Epilepsy – Yoga for Mind, Everybody and Spirit

So now that I have spent some time looking for reasons why yoga and tai chi are good for health, I am curious to find out if anybody else has been benefitting from mind-body training for seizures.

As it happens I have recently found a couple of articles which were really good and indicate that I AM NOT ALONE!

Yoga Journal December 2011 community – ‘signs they are a ’changin’ page 24 has an article by Anna Dubrovsky about deaf yoga founder Lila Lolling. (see deafyoga.org.)

Unfortunately I can’t find this article on-line to create a link. Apparently epilepsy is not the only health condition to pose a challenge in class participation. Lila Lolling has set up deaf yoga classes to include and encourage participation in yoga by deaf people. (see link 1)

Being deaf in a yoga class creates its own unique challenges and she has been building bridges towards inclusion. Interestingly, in relation to her own health; ‘Diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager, Lolling credits yoga with keeping her seizure free and off medication,’ according to the article. This is very encouraging to me!

Pretty quickly it was apparent that EVERYONE participating in yoga are reaping health benefits. There is a wealth of online resources explaining what health problems benefit from yoga.

In 2009 and 2010 I returned to yoga classes locally, this time as a tortoise (slow and steady). I can put my head on the floor now and put weight into my head and through my neck. I am not quite upside down yet – but give me time!

Our community classes are called ‘Yoga I Bawb’ this is Welsh for ‘yoga for everybody’. (see links at bottom of page) We are very lucky to have such a holistic co-operative approaching the teaching of yoga to our local community! If you are in the locality drop on by!

Info sources: 1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWsSFuxlj5k

2) deafyoga.org (link given in yoga journal article)

3) http://www.yogawithlila.com/yogawithlila/About.html

4) http://www.yogaibawb.org.uk


Epilepsy – Breathing ‘Quality Not Quanity’

So why is breathing so important in epilepsy?

Yoga and tai chi are both beneficial for epilepsy management but what is the reason for this?

I have spent some time looking at what others have to say about breathing in relation to seizures. Here are some of the points which came up that have helped me to understand why breathing exercises are beneficial for epilepsy management.

These are extracts from Kenneth Cohen which are very illuminating.

According to Dr Fried’s The Psychology and Physiology of Breathing, “Rapid breathing (i.e. hyperventilation) reduces brain blood flow, while slow, deep breathing enhances it, other factors being equal.”5

‘Wilder Penfield, one of the world’s leading neurosurgeons and experts on epilepsy, wrote, “the mechanism whereby hyperventilation elicits change in the EEG and seizures in epileptic patients is still unknown. It may act by causing a partial ischemia (reduced blood flow) due to cerebral vasoconstriction, and there may be some increase in excitability accompanying the lowered CO2 concentration.”6 (ref info source ) p116

This book by Kenneth Cohen is a fantastic resource for any chigong or tai chi practitioner as it very clearly lays out the components of chi gung practice.

Kenneth Cohen makes accessible through his understanding of the Chinese language and qigong practice what is often lost in English translation.

What he makes clear is that research into breathing has led to the discovery that arteries can constrict causing changes in blood flow to the brain.

If you are prone to seizures or migraine this is very valuable information indeed.

Information sources:

The Way of Qigong – The art and science of Chinese Energy Healing by Kenneth S. Cohen ISBN 0-345-42109-4



Epilepsy – Tai Chi as Physical and Occupational Therapy

Chinese moonwalking is a very interesting pastime (I find).

It also involves LOTS of breathing.

There are many who disagree, running does it for some, swimming for others or just good old-fashioned karate.

But for me, when I started to learn tai chi a door opened. A ray of light began to descend onto what was turning into a very bleak winter of the mind and body.

As far as health was concerned, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I finally turned a corner.

It did take 2 years of training to turn the corner but the point was the seed was sown.

Unlike Michael Jackson’s moonwalking, the chinese moving meditation class was not fast.

Hedgehog rehabilitation was to be a slow, restful and ultimately time-consuming affair.

But at least in my tai chi incarnation I could become a tortoise (even if in evolutionary terms this may have been a step backwards). The point is you can’t learn to run before you can walk.

