Epilepsy is a neurological disorder, and for any disorder of the nervous system, yoga shows excellent benefit. Almost every yoga pose there is, benefits your nervous system in some way or the other.
According to WHO around 50 million people worldwide 1 have epilepsy. It is estimated that 70 percent of all epilepsy sufferers live a seizure-free life, with appropriate management. Yoga will help you achieve such appropriate management.
Yoga makes three essential developments to your nervous system, that leads to give you a seizure-free life. Firstly, with its variety of poses, yoga will increase the electrical signal transmission across your nervous network. Secondly, it will improve your overall nerve endurance. And thirdly, it will keep your nerves calm and stress-free.
Can yoga trigger an epilepsy seizure?
Yoga ideally doesn’t trigger seizures, However, improper practice might lead to seizures. Excessive physical stress can also stress your nerves abnormally to trigger an epilepsy seizure. Studies show that most people with epilepsy feel Yoga has the potential to reduce medication side effects and seizure frequency 2
None of the poses are built such that they exert unnatural tension on any biological component of your body. Rather yoga poses focus on holding every part of your body in the most ideal posture.
It is the improper way of practicing yoga poses that raise the epilepsy seizure concern. A pose that is already physically intensive, when practiced in the wrong ways can stress your nerves in unwanted ways, triggering a seizure.
Thus if you are planning to practice yoga in epilepsy, which will be largely beneficial, it is quintessential that you do so under the guidance of an experienced and certified mentor.
Why epilepsy seizures occur? and How yoga can help?
The basic logic behind seizures is that there is a sudden unexplained burst of electrical transmission between your brain cells 3.
Now the exact cause behind this trigger is mostly unknown unless you have a trauma or an injury to a specific area; which is easily diagnosed with an MRI.
However, stress, lack of sleep, infection, and lack of nutrients, are often considered as the triggers of epilepsy seizure. These activities are abnormal to our biology, and somehow they make our nerves behave abnormally, as well.
Since the causes are not entirely known to us, what we can try is to evade or manage the triggers. This is what yoga precisely does. Yoga can help you eliminate the triggers of epilepsy seizures from your life; helping you live a seizure-free life.
Yoga’s mechanism of controlling epilepsy seizures involves 5 key points. It eliminates stress triggers, increases mind-body awareness, promotes sound sleep, eliminates infection, and manages nutrients supply.
1. Yoga eliminates stress trigger
Stress management is a major concern in epilepsy. To assess the importance of yoga in stress management in patients of epilepsy, a simple form of meditation called Sahaja yoga has shown 4 a 62% decrease in seizure frequency at 3 months and a further decrease of 86% at 6 months of intervention.
The easy relaxing poses of yoga dilute epilepsy concern with ease. Easy yoga poses can relax your entire nervous system, and a relaxed state is the best state for an epileptic. Relaxed nerves will also encourage the healing of damaged nerve tissues from existing injuries.
2. Yoga increases mind-body awareness
Increasing body awareness can itself be a factor in eliminating triggers. Studies have shown the meditative yoga practices can naturally manage epilepsy, even in patients who respond less to medication 5. Now dissecting consciousness and awareness has always been an elusive subject for neuroscientists. The exact mechanisms have not yet been established.
However, it has been found that in aware, concentrated, and conscious states, there is an increased neuronal firing but at a stable rate. So when you practice yoga and it increases your mind-body awareness, your nerves are essentially practicing high-speed neuronal firing at a stable rate. This practice can eventually reduce the frequency of sudden abnormal bursts of neuronal firing, as in an epilepsy seizure.
3. Yoga promotes sound sleep
Lack of sleep is a stressful matter on your entire nervous system which can quickly become a trigger for an epilepsy seizure. Hypothalamus, thalamus, and pineal gland, play the foremost role in the sleep process. Bedtime yoga poses can stimulate these components for a sound sleep. Additionally, factors like stress and anxiety hinder the sleep process. Yoga helps remove such obstacles as well.
