I started yoga before I was diagnosed with a cavernous angioma, and because it looked like an easy way to lose weight. At 18, I marveled at how flawlessly these tiny women moved from pose to pose with the elegance of ballerinas and the strengths of weight lifters. In all fairness, they do make it look so easy in virtually every photo and video, and they did then too. I remember thinking to myself, “Yes, that looks simple enough. All of my baby pudge will be gone in a matter of months and I will be the slender, willow-like figure I was always meant to be.” Oh how incorrect I was.
I was not flexible by any means, and I was lacking in upper body strength. These were both things I wanted to improve on, but I also was just tired of hating how I looked without being covered in layers of clothes.
I looked forward to trying yoga for the first time as I unfurled my mat, expecting to transform into some Sailor Moon-esque yoga goddess like every other young woman I had seen on television. My fantasy was immediately squashed when I failed to touch my toes. And failed to place my feet, legs, hips and shoulders right in no less than seven poses. And failed to maintain rhythmic breathing as I slung my floppy, sweaty body around my mat, senselessly at this point, in an attempt to finish what I started.
Nobody told me when I started the video it would sound like the kind, quiet, tranquil instructor was speaking a different language. Vinyawhat? Whatthefucksana? You want me to put my legs where? And this was just the stuff for beginners. It was difficult to say the least, and by the end I was sweating, panting, and embarrassed by my personal health. I knew I needed to do something, but didn’t realize how out of shape I was. I carried on for a couple more months, but the person I was then expected immediate results, and soon I floated away from yoga and my mat.
Then I had my first seizure, and my first brain tumor diagnosis. While my weight and the shape of my body were still concerns floating lazily (pun intended) in the back of my mind, I now had bigger issues at hand. Stripped of my license and unable to do any of the things I had once done to make a grab at not only a health life, but also entertainment, during a frenzied moment of cabin fever I found my yoga mat. At this point, I had literally nothing else. I was forbidden to run or lift anything heavy. Driving anywhere was out so I was stuck unless a friend took pity or I wanted to get a cab, as this was pre-Lyft days. Thanks to the movie The Bone Collector, however, that was out. Many movies and video games were still setting off my auras at this time, and so, I stretched. And this time I didn’t stop.
I couldn’t touch my toes. I was just as out of breath and out of sync with any movement or rhythm as I remembered, but it allowed me some sense of control over my body and my life. And this time it began to give me peace. Over the next few months I became more flexible, and noticed a difference in my strength. More importantly, however, I began to see a change in my overall demeanor. I had been placed on Keppra, and had been experiencing a side effect commonly known in the epileptic community as Kepprage. This was not normal anger, but irrational anger several notches higher than I had ever experienced on my worst day with PMS. Yoga began to calm it.
The depression I felt setting in over the total loss of control in my life also began to subside slightly as I grew stronger, adapting to using breathing exercises as I moved. Most wonderfully, after my next seizure the gained flexibility and strength yoga had given me diminished my rebound time by several weeks. Where I was once couch-bound, stuck in a drug induced haze for two to three weeks, unable to move because it felt like I had been hit by a bus, I was now up and moving again in a matter of days.
Today I am 29, and have been consistently doing yoga for nine years. Many people who do it preach its physical and health benefits, crowing about the impact it can have on everything from your skin to your internal organs. While this all felt true to me (and I did lose seventy lbs. while doing it), yoga really changed my life because I felt my diagnosis closing in on me. It was going to take me. It was going to kill me or morph me into a person who would be unbearable to be around. The peace yoga’s various routines brought me allowed me to avoid this. The breathing exercises I learned through yoga helped me to control not only my anxiety, but also auras and seizures.
The routine of doing yoga every day let me take back some control, however small, while I navigated a situation I had never prepared for. While I may never shake my epilepsy, I can always turn to the peace and positivity offered by yoga no matter how difficult things may become. It showed me when I am at my weakest and most vulnerable, I am still able to build and achieve by myself, for myself, something desperately needed some days while living with epilepsy.