The beauty of being a tortoise is that it doesn’t require you to be inverted. Most of the serious standing practice asks that both feet remain firmly planted on the floor at all times (unless you happen to be standing on one leg).

Tai chi also helped me to begin to come to grips with my body’s limitations (of which there are many).

Some of the problems that occur from anticonvulsant prescription medication are fatigue and pain management. Either, I was taking SO much mediation that I couldn’t feel anything at all, OR  every time I had a seizure I would be in pain for months.

During the last few years I have suffered really serious back problems as a result of seizures. After one particular episode I couldn’t feel much of my right side and my back muscles were like jelly and had no integrity.

It has taken a long time to get them re-trained. Additionally, problems begin to show up in the rest of the body.

I would not have been aware of or able to correct these problems if I had not been introduced to Tai Chi and Chi Gung practice.

Tai Chi is very subtle and I think that if you are an athlete in prime condition, not a day’s ill-health in your life and in top cardio vascular fitness; the subtleties of slow movement may be lost completely unless long-term perseverance is sustained.

Life in the fast lane can mean that the slow lane isn’t an option for those fortunate enough to have qualities such as speed (more Hare than Tortoise), untill serious physical injury or illness leads to either immobility or seriously limited mobility.

 A lot of people only consider the slow lane when they get run over in the fast lane (they didn’t start out as a hedgehog or a tortoise). Sometimes, the Hare gives up and doesn’t try the slow lane because the Hare remembers what it is like to go fast and doesn’t adapt to the changes in circumstance.

Most serious professional athletes and sports people need physiotherapy at some time in their career.

It pains me to say that many hedgehogs do not discover yoga or tai chi, and therefore do not get the opportunity to experience evolution through internal (mind, body and spirit) self-development.

I would recommend Tai Chi to anyone who is suffering from a health condition, in particular Chi Gung. I would recommend it even if there is no health condition as it is a good practice as a life system, like yoga.

At some point I would like to talk about why Tai Chi is so good for health but not in this post.

It took approximately 2 years for me to stop having seizures in my Tai Chi class. I was having them very regularly when I started, and I used to be unable to complete the class because I would have a seizure.

A less patient teacher would have got fed up with me, but my tai chi instructor just took it in his stride and performed Reiki on me if  I was unwell.

I think on reflection where other exercise classes had failed this teacher succeeded, because there was no judgment about me and for the first time in my life I stopped comparing myself with what other people could do physically just for long enough to look at myself . Also, and this is very important, he never once told me that I couldn’t do something.

This last point is very important to how anyone learns. A class where a teacher  motivates, encourages and facilitates learning through enabling the students by providing skills that lead to understanding has a high success rate.

I would say that as a student of tai chi with a label ‘Disability’ this was the most important factor. It is really hard to learn if the teacher has given up on you before you have started. So many times the word ‘disability’ is mistaken for an excuse to expect less of the individual.

 Whether its physical or academic education the term ‘disability’ can break an education before learning has begun. Projections about expectation (or lack there of) from the external can impact heavily on what a person achieves, because if no-one around you expects anything of you how can you yourself hope to achieve anything?

I can’t compete with people when NOTHING about my body works properly. Much of the time exercise at school had been all about competition. Running the fastest, jumping the highest.  So what is the point in trying to be like everyone else in the class when it is clearly a complete waste of time?

 My body, like everyone else’s is unique to me. Not one person is the same. I think  this is something that is often forgotten in the haste to be the best, or be the same as other people in the haste to fit in.

 In particular if you are female, women compare themselves to each other in a dog eat dog world. This is a cultural and sadly often destructive pass time. How many of us have looked in a magazine and wanted to look like a model or movie star?  I don’t think that it is just women, but we are the ones who are supposed to have a job, be a mothers, look beautiful, be slim and have our cake and eat it!

So Tai Chi was taking care of my body, but as I mentioned, this change did not come about overnight.

The Body an owner’s manual. If only we were born with all the instructions.

The main thing that I have learned from this experience is that it doesn’t matter if you’re not as bendy, fast and fit as other people. It is MOST important that you understand WHY YOU are not bendy, fast and fit.

 It is  important that you know how to keep YOURSELF HEALTHY.