Nowadays, the benefits of relaxation meditation for health and relaxation are widely accepted by most everyone—from yoga practitioners to medical doctors to even your great Aunt Lucy. But what exactly is meditation? Is it right for those with epilepsy? Meditation is the practice of learning to transform one’s mind. By practicing meditation, a calmer, more accepting mindset develops. There are many approaches to meditation. Some techniques involve deep breathing, others guided imagery, focused attention or chanting, to name a few.
A Stress Reducer or a Trigger for Seizures?
For many people stress is a trigger for seizures so learning to manage stress becomes very important in managing their epilepsy. Yet for others, meditation can cause seizures. Eliminating stressors may be helpful, but not all stressors can be eliminated so learning to cope with stress is essential for people with epilespy, whether or not they use meditation as a tool.
Research shows that the meditative aspect of yoga reduces stress in certain people—those with uncontrolled refractory (drug resistant) epilepsy. Results of two unblinded randomized control trials published on May 2, 2015, reveal that the group with uncontrolled refractory epilepsy reported a significant change in their quality of life on the Satisfaction with Life Scale compared to the control group. The deep breathing exercises reduced anxiety and inhibited responses to stress. It is important to note however, that the study did not show a reduction in seizure frequency or duration.
Are There Any Cautions for Sufferers?
Quite simply, yes.
- It is essential that meditation be used as a complementary approach, not as a replacement for medications.
- Meditation may be possibly hazardous for some people.
During meditation, complex changes occur in the brain and these neuro-effects may actually cause seizures.
Neuro-effects of meditation include:
- EEG changes in alpha and theta frequencies
- Increases in the synchrony of EEG activity (Synchrony is the degree that the neurons communicate in unison)
- Increase in the inter-hemispheric coherence of EEG activity
- Increases in the Serotonin levels in the brain (Serotonin carries signals between nerves)
- Increases in the production of Glutamate (excitatory transmitter) in the brain
As a result these effects can increase a person’s risk for epilptogenesis (developing epilepsy) and/or trigger a seizure.
Keep Your Doctor Informed
It is important to let your doctor know if you are planning to start to practice meditation or a yoga practice that involves meditation. If you experience any changes that raise concern, you should immediately stop and tell your doctor. What may work for one person may not work for another as each person’s epilepsy is different. By working with your doctor, you may find that meditation is right for you.
Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life
For many people the increase in quality of life that meditation provides has been the greatest reason for continuing the practice. There may be no changes in the frequency or duration of their seizures, but how the person mentally copes with his or her condition may be the greatest benefit of all. Learning a new way to respond to your condition can be life-changing. Meditation is simply a tool. If meditation is not right for you, talk with your doctor about other ways to control stress.
There is one thought to consider whether or not your condition allows you to meditate: Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.