How Yin (Yoga) helped me grieve

Below is the transcript of an article which was published in the August 2019 edition of Yoga Magazine. It’s called ‘How Yin (Yoga) helped me grieve.’

I wrote it from somewhere deep within & it seemed to resonate with many readers. I hope it resonates with you too.

I’m sitting on my yoga mat, eyes closed, I feel the earth both supporting and grounding me. I hear a gentle breeze through the trees, then it gently caresses my skin. All around me are the sounds of rural India: a myriad of birds, the occasional cow, a pair of noisy chipmunks running around inside the roof, and the gentle rhythm of the fans.

I feel energy moving round my body and I’m very calm and peaceful deep within. For the first time in my life I realise there’s nowhere to go and nothing to achieve because it’s all here; I am whole, my life is complete, I am enough.

I’m practising yoga in an ashram in India and it feels like home. As the truth of how much I’ve changed hits me I feel an unstoppable wave of emotion rise up in my chest and out of my eyes. 

Until a couple of years ago I put everything I didn’t want to feel into a box. Grief from 6 unsuccessful rounds of IVF, into the box it went, grief from the death of my mum, into the box. Then grief from the death of my dad, you guessed it, straight into the box.  And there it stayed. Until it didn’t. Because (as I’ve learned the hard way), one way or another, grief will find its way out.

From time to time, the lid came off at unexpected and inopportune moments: I got over-emotional at funerals; I’d snap at my husband out of the blue, I felt sad and listless, and I regularly burst into tears. The box was so full that the lid just wouldn’t stay closed. On the outside and to most of my friends I was the confident, capable Lesley they all knew. Inside, however, I was falling apart. And believe me; I tried really hard to ignore what was happening, because I didn’t want to fall apart.

People who loved me told me grief was not an enemy but a friend. They told me lovingly 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. But I continued to resist.

My therapist suggested that I do Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme, which led me to yoga. I tried a number of different classes and found that I got a lot of peace from sitting quietly in Yin.

I knew there was more to yoga then sitting quietly because my yogi friends told me how they’d been changed by their practice. By now I was also reluctantly coming to believe that happiness could only be found on the other side of grief. I realised I was missing something and wondered if Emma Peel my Yin teacher might be able to help, so I decided to have private lessons.

As soon as I started working with Emma I knew I’d be okay. My heart recognised that I’d found the safe place where I could stop running and take off my armour. It knew that she could teach me those missing pieces which would enable me to fall apart and put myself back together as a different, more authentic Lesley.

Can I be with this?

If you practice Yin you’ll know that you hold the asanas for several minutes and, let’s be honest it’s often extremely uncomfortable. However I’m committed and determined and I don’t like to quit. So when I ask myself, ‘can I be with this physical discomfort?’ almost always the answer is ‘yes’ and after a while I notice that it’s lessened.

This was absolutely key for me as I realised that if I can be with something physical, I can also be with feelings and emotions.

As my practice developed, emotions started to come to the surface and I learned that what was in the box wasn’t as scary as I imagined. There was indeed, magic in opening the lid and examining the contents, knowing that it was my decision whether to let it go or leave it for another day.

Now, when I feel tingling I know that this is energy moving and when it (whatever it may be, joy, pain, sadness) rises to the surface and I let it flow, I ask myself, ‘When have I felt this before?’, ‘What’s my mind telling me that’s different from my body?’, and ‘What does this mean?’ In this way I’ve learned to recognise how different emotions feel. Sometimes I realise what thought or feeling triggered them, other times I don’t. And it’s okay. The main thing is I let them flow knowing that they’ll pass.

In the safe space of my Yin practice I realised there was strength in facing emotions head on and I’ve let go of much of the grief I was holding on to. Emma has observed that I almost look happy when I’m crying, and that’s true because 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.


The other key for me was acceptance. I realise now that each time I stuffed an emotion into the box, I was fighting against how life was and it was hurting me. Those moments of sitting in discomfort, accepting it as it is and resisting the temptation to make changes have taught me a lot about acceptance.

I am an only child, with no children and no parents, these are facts that I cannot change. I will always miss my parents and not being able to be a mother caused a deep wound. And learning to accept myself as I am and my life as it is, in this moment has brought me a deep inner peace and calm.

And now?

Many friends have said that I look different, lighter and 10 years younger. I do feel very different, maybe now I’m the authentic Lesley, the Lesley who wears bracelets and leopard skin boots and paints her nails blue. The old Lesley would never have considered any of these things, but the new me is happy to experiment and play with different looks and ideas.

The main thing I’ve learned is that running from grief doesn’t work. It will eventually catch you, maybe when you least expect it, so it’s better to face it in your own time and your own way. For me this was my Yin practice. 

When I look back, I believe that my grieving took place at a time when I was open to asking for help, and undergoing the transformation that happened as a result. And perhaps I needed to be strong enough, too. Maybe I wasn’t ready earlier. I’ll never know.

What I do know is that box, which once held everything I didn’t want to feel has gone forever, and in its place I feel everything inside. I’m connected to places inside me I never knew were there, deeper and more beautiful than I could imagine. I’m more content, confident and peaceful and, for the first time in my life I feel comfortable in my own skin.

I spent years running from the pain and now I realise now numb I used to be. Opening myself up to feeling grief and sadness has let much more happiness and joy into my life. Thanks to my Yin practice and to Emma I have no words to describe how wonderful and magical my life is.

Did this resonate with you?

I’d love to hear what you think of this article, please leave a comment below. Thank you.

You can read book reviews and interviews I’ve done here.
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