Seane Corn practicing yoga.
Photo: Seane Corn
A yoga instructor and activist, Seane Corn has made it her mission to bring awareness to the HIV/AIDS crisis. She is blogging from a remote village in Uganda, where she and 23 other women are helping to build an eco-birthing center for women with HIV/AIDS women as part of the Global Seva Challenge.
This morning, I taught yoga outside on the lawn next to the hotel where we are staying in Kasana. I gathered the women in a circle, their mats on the earth, and with our palms placed over our hearts in prayer, I offered this intention:

"We invoke into our hearts and into this space the God of our own understanding, be it our higher power, the creative conscious, Mother Earth or the Holy Mother herself. We welcome this essence and grace into our being. May it infuse our practice and this day with the love necessary to make our work meaningful, potent and beneficial for all beings. We ask, dear spirit, that our judgment be transformed into understanding, our resistance into surrender and our fear into faith. May we stand in our power and create space and opportunity so that others may stand in their own. May we stay heart centered and available to all the people we meet and greet them with openness and a willingness to share ideas and experience without judgment, prejudice or fear. Expose our assumptions and limited beliefs so that we may grow, and give us the strength to acknowledge these limitations without shame. May this practice be blessed and may the vibration that exists within each of our hearts be offered outward into this community and our universe as a prayer for healing, unity and peace."

We know our work here in Uganda is not just about the projects we're building, the jobs we're providing or the opportunities that will be possible as a result. Our work is also to be present, show up fully from love, share and connect. We are here to engage with each other and the communities we are being welcomed into. We are here not just to experience a culture unfamiliar to most of us, but to uncover our own hidden landscapes and excavate the hidden jewels, as well as the rocks and stones that often trip us up. To be this present physically and emotionally, we must always center spiritually. So each day, before we go out into Africa, we first connect with God.
Yoga teaches us there is no separation between the body, mind and spirit, that everything is connected. When we practice asana (the poses), the obvious benefits are strength and flexibility, but this practice is also a ritual. When we use our practice to recommit to our purpose and align our intentions with grace, it becomes an embodied prayer. Using our bodies to pray, each movement becomes a reflection of our devotion. The way we place our hands or move our feet becomes an offering. Energy moves in, through and beyond, connecting us to each thought and uniting each other through consciousness. Yoga without prayer is calisthenics; it has physical benefits but won't necessarily transform your life. Include an intention, and the practice engages us to see beyond the body and into the invisible through-line that bonds us all regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

So we moved together, breath-by-breath, movement-by-movement, and dedicated each movement and every breath to our relationship with the divine and to each other. We prayed for the incredible people we met at the birthing center and clinic the day before, dedicating our movements in gratitude and understanding to the midwives, doctors and nurses who work tirelessly to provide care. We prayed for the scared mamas that they know comfort and support in their births. We prayed for the unborn babies that their lives be healthy and abundant. We prayed in sisterhood to the local village women who welcomed us into their homes, cooked us food, asked us questions and treated us like family. Using our bodies, we prayed for their health, knowing they all are HIV positive and that some don't have access to the ARV drugs necessary to ensure their continued survival. We did salutations, each movement an offering to their children, hopeful they will have an opportunity to get an education and that they too remain healthy. We did standing poses in gratitude to our own families and friends who made space in their lives so that we may take this journey. We did back bends, our flesh stretching and our breaths in unison, for the red, fertile earth, and made a continued commitment to live upon her more respectfully. We did forward bends in the name of peace and inversions in the name of harmony and in the name of that which connects us all: God. It was emotional for all of us to pray and move like this, experiencing the interdependency of body and breath, of the connectivity between you and I, we moved as one, as we are and will always be. I smiled as I witnessed the men and women from the village gathered to watch, peering at us curiously. To my absolute delight, some even mimicked our movements, stretching and bending, arms raised to the sky, unknowingly joining us in our prayer.
Building a birthing center in Uganda.
Photo: Seane Corn
Afterward, we all got on booda booda's (motorcycles) and drove back to the Shanti Uganda birthing center site. Suzanne and I couldn't help but laugh hysterically as we watched the women mount the bikes, cautiously at first, clutching their drivers in both willingness and fear. At least three to a bike, we drove like an odd gang through the dusty roads of Kasana, hair whipping wildly in our faces, and I enjoyed watching the women, one by one, surrender to this adventure. As we drove deeper into the bush, dense with palm trees, tropical foliage and crops, bouncing over the rough dirt road, I could hear the women laughing with joy and acknowledging the utter beauty that engulfed us. I breathed deep the thick African air and took in the moment. I knew that it was going to be a good day.

