by Natasha Akery
I remember being 17 and absolutely crazy. I don’t mean the regular teenage-girl stuff. I’m talking about screaming at the top of my lungs for no apparent reason and then curling up into a ball on the floor for six hours. My family had no idea until my mom saw it for herself. Out of nowhere I was wailing like a banshee, my hands and feet like fists. My limbs contorted and muscles tensed. This would happen a few times a week. My family didn’t know what to do. I didn’t either.
“Stress-induced epilepsy manifested by petit mal seizures,” said the neurologist. He didn’t give me any hints for how to make it stop, just a prescription for anti-seizure medication that he said probably wouldn’t work. I threw it away after vowing not to call him back.
My epilepsy wasn’t the genius kind. I wasn’t Dostoevsky working on my next epic novel, sipping tea and then busting out a seizure. Based on what the doctor said, it was my life that was causing this mess. I was in an abusive relationship with a creepy older guy. My family was completely dysfunctional. College wasn’t the answer to my future. My freshman year was an academic joke when the seizures became worse. I’d be sitting in the middle of the cafeteria with my dorm mates, shaking uncontrollably and crying my eyes out.
My life was based on fear. I dropped out after freshman year in hopes of figuring out how to fix myself. I would make better choices, date normal guys, and heal my family. That’s a lot for an 18-year-old girl to take on, especially one with a broken moral compass and zero coping skills.
Yoga was an accident. I’d never possessed any interest in it until, at age 21, I saw a class listed at a local college campus. I was immediately seduced by the natural light filtering through floor to ceiling windows framed by the branches of oak trees outside. The poses made me feel graceful, something I hadn’t felt in a long time. The meditation evoked something deep inside my heart that had gone to sleep long before. When the teacher invited the class to chant Om, all I could manage was to whisper to myself, “I’m so sorry.”
I bought a book on yoga and taught myself Sun Salutations. There was something sacred about this mechanical series of postures. My body understood that it needed this every day. I bound myself to this practice, not understanding anything about it. I started and ended every day with Surya Namaskar. I wasn’t conscious of changes occurring in my life. I wasn’t aware that I was making healthier choices, learning to set boundaries, expressing myself creatively, and making new friends.
It wasn’t until many months later, when one day while laying on the floor in Corpse Pose it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a seizure. The tension that had taken root in my body was gone. I had started to look forward to the days ahead instead of hoping they would never come. I had gone back in college and was supporting myself financially. I was in a relationship with an awesome guy who would become my husband. Life was finally good.
Sri Pattabhi Jois wrote in Yoga Mala that Surya Namaskar has the power to cure many ailments, even epilepsy. I didn’t know this when I began my practice, but somehow, my body did.
I’ve been seizure-free for more than four years. My knowledge and practice of yoga has deepened. I look to the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutra for guidance. I seek companionship by practicing with like-minded people. In 2011, I became certified to teach yoga, and emphasize compassion toward the Self in classes for women who come from traumatic backgrounds.
Yoga encapsulates a great expanse of opportunities and experiences, but my practice will always be rooted in a handful of postures that honor the star that gives us life.
Natasha Akery is a musician, writer, and yoga teacher in Charleston, South Carolina. Read more from her at downdogreview.com.