Yoga

Be still my crappy, beating heart.

Most of you might not know this, but I’ve had arrythmia since I was ten or eleven years old. It just appeared one day and made a permanent nest in my chest. The condition is not life threatening or anything like that, but it did put an end to a beloved hobby (tennis) and made me shy away from certain activities. It still does. But over the years—I must admit in shame—I’ve mostly just used it as an excuse to not exercise when I rather let myself turn into a wobbly couch potato.

When arrythmia kicks in, something triggers my heart and nudges it off its rhythm. My pulse skyrockets and my heart beats rapidly out of my chest. These triggers can be humidity, any kind of sudden up-and-down movement, jumping, sitting down too fast, low blood sugar or anxiety.

Unless I lay down and lift my feet up, everything goes blurry and I pass out. I once tried what happens if I ignore the attack and keep on doing what I’m doing. I was about thirteen years old and at a tennis tournament in Stockholm. Giving arrythmia the middle finger wasn’t a good idea. I lost what small portion was left of my low teenager’s self-confidence when halfway through the game, I needed to dramatically lay down in the middle of the court and put my coach to shame by not winning a single score. (Not that I would have scored anyway, shitty heart or not, I was never that good of a player, but I loved to play anyway).

Getting used to arrythmia and adjusting my life accordingly was surprisingly easy. The doctors told me it’s not a rare condition to have, but for them to do anything about it, they’d need to get the attack recorded on a heart scan. Easier said than done; the attack usually lasts a minute or two, which is obviously not enough time to rush into the nearest hospital.

So when my beloved friend Sari dragged me to an Ashtanga yoga class years and years ago, I fell in love. Ashtanga is slow paced but strenuous. You stay on your mat for an hour and a half, sweat like a pig, and throughout the practice you basically feel like dying. What’s not to love? The torture led to me gaining muscle for the first time in twenty years (which was wicked cool) but the best part was that in Ashtanga, your heart rate is not supposed to peak at all. You control it with Ujjayi breathing; you breathe slow, deep and steady, from one asana to another.


After moving away from Finland to go find, correction, to go create myself out in the big world, I became serious about dressage and training horses. As I bought my first horse (you may have heard of my black diamond, her name is Arabella), I started to train six days a week, riding one to three horses a day. In addition to the hour-long training (per horse), my shift at the barn usually lasted 8 to 10 hours. Sitting down was frowned upon. Not having time to eat during my work days led to me losing too much weight, but the physically demanding work made me strong as a bull. (No more asking Chris to open pickle jars for me.) As much as I enjoyed the hard labor and pushing my body to its limits, my crappy heart wasn’t a big fan.

Seven years of riding and barn work also did its job on my right shoulder. The injury goes on and off. Sometimes, when it lifts its ugly head to come out and play, it cracks my whole back out of whack. People told me time and time again to “change hands” while mucking stalls, but I laughed and said it would slow me down too much. The minute schedule at (most of) the barns where I worked at was no joke.

After moving to Finland and going back to sitting on my bum for eight hours a day, I’ve gained about 10 kilos (approximately 22 pounds) and my exercise is limited to riding and an occasional spin on the yoga mat. Three months ago, Arabella was diagnosed with a suspensory ligament injury in her left hind leg, limiting our exercise together to walking. This is making both of us chubby and bored out of our minds.

So after months and months of “maybe next week” and a handful of great excuses, I gave in and joined Chris in a program called “GMB”, first in a one week kickstart. I’ve never been a big fan of training at home, mostly because it’s too easy to skip the morning exercise due to work / writing / my phone urgently needing my attention / cleaning / folding laundry / petting the bunnies. We started the program and “forgot” to go on. After a month of hibernating, we started again, this time with their “Elements” program.

This week, Monday through Saturday, we did follow through. I was happy to notice my heart felt “iffy” only once and I was able to set it back to its normal rhythm by taking an extra break and breathing on my mat for a while. My shoulder feels a hundred times better, my posture is a bit less like Quasimodo’s, and my belly area seems a tiny bit less wobbly. The programs focus on body mobility, awareness and control.

My goal is not to lose weight or become more fit, although these things will surely happen as I keep going. My goal is to be more flexible, have more core strength, as well as body control this spring when Arabella and I (knock on wood) get back to our dressage training. I’m hoping we’ll get to enter a couple of summer shows as well. I hope the training I do now will lead into a smoother comeback in dressage later on (or at least Arabella gets to carry a slightly lighter and more balanced rider on her back).

Wish me luck! It’s just week one and the holidays are coming… however, I feel so good, motivated and excited about this week’s progress, I’ll be damned if I fall off the wagon and dive back into the heavenly routine of late; sleeping in, homemade pizza, and Ben&Jerry’s ice cream.