Brains. We’re all working with brains. I started to write this at the beginning of this year, for Purple Day (international epilepsy awareness day), but I gave up because it felt too personal. And I have written a little about this before, but that was for a popular yoga blog and their editors sort of…edited it. But here it is, at last: because epilepsy and yoga and creativity are all intricately connected.
I don’t want to belittle or rose-tint anyone’s experience of epilepsy. It’s shit sometimes. It makes work and friendships more difficult, because when you have seizures it’s hard to be reliable; it’s scary and painful sometimes and it can make you sad. But I am a believer in finding the good in difficult things, and something that is fascinating to me about epilepsy is the world that it opens up in my understanding of the creative power of the human brain, and the openness that it’s given me to the possibility of ‘other’ realities.
Epilepsy and how yoga helps
My seizures aren’t what people normally think of when they hear the word ‘epilepsy’: I have complex partial seizures. Occasionally I remember them completely, but usually I just feel a bit strange and the world looks weird – a bit wonky, colours look a bit different, it’s harder to balance. And then I look up and I’m sitting on the floor, often with someone crouching next to me, and some time has passed. Sometimes I feel unsettled for hours beforehand, and usually I feel unsettled for a day or two afterwards. I have it very, very easy compared to lots of people with conditions that come under the epilepsy umbrella. Especially because of my family and friends, who’ve supported me through the more challenging times; and my boyfriend who, from the first time he experienced one of my seizures, managed to make me feel safe but somehow not make a big deal out of it at the same time (he thinks nothing of this, but he doesn’t realise it’s an unusual skill!). The people around me have had to learn to trust me to look after myself, and I’ve had to learn to ask for help when I need it.
Yoga was a part of my life before epilepsy, but as I started to have more frequent electrical malfunctions it became much more important. It doesn’t stop them, but I definitely have fewer seizures in periods when I’m practising yoga and meditating consistently than when I’m not – and yoga makes me calm, and feeling calm makes it a lot easier to handle the fact that I have seizures. Stress is my biggest trigger, so it makes sense that having a regular yoga practice means less twitching. Practice gives space for perspective, and is the best antidote to getting wound up and anxious that I can think of.
Epilepsy, creativity and alternative realities
So what about epilepsy and creativity? Well…seizures are weird. They can make you feel things and see things that are like nothing you’ve felt or seen before. They can make everything different – there have been moments when the ground isn’t the ground; when a giant fist has pushed through the ceiling and turned it into rippling liquid; when the movement of a train beneath my feet has become a multi-universe earthquake which connects the fibres of this world with a load of other worlds which never existed before or since. There are moments when I’ve been conscious during seizures and remembered them afterwards which stand out as the most awe-inspiring moments of my life: moments of utter amazement at the existence of everything and smallness of me (and I was just sitting on the bathroom floor). It’s really hard to put these experiences into words, because they were nothing to do with any words that I know.
These experiences are evidence of the incredible creativity of the human brain, and suggestive of the complicated realities that we construct for ourselves in every moment – because a slight change in electrical activity in your brain can suddenly change everything.
What’s the link with yoga?
I recommend yoga to anyone with epilepsy, because it helps. Doctors have started to recommend it too; and although there’s little scientific evidence that I know of to show how it helps on a physical level, any practice that encourages calmness and steadiness and acceptance, and the integration of different aspects of your being, can be useful for getting to grips with living with seizures – even if there’s nothing more to it than that (and I suspect that there is more to it than that).
But the fact that epilepsy alters experience might be interesting for creative people within this discussion of yoga and creativity, even if you don’t have epilepsy – because it shows that physical changes in the brain can allow you to think up things that you never imagined you could think up. And like epilepsy, yoga changes the brain. As more research comes out about the effects of yoga and meditation on the brain, it’s becoming clear that practice has an impact on brain cell volume and can improve cognitive ability. Anyone who’s practised for any length of time will tell you that yoga significantly alters their state of mind. And if yoga creates physical changes in our brains, and experiences of epilepsy clearly show that physical changes in brains open up whole worlds of spontaneous brain creativity, yoga is probably really good for opening up worlds of spontaneous brain creativity too.
So what I mean is…if you have epilepsy, do yoga and/or meditate because it’ll probably help. If you’re a person who creates things for work or pleasure, or if you want to be more creative, do yoga because it’ll definitely help. And if you’re a creative person who has epilepsy, do yoga because it makes it all make a bit more sense.
Note…I am not a medical professional, and what I write about epilepsy is only from personal experience and from experience of teaching yoga to other people with epilepsy. But I’m always interested in talking with people about epilepsy, and am happy to share my experience if you’re thinking of trying yoga to help with seizures and the fears and anxieties that come with them.
Image: Head Exploding by Salvador Dali, 1951