For the rest of that afternoon, the women were broken down into four groups of five and alternated to different stations to work. At this point in the construction of the birth center, brick making, piling and laying were the priorities. Group 1 was responsible for making the brick mixture. This consisted of a warm and wet combination of mud, sand and hay. The mixture was piled up thick, and we stepped into it barefoot, churning it with our feet until it was a dense but smooth consistency. Jennifer, a massage therapist, found a good rhythm, and we mimicked her, marching round and round in circles. With our pants rolled to midleg, we stomped in the warm mud as the sun burned our skin, much to the interest of the African crew. They kept pointing to our skin, poking it curiously, as we got more and more pink as the day went on. The children from the village were especially interested, as many of them have never seen a white person before. Shyly, they'd ask to touch our hair or skin and would giggle to each other as they stroked us tentatively. In turn, we admired their unique braids and complicated twists and exchanged beads for rubber bands. 

Many of the villagers, especially the women, seemed even more curious about Nikki, the only African-American on the trip. They would touch her face and hair, eyeing her curiously, and ask "African...?" "Yes," Nikki would reply proudly. "...And American?" they would ask. "Yes," Nikki would say, and spent much time explaining her family, roots and life in the United States and asking questions to them about their tribe, culture and rituals. These same women sweetly laughed at our hats, sunglasses and sunblock, calling us Mzunga, a friendly term Africans use for white people. At one point, an older woman thoughtfully put wet mud on my nose, cheeks and shoulders. She clicked her tongue and gently admonished me like one of her children, because clearly the sunblock was not working and she could see that I was getting burned. All of us worked side by side, the warm, wet dirt squishing between our toes, and it felt good to work so closely with the earth and with each other.
Building a birthing center in Uganda.
Photo: Seane Corn
After the mixture was complete, it was taken to another area where our crew was waiting to make the bricks. The brick making was difficult, and kudos out to Colleen for working tirelessly! She seemed to have found her purpose in brick compressing, which is no simple feat. There is no electricity, so all the tools are used manually. Many of these tasks would have taken moments with more modern instruments, but in this remote area, everything takes much longer, requires physical strength and much ingenuity. The brick making mold we purchased required strength most of us didn't have, so I was proud when I saw two or three of the women dangling together, hanging from the lever, using all their power and momentum to compress one brick. They did this all day, making dozens and dozens of bricks to be piled together and then sun-baked until dry.

To move the bricks from one area to another, our group formed a long line and together with some of the men, women and children of the village. We would pass the dried bricks, one by one, to a designated spot. Tossing bricks down the line, we found a good rhythm, and Suzanne led us in a chant of "Shanti Uganda, Shanti Uganda, brick by brick by brick." Africa is a culture of ritual, dance and song, and every time we have met with a different group of villagers, they would always greet us in song, welcoming us to their land and homes. I was so grateful to Suzanne for always being ready to return the favor and rouse us in a chant much to the happiness of the village people. There has been much spontaneous dancing and celebration as a result. Suzanne's drumming and vocals was the language that brought us all together and quickened our ability to communicate without words. 

