After years of hiding her feelings of sadness and loss, Lesley Pyne was close to falling apart – but through therapy and yoga she found the power, strength and determination to transform her life
"Here it comes again, my daily weep. I don’t want to cry today. My chest feels very heavy with that all-pervading sadness. I’ve worked hard over the past 14 years to push grief into a box; why can’t I wave a magic wand to keep the lid closed and make it all go away? Then I might at least have some joy in my life.”
I wrote those words two years ago when I was at my lowest ebb. I’m childless, an only child, and I’ve lost both parents, and at this point I’d spent 14 years trying to outrun grief. Let’s just say that it wasn’t going well.
My parents taught me many wonderful things, but not how to express how I felt. Over time I learned to take everything I didn’t want to feel out of my head, put it in a box, and close the lid. I promised myself that I’d investigate later but, guess what? I piled more into the box and kept forcing down the lid. Grief from six unsuccessful rounds of IVF – in the box. Grief from losing both parents – in the box. I was very successful at banishing sadness, but I also banished joy, so I was numb, and not feeling much at all.
I was struggling to keep it all together, and the lid would come off at unexpected and inopportune moments; I kept snapping at Roger, my husband, I felt sad and listless, and regularly burst into tears.
On the outside I was confident, capable Lesley. However, inside I was falling apart.
People who loved me told me grief was not an enemy, it was a friend. They told me that I couldn’t outrun it forever; I would have to take my armour off at some point and there was magic in doing so.
If my body is telling a story of determination, strength, power, and achievement, why shouldn’t my mind?
And still I resisted.
Salvation came in an invitation to a workshop based on Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong in March 2016, where I learned that feelings are called feelings because you actually feel them in your body. It was the first time I connected what happened in my body with what was going on in my head.
I remember as we worked round the room, talking about grief, I felt a real tension in the top of my head and I wanted to flee. The closer it got to my turn, the stronger this tension became. At that moment I realised, this is what anxiety feels like. For someone who hadn’t connected these particular dots before, this was massive for me.
That weekend was the most transformational of my life; starting to touch my feelings was like opening up a new and fascinating world.
I realised I needed help to continue my exploration, so I reluctantly started working with a therapist in May 2016. I say reluctantly because it felt like the last resort, and not something I wanted to admit to. But it was one of the best decisions, and has changed me in many wonderful ways. My therapist helped me to open the lid and gently rummage around, and I realised that what was in my box wasn’t as scary as I imagined it to be.
She also encouraged me to try new things, one of which was yoga. After a sprained ankle left me unable to move very much in early 2017, I was drawn to yin. Yin is different to most other yoga, as you’re mostly sitting or lying and you stay in your asana/seat/pose for up to 10 minutes.
I found something special sitting quietly, stretching my body to its limits, and after a few months a voice inside suggested I have private lessons. My head thought I wanted to learn the seats, but now I realise this voice was my heart calling me to trust myself and my teacher, as it would be the last piece of the jigsaw of my healing. And it was.
So much has changed for me in the safe space of my private lessons.
I’ve learned to grieve and am now in touch with my emotions. That box, which once held everything I didn’t want to feel outside me has gone forever, and in its place I feel everything inside and I know how to express it on the outside. Each time I let something go, I feel like I’m shedding another layer of the armour that prevents me from being my authentic self.
I’ve connected deeply to my body and one seat in particular (called Saddle) acts as a barometer of what’s going on with me – some days it’s easy and others it’s impossible.
It turns out that the meaning of Saddle is “hero”, and a hero (or heroine) goes through challenges, but in the end the only way she can get to where she wants to be, is by changing herself. This is my story.
Each time I move into Saddle, I’m aware that I am exposed, laying my heart and vulnerability bare for all to see. I can feel the power and strength in my body, as I connect very deeply with me. Staying there takes everything I’ve learned, and all the courage, strength, and trust I can muster. It’s teaching me that connecting to my heart connects me to my deepest meaning and purpose; it encourages me to be fearless and to realise my potential.
What my body can do and how far it can stretch has astounded me. Each week it shows me that it can do more and more, and where my body goes, my mind follows.
If my body is telling a story of determination, strength, power, and achievement, why shouldn’t my mind? If the limitations I had about my body no longer apply, what about those other beliefs I had about what I can or can’t achieve?
So much has changed for me and I can’t put myself in the shoes of the Lesley who wrote those words two years ago.
I’ve learned that you can’t outrun grief, so you might as well work through it on your own terms. By opening myself up to feeling grief, I’ve let so much more happiness and joy into my life. I’ve found many gifts in the pain, and the biggest gift is my true self.
I’ve learned to live without all that I’ve lost. I will always miss my parents, and not being able to be a mother caused a deep wound. This used to hurt a lot and make me feel as though I was bobbing around in the sea at the mercy of the waves and currents. Now it no longer hurts, and I feel much more anchored. The story I tell is of finding happiness and joy and making the most of the gifts that life brings me.
I feel incredibly sad when I hear those people who’ve longed for children, yet are unable to have them, say they will never be happy. I know from experience that there are many paths to this place we call childless, and there are many paths out. One of my paths was yoga, and I want others to know that they can find their path to happiness even if their biggest dream didn’t come true.
Grief is a complicated process involving many emotions. Many people, just like Lesley, try to stop feeling in an effort to “cope”, but this often just prolongs the pain. Lesley discovered that healing is actually part of the process, and delaying this can mean it takes us longer to heal. Realising that her mind and body are interconnected allowed Lesley to access her feelings in a safe way. Her story is one of inspiration, that reminds us we should never be afraid to seek help, feel and heal.