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Matters of the Heart

When I look at my hands and in my heart, I see stress as Lady Macbeth saw blood. — Berri Clove

I was going to tell him after we’d ordered our entrées, but I had not yet finished questioning my motives. Was I seeking attention? I knew he’d probably worry if I told him, and worry is a form of attention. If not for attention, could it be that I was soliciting some kind of pity? Or maybe I was just looking for an excuse for my erratic behavior. While David sipped his wine, my inner voices suggested possibilities, each louder than the one before, until the noise was so deafening I had to ask him to repeat what he’d said. A comment about the Grenache, how nice it went with his soup. Here I was, undergoing a self-inflicted mental Spanish Inquisition, and his only concern was how well the wine was paired? Enough was enough.

“My heart has been skipping all day,” I blurted, wishing I hadn’t.

“What do you mean?”

I had to think about that one. What did I mean? After a moment of silence, I answered, “It’s probably nothing, but, well…like, it’s been skipping beats, and sometimes beating really fast, and sometimes, when it skips, I have to cough to catch my breath.”

David — my partner, my lover, my constant companion — looked horrified. “I think that’s called arrhythmia.” He whipped out his iPhone and commenced googling.

“I’m the epitome of health,” I said. It occurred to me that what I’d wanted was for him to say it was no big deal, that I was being dumb to even mention it. I wanted him to reassure me that my little skips should draw no more alarm than a mild case of hiccups.

“You could die of arrhythmia,” David said, dashing my hopes for a quick end to the discussion. “It says right here that arrhythmia can be caused by smoking—”

“I haven’t smoked in over five years,” I countered.

“And excessive drinking—”

“I’d hardly call the wine I occasionally drink with dinner ‘excessive,’” I reasoned.

“Stress.” David paused in expectation of being interrupted, but this time my mouth remained shut. “And caffeine,” he concluded. “How many coffees do you drink a day? That’s it, no more caffeine.” He may as well have said, “Hey, watch while I torture and kill this kitten.”

“There has to be another way,” I whispered. How would I survive without my mind-clearing fixes of hazelnut coffee, shots of espresso, and Diet Coke?

The topic was tabled when our entrées were set before us. I steered the conversation toward our plans for the week ahead and refrained from mentioning the intermittent cough-inducing palpitations I had throughout the meal. During the natural lulls that come with chewing and sipping, I contemplated the erratic beating of my heart. The amount of caffeine I consume is ridiculous, and it’s true I’ve been a little Britney lately, what with a few random panic attacks and unwarranted freak-outs. But why the stress?

“Hey, you have your elevens, what’s up?” David asked, indicating the two lines that appear between my brows whenever I’m distressed.

“I’m trying to figure out what it is that stresses me out,” I said.

“Everything,” David offered. In response to my bewildered expression, he elaborated: “Every day you have a hundred worries — you worry whether someone is going to be on ‘your’ elliptical at the gym; you worry you might catch a disease from the crosswalk button; you worry there might be cilantro hidden in your food; every time we’re in the car you worry that your engine might be on fire; and you’re terrified of public restrooms. I could go on and on and on. And you wonder what might be causing you stress?” He sounded exasperated. I could do nothing but hang my head in defeat. David was right. There are few things in life that don’t cause me stress.

As soon as I walked through our door, having already promised David I would restrict my caffeine intake, I set about researching ways to reduce stress. Most of the websites I visited advised their high-strung readers to “eat right” and “exercise.” But I already work out at least four days a week, and my diet is healthy and varied (aside from the unrestrained consumption of caffeine, of course, but I’d already resolved to adjust that). As I continued reading, I kept coming across the same method being touted by experts as the panacea for all anxiety-related woes: yoga.

The majority of people I know have tried yoga at least once, and a significant number of them swear by it. Even my dad is a fan. “It’s very good for your chakras,” Dad once told me. “You want to keep those things open and get them flowing. My favorite poses are the corpse, the warrior, and the downward-facing dog — that one looks really simple, but it’s a bitch for me.” He could have been speaking Urdu for all I understood. To me, yoga has always been like Scientology — a mysterious cult with a flair for fostering starry-eyed devotees. Still, hoping that it might help alleviate the pressure on my pumper, I decided to suppress my judgment of the unknown and give it a try.

I looked to like-minded friends for advice — people who practiced yoga, but didn’t buy into the cosmic hoopla. Amy sent me information on the studio she attends. After I expressed my reluctance to attempt my first pretzel poses in public, Ronaldo suggested I try, a site that offered free instructional videos I could follow in private.

I went to the site and launched a video for beginners. A blonde woman seated on a grassy knoll appeared. Between inhales and exhales that seemed to go on FOR-EV-ER, she introduced her two companions. The introductions took three minutes. My frustration grew, as, like the scenic brook behind her, she continued babbling about her heart and the earth and the rivers in her body. “Enough with the heavy breathing! Just tell me where to put my freakin’ foot, for Christ’s sake!” I snapped at the screen. “Jesus, like I want to sit here all day listening to some hippie on quaaludes wax poetic about ashanti-majumbo-shakira?”

“What’s going on?” David had followed the sound of shouting into my office.

“She won’t shut up about her rivers and chakras and stop her heavy breathing long enough to teach me a pose,” I complained. “And she talks so slooowww. Jane was right,” I continued, invoking my eldest sister. “If I want to relax, I should just get a massage.” Jane had also said that she found yoga to be more stressful and annoying than relaxing.

David was laughing. I slapped at the keyboard until the woman was silenced and turned to find him holding his stomach, presumably from the pain of laughing so hard. “And what, may I ask, is so funny?”

David’s eyes were welling up with tears of hilarity. Between gasps for air, he said, “That’s the whole point!” and then fell back into a fit of laughter that eventually tapered to giggles, allowing him to explain himself while basking in the heat of my glare. “Yoga is all about breathing,” he chuckled. “It’s supposed to be slow and relaxing. You’re like an alcoholic complaining that there’s no open bar at the AA meetings.” David grinned with amusement.

“She sounds like she smoked a big spliff,” I muttered. “I don’t have patience for people who talk that slow. I just want to learn the poses without having to listen to some new-age hippie bimbo trying to speak Hindi.”

“Look,” David said, with a note of compassion. “Maybe yoga isn’t for you.”

“But all the websites said—”

“Shh,” he interrupted. “All they said was that if you want to stop suffering the effects of stress, you need to find ways to relax. I think I might be able to help you with that.” His amused grin morphed into a devilish smile.

“Oh yeah? And how’s that?” I prompted.

“A glass of wine, a hot, fragrant bath, and me,” he said.

My heart beat a familiar, comforting rhythm in my ears. I shut my laptop, accepted David’s outstretched hand, and said, “Lead on, maharishi.”

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