4. Yoga eliminates infection trigger
Viral infections and other flu-like infections have a tendency to attack our nervous system, so can trigger epilepsy seizures. The pathogen is an abnormal entity to our neurons, and consequently, triggers a malfunction. Yoga can enhance our immunity responses to deal better with such foreign threats.
5. Yoga supports the nutrients management
You must be aware of the saying, your brain never sleeps. This also means it needs more food to stay awake all the time. Nutrient deficiency to your brain can make it harder for the nerves to perform their tasks.
Yoga will help your digestive system efficiently sort out the required nutrients. And then boost your circulatory system to promptly transport them to your brain, which ultimately gives better control on epilepsy seizure.
What yoga exercises are good to control epilepsy seizures?
If you are planning to start yoga to treat your epilepsy, then you need to focus on easy yoga exercises in the beginning. Yoga includes pranayama, hand mudras, and meditation as easy exercises to reduce stress response, which ultimately reduces the epilepsy frequency.
As a beginner, and someone with epilepsy it is advisable to start out with simple yoga poses. Poses that won’t be a threat, even if you make beginner’s mistakes.
Try these yoga exercises to control the epilepsy.
1. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose is both a resting and a restorative pose. As you bend forward, it gently arches your spine forward, stimulating your nervous system. And as you rest your forehead against the floor, the soft pressure on your forehead will feel very soothing. You will feel the stiffness dissipating from your head, face, neck, and spine.
- Get down on all fours, your hands and knees.
- Keep your hands shoulder length apart, and knees hip length apart.
- Keep your hands fixed to the floor, and pull your body backwards and sit on your heels.
- Let your stomach be pressed on your thighs, your chest on your knees.
- Stretch out your upper back, shoulders and hands.
- Rest your forehead on the ground.
- Hold the pose for about 30 seconds.
Normally the pose is simple, yet if you have any difficulty, use a yoga block to rest your forehead, or sit with a rolled blanket between your feet.
2. Corpse Pose (Shavasana)
Corpse pose (Shavasana) is extremely popular for its resting nature. And without a doubt, you will feel very relaxed, but the beauty of this pose is rather in its element of awareness. This pose is nothing but lying down meditation, where you focus and concentrate. You concentrate on your physiology and get aware of your physical being. And as you do so your nerves learn to develop stable neuronal firing. Needless to say, this is possibly the safest exercise on earth for someone with epilepsy.
- Lie supine on the floor.
- Stretch out your arms, and rest your legs at hip length apart.
- Close your eyes.
- And breathe steadily.
- And with every breath focus on a specific muscle of your body.
- With every exhale focus on relaxing the muscles.
- Continue this pose for 10-15 minutes if you wish.
The challenge of this pose is to manage your mental block. Consciously condition your mind to enter a state of relaxation and awareness.
3. Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
Tree pose will require a little bit of balancing, but apart from that it’s mostly restorative. The balancing part will help your nerves learn better control over your muscles. This pose will also increase your body awareness. The tree pose includes holding and balancing your spine in a perfectly erect posture. As you hold the pose and breathe steadily, multiple healthy activities will be encouraged in your CNS. This pose will also encourage the healing of internal injuries.
- Stand in a mountain pose.
- Spine erect, look forward, shoulders dropped, legs hip length apart, and hands straight along the sides of your body.
- Now gradually shift your bodyweight to your right side.
- Balancing your weight on your right leg, lift up your left leg, and rest your left foot against the inner side of your right leg.
- Raise both your hands overhead, partially straight, and join your palms together.
- Keep your spine erect, exactly the way you would in mountain pose.
- Hold your pose for 30 seconds.
- Repeat the pose by balancing on your left leg.
Although unlikely, you still need to stay prepared for an episode of seizure. If you do get a seizure, mid-pose, you will fall and injure yourself. Thus it is safe not to practice this step when you are alone, not even with support.
4. Crocodile Pose (Makarasana)
Crocodile pose will add more depth to your spinal activity, in your yoga routine. Although, just enough to stimulate it, the effort will still be significantly less as compared to poses like the cobra pose. Crocodile pose is a good way to rest as you stretch your spine. This pose is also very beneficial to your cardiovascular health, and thus, your circulatory system.
