During my early years of nurses’ training, I took a job on Saturday mornings piercing ears at a local department store. In the early 1980’s ear piercing was a new fad and stores wanted people with medical training doing the procedure, so they recruited students from the local nurses’ training program.

Since it was a new and exciting fad, there was already a long line waiting when I arrived for my first day on the job.  My station consisted of a stool and a table with the needed equipment; no privacy screen was provided. Each person had to sign a consent and was supposed to tell me if they had any health issues.

I had had plenty of practice using needles for injections, so the ear-piercing procedures were going well. Right before lunch break, a woman who was clearly nervous came to my station. When I asked if she was okay, she assured me she was fine. I advised her to take some slow deep breaths. After the second earring was placed, she started to slump. I grabbed her to prevent her falling off the stool. As she slid onto the floor with uncontrolled movements, I recognized she was having a seizure. Before the assistance I called for could arrive, she recovered and got to her feet, clearly embarrassed by all the people watching. She apologized for not telling me she had epilepsy, thanked me for the new earrings, and hurried away.

Recently I was asked about what precautions should be taken by someone who has epilepsy when they are doing yoga; I remembered that incident from long ago. The first thing to do is to be sure to inform your yoga teacher of your condition. Be prepared to help educate your teacher about how the disease manifests for you and what to do if you have a seizure during class. Here is a good website you can refer to:  http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/tc/helping-a-person-during-an-epileptic-seizure-topic-overview

Know what triggers your seizures so you can control for those factors. In the above ear-piercing incident, the woman’s seizure could have been triggered by several factors, including the stress of anticipated pain or experienced pain from the piercing, the lack of privacy, the fluorescent or flashing lights in the department store, low blood sugar right before lunch time, not enough sleep the night before, or the time of menstrual cycle.

I wish I had had more time with her so I could have recommended Ananda Yoga. Yoga practice has many benefits for those with epilepsy. The exercise component of yoga is very helpful and is rarely a trigger for seizures, but make sure you don’t over exert.  The biggest risk is falling out of a pose when having an unexpected seizure.  Therefore, you should avoid the full expression of poses that could cause injury if you fell out of them, such as a head stand or a shoulder stand. You can still enjoy a very satisfying and beneficial practice if you use modifications for these kinds of poses.

Epilepsy is a disease of the nervous system, and yoga is known to have a calming and balancing effect on the brain and nerves. Ananda Yoga includes the Energization Exercises, which Paramhansa Yogananda says recharges nerve cells and teaches us how to control subtle energy.  Be sure to include calming breath work and meditation as part of your yoga session, as we do in every Ananda Yoga class. You will find the increased inner awareness from your yoga practice will give you more attunement with body and mind. All that translates into a sense of empowerment and hope in the face of disease and uncertainty.

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