I’ll never forget the first day I met Sean Haleen. I was in a regular Anusara-Inspired Yoga class and Sean was on the mat next to me. I’d never seen him before, he was new to the class. As we waited for class to start he was moving through a series of very advanced poses. I remember thinking to myself, “Who is this show-off?” Of course at the time I didn’t realize he was a teacher. 😉 A few weeks later he stepped in as a sub for that same class and this is when I first experienced him as a teacher. Sean had just moved to San Francisco from Vancouver, BC and he was new to the teaching community in San Francisco.
Sean’s teaching style resonated with me instantly. He was fun, playful, lighthearted; but in addition to his youthful exuberance, he also possessed a serene energy and a wisdom that was well beyond his years. His classes were not only fun, they were rich. And they were deep, both physically and spiritually.
I have now been practicing with Sean for close to two years and I still look forward to every class. Sean is not only a phenomenal teacher, one who I know is on an illuminated path to what will be a brilliant and hugely impactful career as a teacher, but he is also a beautiful person, a warm and caring soul who truly cares about his students and his community.
I am honored to have the opportunity to interview him here:
Photo courtesy of Margo Moritz
Jeannie: I understand you have been practicing yoga for the larger part of your life. How old were you when you started and how did you get your start?
Sean: I believe I was 7 or 8 years old when my mother, who’s studied yoga for a good part of 40 years, brought me in to her practice. Of course as a young boy, I was reluctant and irritable but did it with her on and off for some time in her bedroom. She then brought me to some public classes in our small Idaho mountain town’s only yoga studio, the Sacred Cow. Through my adolescent years, I then practiced 2 or 3 times a week with my martial arts instructors (who also taught us Hatha Yoga) and finally, when I left for college, I brought a Rodney Yee DVD and followed his instructions a couple of times a week in my apartment.
Jeannie: How has a nearly life-long practice of yoga shaped who you are today?
Sean: It’s made me very bendy! But in all seriousness, I think one of the gifts of Abyasa (Long-term practice) is that it demonstrates how when one commits themselves to something, that the practice will eventually bear fruit of some sort. There have been many times I didn’t like yoga, the people practicing yoga, or even felt like yoga was a waste of time. But all of those circumstances arose from a moment of not understanding or seeing what I, or others, were really doing. Through that, I learned the values of compassion, commitment, and also that yoga is a source of empowerment whereby when we see things clearly, we can fully utilize what we have to respond rather than react. Additionally, in all of this, I’ve at times become trapped in the mind-frame that because I believe yoga has given me these virtues, that I’m superior to those without the practice. Of course, this was a conceited belief but it led me to realize that there’s no way of knowing what others know inside themselves and of the world. Yoga is not a venue for me to elevate above others but a venue in which I elevate inside myself so that I can see others more clearly.
Jeannie: I understand you had planned to have a career in urban planning (in addition to drug counseling? Is that right?). What prompted you to make the decision to pursue teaching yoga full-time?
Sean: I was sort of pursuing both. I completed my BA in Urban Geography and attended graduate school in Vancouver, BC in Urban Studies. I’ve always been fascinated with addiction and spent time in an in-patient treatment center in Denver shadowing counselors. In grad school, I was studying how the government was planning for addiction (something the US doesn’t quite do) so it was sort of combining urban planning and drug counseling (although I never got close to or did much on the clinical side of things).
Teaching yoga actually fell into my lap when I was in Canada. I never intended on teaching but even before attending a teacher training, opportunities to guest teach and instruct in different places kept arising and the more I taught, the more I fell in love with it. After witnessing first-hand, vis-à-vis my professors, people in treatment centers, etc., what would be in store if I followed that path, teaching yoga seemed more in line with my svadharma (personal calling).
Photo courtesy of Faern Works
Jeannie: What was it about Anusara Yoga that attracted you to that path specifically?
Sean: It was while I was in Graduate School that I stumbled upon an Anusara-Inspired class with Christine Price-Clark, who is now a Certified Anusara Teacher. Until then, I had mostly taken some generic Hatha from different studios and DVDs. It was something about how Anusara invited this deep look into oneself and the heart that intrigued me. Also, I was so impressed about how much Anusara teachers knew, their ability to open people’s bodies, and that what they were saying wasn’t something they said every class. Their words spewed from their experience inside themselves and inside the world which to me made Yoga, for the first time, seem very practical and applicable… So when my first Anusara teachers spoke, I listened instead of just heard.
Jeannie: You have lived and taught yoga in several different cities already. How has the culture and experience of teaching differed in each of the different cities?
Sean: I think yoga in each city is largely dependent on two aspects; how long yoga has had a presence there and what style the first teachers were instructing when it began to ascend in popularity. I’m not a yoga historian but it seems to me that whomever paves the way first or second are often replicated by their students or others trying to tap into that prominent teacher’s style. Of course, as yoga gets more established within each city, that primary teacher’s or teachers’ influence dilutes. People crave different experiences and conduits through which they connect to themselves. This is why yoga has expanded to acroyoga, silks yoga, hula hooping, yoga to pop music, etc. I have a very clear purpose as a teacher: I want people to become empowered inside themselves and to become aware of the effect they have on others and the world through actions and words.
Jeannie: What is your favorite aspect of teaching?
Sean: My favorite aspect of teaching is Kula (community). I grew up in a very small town so community was something that was hard to come by. This is why I’m adamant about learning all of my student’s names, bodies, and anything else they like to share. Community is home and can also be a catalyst for what change many like to see (whatever change that is).
Jeannie: What is the most challenging aspect of teaching?
Sean: The most challenging aspect of teaching is also, ironically, one of my favorite. To consistently find insight to share when I teach is often a challenge. To be frank, I don’t always wish to look at what’s happening to me in a day, draw from it and then teach from it. But I like that that aspect of teaching asks me to take a deep look and gain perspective about what’s going on in my life at that moment. Of course, I rarely share what’s actually happening but I end up teaching what I need to hear that day and it’s often what my students need to hear too. I also want to say that I know that’s not a mandatory aspect of teaching but I find if I don’t teach from what’s going on I feel dry and almost resent teaching because there’s a dissonance between my words and my experience.
Jeannie: How have you seen yoga transform the lives of your students?
Sean: It’s often hard to see transformation of any sort other than physical through my students unless they tell me. One of the things I’ve heard repeatedly from students now is that yoga has taught them how to feel comfortable inside themselves. This, of course, is paramount. If one is consistently trapped in a place where they can’t feel comfortable inside themselves, this often leads to means of compulsive and sometimes destructive escapism. This is why I’ve had several students say yoga has enabled them to stop their addiction, harmful habits, or even switch jobs (because they had never realized their job was a form of escaping from themselves).
Jeannie: To someone who is just considering yoga for the first time, how would you describe to them the benefits of yoga?
Sean: I would say yoga will do as little as stretch your muscles and give them tone and as much as change your entire perspective on life. There’s a reason yoga is different from cardio class, because there’s something very deep happening inside a yoga practice. However, it’s up to those practicing how deep they wish to dive into that experience.
Photo courtesy of Margo Moritz
Since I have been practicing with Sean Haleen, I have seen his classes double in size, as more and more people catch on to the wonderful teaching style and personal attributes that keep me going to Sean’s classes. I know that for Sean this is just the beginning of a rich, life-long journey of teaching, learning, sharing and giving back to the world.
On that note, I will leave you with what I think is a shining example of Sean’s radiant soul. This is a beautiful, graceful and soulful yoga demo that he recently gave for the “Yoga For Hope” fundraiser in downtown San Francisco.