At the main building, a third group was laying the brick and constructing the walls. With each row, the structure became more evident and I could truly visualize the waiting room and could see how the floor, windows and ceiling would soon look. I watched as Cyndi and Carrie constructed a sculpture on one of the finished walls. Out of mud and clay, they created trees and roots reminding us of our connection to each other and to the earth upon which we live and share. Looking around, I could imagine the activities that would one day soon take place. I could see the front courtyard where the pregnant women could walk around and the community center where the midwives and traditional birthing attendants would gather to exchange information and practical skills. I touched the side of the birthing tub, the brick hard and cool, and once again, felt overcome with emotion.
I waited a long time to see these buildings go up and knew I was standing in the center of a dream being realized. Inhaling, I took a moment to be present to what I was feeling—a mixture of satisfaction, pride, joy and hopefulness—and to the manifestation being birthed right in front of me. For Suzanne and I to get here, it took a lot of work and many people telling us that what we were trying to accomplish was to complex, over our heads, unrealistic, etc. Although on a practical level they may have been right, it never mattered to me. I always knew that this project was possible. Not just possible, but inevitable. I knew that reaching out to the yoga community and encouraging people to align their energy, time, money and intentions in creating this and other humanitarian projects was sustainable and doable. 

There are 20 million people in the United States doing yoga, and it is a billion-dollar industry. If only, I believed, we could work together and redirect some of our energy and money, we could make a true difference in the lives of others. Not by trying to alter their culture, or change their religion, or infiltrate our beliefs onto them, but by simply creating opportunities and environments that could support and improve the quality of their lives through proper healthcare and education. 

Last year, we raised $524,000 to benefit the Cambodian Children's Fund. This year, we raised $566,000 for Uganda. Next year, I'm hopeful we will raise even more when we head to Cape Town, South Africa, to support our partners there. This project has always felt bigger than me, but I also know that I am an important piece in the manifestation of it. The only thing that can get in the way of its success is myself, meaning my insecurities, fears or self-doubt. I know I can never allow those limited beliefs, no matter how real they feel, to prevent these projects from taking place, so I work hard to acknowledge my fears but not allow them ever to drive this ship. So standing in the center of the yard, with activity all around me, watching the men, women and children all working and laughing and creating and connecting, I exhaled fully. Smiling, I privately celebrated the massive organization and effort it has taken for all of us to manifest this dream and enjoyed fully watching it come fully to life right in front of my eyes. 
Seane Corn practicing yoga in Uganda.
Photo: Seane Corn
The highlight of this day was when one of the men on the crew, the tall, lanky son of a local midwife, came up to me while I was laying bricks and asked, very shyly, "What this yoga thing was that we do?" He said that he and the other men on the crew were curious and could we show them what it was? I said, "Better yet, would you like to try it?" Smiling, he said yes and called the men over. So I gathered all of us, the women on the challenge and the men in the crew, their mothers, their wives and their kids, and together we practiced yoga on the grounds of the birthing center. They were tentative at first as we went through the different poses, awkwardly arranging their bodies, but soon they got the hang of it and you could see the self-confidence rise as they realized that this was not so odd or foreign after all. I put them through standing poses and arm balances, and was blown away by many of them, their strength and flexibility inspiring. We all laughed as they fell and cheered as they tried again and again until they got it. I balanced the group in tree pose, and they became quiet and serious when I had them hold each other by the arms and look up to the sky. Black and white arms overlapping, we were all connected in a circle, gripping and using each other for balance and support. It was a beautiful and symbolic sight, as we stood there, rooted, linked together like a multicolored chain. We all smiled and laughed at one another, not wanting to let go and break the beautiful connection of bodies and spirits joined.

Sitting down on the earth, I asked them to place their hands together over their hearts in a prayer position and to take a deep breath in. Together, in a mighty exhale, we sent an "Om" vibrating out over the village. With eyes closed, we blessed the center, the families, the unborn children and each other. I thanked them for their friendship and for their hard work in building this center. We prayed for their health and happiness and for the continued peace and safety of their people, especially for their brothers and sisters up North. I closed the blessing, saying "Namaste" and explained what it meant, hoping my translation would be understood. "The supreme sweetness that exists within me, honors that same divine light that dwells within you." One of the mothers translated and together the men nodded and conferred with each other. They put their hands back in prayer, bowed their heads to us and said in unison, "Tulle-Ume". One man looked up, smiled, and translated. "We are one." It was a very good day.

Keep Reading:
Seane helps deliver a baby
How Seane came to believe in God
The lessons yoga has taught Seane

Seane Corn is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher known for her impassioned activism, unique self-expression and inspirational style of teaching that incorporates both the physical and mystical aspects of the practice of yoga. For more on Seane Corn, visit


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