- Lie on the front of your body.
- Keep your legs slightly wider than hip length.
- Bend your elbows and place your hands by the sides of your body.
- Now press down with your arms, and arch up your upper body from your torso.
- Bring your hands in front of you, plant your elbows on the ground, with wrists facing upward.
- Open your palm and create a resting hold for your head.
- Rest your chin on your palm and rest.
- Hold the pose for a minute to a couple of minutes.
- During your hold bend one knee at a time and draw your heel toward your sitting bone.
After drawing one heel at a time, you can also try drawing both your heels together, toward your sitting bones.
5. Frog Pose (Mandukasana)
The frog yoga pose is something that will help primarily with your digestion. It will also boost your nervous functions and blood circulation. The frog pose will help you provide an efficient supply of nutrients, without which your brain can trigger a seizure.
- Sit in Vajrasana, with folded knees and on your heels.
- Take a deep breath in, and then equally deep exhale.
- Exhale using your stomach, your belly should press completely into your spine as you exhale.
- Press hold your belly into your spine, with your palms (one over the other.)
- Keep your belly pressed in, bend forward all the way down, resting your chest on your knees.
- Look in front and take 5-7 breaths and release.
- Repeat the step 3 times.
You will have to be a little careful of your abdomen. In this pose, you will realize the safe press for your stomach. You don’t want to overdo the press and injure your insides.
6. Bhramari Pranayama (Bee Breathing Exercise)
It is believed that while the yoga poses help you improve the physical activities of your organs and tissues, the Yoga Pranayama helps you improve the physiology itself. The Bhramari Pranayama is all about your sense organs and the nervous network related to them. Naturally, the Pranayama will improve the physiology of the sense organs and sensory nerves, both of which play a vital role in triggering your epilepsy.
- Sit in an easy pose.
- Close all your senses inward, with the shanmukhi mudra.
- In shanmukhi mudra, you open up your palm in both hands and place your little fingers under your lower lip. Your ring finger over your upper lip, your middle finger over your nose bridge, your index finger on your closed eyes, and thumbs in your ear hole.
- Take a deep breath in and exhale making a humming bee-like vibration sound.
- Repeat this 10 times.
Make sure you are not pressing hard with your fingers. Apply very gentle pressure. The vibration sound should be made in the back and roof of your mouth. The vibration should be contained inward, rather than forced out, and it needs to be felt by all the sensory points on your face and head.
7. Mrigi Mudra
One of the easiest and most effective exercises for epilepsy, mrigi mudra is a simple hand gesture of yoga. It’s formed by joining the middle and ring fingertip with the thumb tip.
- Sit in any meditative posture, padmasana, sukhasana or vajrasana.
- Place back of your hands on respective kneecap.
- Now join the tip of the middle and ring fingers with the tip of the thumb. Keep rest two fingers extended.
- Hold this hand position for 15 minutes in one stretch.
- Do this mudra 2 to 3 times a day to cure epilepsy.
Mrigi mudra in epilepsy cures nervous weakness and reduces tension. Do this mudra a minimum of 30 minutes a day to control the epilepsy seizure.
Avoiding the triggers of epilepsy is no easy task. You need to carefully manage all parts of your lifestyle. Which will include your yoga and other exercises, your diet, habits, and medications. You also need to pay special attention to not skip your medications.
Yoga has both systematic breathing and meditation in its practices. Yet, you can try and include regular meditation and breathing exercises to your routine. This will help you multiply the benefits of yoga. And last but not the least, always remember not to over-exhaust.
- WHO report https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/epilepsy
- Yoga and epilepsy: What do patients perceive? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768218/
- Epilepsy – symptoms & causes https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/epilepsy/
- Effect of sahaja yoga on stress management in patients of epilepsy https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7649596/
- Yoga meditation protocol for patients with medically refractory epilepsy https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2006.12.367