig was initially intimidated and suffered some anxiety, as Corn had with Walden, she taught her class and later, when Corn came back for another, Budig asked for some mentoring over tea.

Corn remembered Walden's support, but also recalled an experience she had had a while back with Natasha Rizopoulos, another well-known teacher who had gotten her start in Los Angeles and turned to Corn for mentorship. Corn admits that in the earlier moment with Rizopoulos, she felt a subtle wave of insecurity, as if the vibrant upstart teacher's success might undermine her own. The feeling is understandable, considering the value our culture places on youth and beauty, and the fact that all teachers are, in a sense, competing for students and opportunities.

But Corn is well practiced in exploring difficult feelings and looking for opportunities to be of service, and she agreed to share her knowledge and support, on one condition: that when Rizopoulos found herself in a similar position in years to come, she would do the same for other young women. "I will answer any question you have, and I won't hold back at all, but I need to know that you'd be willing to do the same thing, especially if you feel threatened or insecure—that you will go toward her, not away from her," Corn challenged. Rizopoulos agreed.

Now, Corn offered the same bargain to Budig, and that first cup of tea marked the beginning of a friendship that has proved profoundly influential for Budig. "That message from Seane was the catalyst for so much growth for me," Budig says. "We create these unfortunate boundaries—very competitive boundaries. I had felt threatened or intimidated by other women. To hear her say, 'You need to support those people, especially the ones you want to get out of your way because they're threatening you'—that was really big for me. I started to look at the women in my life who made me uncomfortable, and I stopped thinking, 'I'm going to beat you and do something better,' and I started to look at 'What's authentic for me? What's my voice?'"

In seeking that authentic voice, Budig discovered her unique gifts and began to focus on how she could offer those gifts to the world. She has found a great many opportunities to do so. Today, she teaches workshops across the United States as well as overseas, and she is a featured instructor on In addition, she has become an active promoter of other teachers.

"I stopped trying to compare myself to other people," Budig says. "Seane really inspired me not only to not worry about how I'm doing but also to help others. It takes much more energy to be competitive with someone than it does to embrace them, nurture them."

Be Honest

"There is nothing on this planet more powerful than the truth," says Elena Brower, 40, a certified Anusara instructor and the founder of Manhattan's popular Virayoga. Brower talks to her students—whether they are the New York luminaries she teaches privately, the 70 or so regulars in her studio classes, or the 10,000 who came for a class she led in Central Park last year—about becoming a champion of truth in all aspects of your life. She suggests that you needn't be a leader on the world's stage to have a profound impact on society. All you need to do is tell the truth to your family, to your friends, and to yourself.

As an example, Brower tells of her upbringing in a family in which tempers often flared, and how sometimes, caught up in those patterns, she is inappropriately wrathful with her young son. Once, she says, in a moment of rage, she threatened to leave him in a grocery store because he had carelessly left his hat on the floor. "Can you imagine?" she asks rhetorically, awed by her ability to lose it, even after years of inner work.

"My power is to speak candidly to my son and say, 'Jonah, I'm sorry. I just got way too upset,'" she says. She remembers how she felt in similar situations and tells him, "I know how it feels, and it's uncomfortable to be treated that way." She finds that her honesty gives her son permission to express his feelings, too. "If I'm honest with him, we both feel powerful," Brower says.

To take the idea a step further, she stops to ask herself: "Can I tell the truth about it to somebody else, so that I might be of service?"

We would all, no doubt, like to be perfect models of enlightened behavior, with no regrets about our words or actions. But, despite our spiritual practice, therapy, and more, none of us is likely to reach perfection, which is why a commitment to the truth is so powerful. When we acknowledge the truth of our flaws as well as our goodness, we can be more accepting of ourselves and more compassionate with others—making us more effective as leaders and as human beings.

Brower is actively addressing her temper, keeping a log of egregious flare-ups and abiding by the consequences she's set for herself. As a result, she's been experiencing far fewer outbursts. In the meantime, she keeps coming back to speaking and living her truth—and modeling that power for others. In her teaching and speaking, she often uses examples from her role as a parent, suggesting that being a leader isn't something we practice only in boardrooms or before followers but is a way of being that pervades every aspect of life. "My particular message is to save the world by helping people get real with their families."

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June 2011

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Reader Comments


What a fabulous and inspirational article!
Yoga is such a powerful of positive transformation that starts from within bringing such goodness into this world. Everyone should have access to yoga to experience this magic

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