Star Yogi Desiree Pais on the Surprising, Hidden Lessons in Heartbreak

Photo: Desiree Pais

Are breakups a breeze for people with deep spiritual practices? In a word (or two): no way. But Desiree Pais, a Kundalini-trained rockstar yogi in New York City and the founder of natural beauty brand Benshen, shares the surprising and magical things that happened to her after a devastating split. 

When my ex ended our relationship in July after a trip to Tahoe which, in my eyes, was one of the best times we ever had together, I was shocked. I couldn’t even feel sad at first. The sentence, “we need to talk” hit so hard because for the first time ever, I wasn’t even slightly expecting it.

Desiree Pais heartbreak lessons
Photo: Desiree Pais

In the first few few weeks after our breakup, I went through the most radical ups and downs. On one hand I felt a huge relief as there were many aspects of our relationship that were not working, and I refused to acknowledge them because I so badly wanted us to work.

On the other hand, I was so angry at him for what I perceived as giving up on us, so angry at him for walking away after a year and a half, that I wanted to do anything to get him back to not deal with those feelings of humiliation, sadness, and loneliness. I tried to be friends with him. I tried talking to him over and over. I tried convincing him to stay. By August, I felt powerless and exhausted.

Trying to be the "happy-go-lucky girl"

For the last four years, if I’m going to speak honestly with you, I have been in one relationship after the next, jumping all in immediately. I would date one guy and then when that dissolved would quickly rebound to the next, not wanting to deal with being alone after being in “love.” When I met my ex, he was different than the type I usually dated. But I figured the usual hasn’t worked out so well, I should try something different. We instantly clicked, and it snowballed into a relationship. But within the first few months, I realized that there wasn’t any passion in our relationship, just a comfortable, loving, and sweet friendship.

I began denying my own needs in the relationship, needs for affection, passion, and romance, by using my spiritual practice to somehow change myself into the person I thought he wanted me to be.

I began denying my own needs in the relationship, needs for affection, passion, and romance, by using my spiritual practice to somehow change myself into the person I thought he wanted me to be, the kind of happy-go-lucky girl that he would be attracted to and desire.

It created massive emotional turmoil within me that I wasn’t even aware of and caused a daily stirring of some of my biggest insecurities: around my body, around money, around my inability to commit to anything, and around being 26 and having no idea what I wanted to do with my life—despite the fact that it seemed like I had so many perfect opportunities. I felt anything but happy-go-lucky.

Then, a new challenge (with a 3 a.m. wakeup time)

Coincidentally, immediately after our breakup I was scheduled to co-lead 40 days of Long Ek Ong Kars, a meditation that the Kundalini yoga community does as a group once a year leading up to the birthday of Yogi Bhajan, the master of Kundalini yoga.

Every morning, we would wake up at 3 a.m., go to the studio, and meditate for two and a half hours. It was one of the biggest challenges I have ever stepped up to. I knew the universe in some way was offering me the perfect opportunity to clear and heal many of those insecurities that festered in my relationship through the alchemy of the meditation.

I also couldn’t jump back into dating because I had to be up at 3 a.m. every morning, so I was forced to deal with loneliness, something I have spent so much time and effort running away from.

Getting my groove back, slowly

During those 40 days, I felt more connected to myself than ever—and more grounded than ever, despite the fact I was only getting four hours of sleep a night.

Desiree Pais lessons in heartbreak
Photo: Desiree Pais

It felt like the IRL version of How Stella Got Her Groove Back. I realized I had lost so much of my sexuality, my confidence, my “groove” when I left the fashion industry and became a yoga teacher. I didn’t think the two could mix. I never dressed up anymore, I never felt confident, I never allowed myself to feel beautiful and desirable, which affected all of my relationships as I relied on my partners to give me that validation, since I denied it to myself.

Having to go to the studio every morning gave me the support I needed, something to look forward to at a time when I felt so confused and lonely, which made me realize the profound importance of community. I strengthened my friendships with the incredible women in my life, which began to slack when I allowed my relationship to take over. I fell in love with my friends and felt more loved than ever in return.

When spiritual practice isn't setting you free

It’s very easy to use our spiritual practice as a way of bypassing our issues, suppressing our feelings, needs, and desires. We stuff everything down with meditation, yoga, green juice, cleanses, affirmations, and self-help books. Over the course of those 40 days, I realized that the whole goal of all of these practices are to allow us to feel more like ourselves, not to change ourselves to some unattainable version of happiness, which simply replicates the unattainable version of perfection.

It’s very easy to use our spiritual practice as a way of bypassing our issues, suppressing our feelings, needs, and desires.

I didn’t feel happier by the end of the 40 days, nor did I feel any less heartbroken. What I did feel was more secure in who I am, what I want to do with my life, how I want to offer my gifts to the world, what kind of woman I want to be.

By knowing myself and developing a better relationship to myself, I could relate to myself in a way that allowed me to navigate those challenging moments with more grace and more confidence in knowing that everything is going to work out.

I can safely say that this summer I went through not one but two breakups: one with my boyfriend and one with myself, and I’m finally getting to a place where happy feels more me and lot less lucky.

Want to feel more at home in your own skin? Some find it with self-love practices, others through meditation—and some even credit a decluttered house (with strategically placed crystals!) with a more serene, self-accepting outlook.

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