About four years ago, when I was 22 years old, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. When the doctors told me of all the things I could no longer do, of all the things I’d have trouble with in the future, and the very real risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), I felt broken. As I began taking medication in hopes of controlling my seizures, I started experiencing side effects that further interrupted my ability to complete normal daily tasks. I felt like a prisoner. Everywhere I looked, I was reminded that I was sick. I started to believe there was no way out and that I would never get better. I felt as though epilepsy had not only taken control of my body, but it had taken control of my entire life.
As conventional medicine only seemed to exacerbate my overall condition and put further strain on my family, we began searching for alternative forms of treatment in hopes of turning things around. When my mom came across an article that explained how both yoga and meditation are effective therapies for seizure disorders, I figured I’d give it a try.
In my very first class, I watched as the guy in front of me proceeded to get into a headstand, or as I called it, “sit on his head.” I was amazed. For the first time in what seemed like forever, instead of saying, “I can’t do that,” I found myself saying, “I can’t WAIT to do that.” Yoga quickly became a place where I could explore—where I could discover things that I was capable of doing. As I continued to show up to class and my teachers pushed me to try, I started to feel powerful. When I was on my mat, I wasn’t sick and there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. Slowly, my diagnosis stopped taking precedence. My energy went into my practice and I began to heal from the inside out. Yoga was the vehicle that allowed me to see myself beyond my diagnosis. As soon as I stopped letting my diagnosis define me, I was not only able to imagine a life for myself outside of my epilepsy, but I found the strength and courage to make it happen.
Currently, I am wrapping up my first year of graduate school in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Canisius College. Due to my grades and service work, I was recently inducted in to Alpha Sigma Nu, a National Jesuit Honor Society. I am working at the college as an ESL tutor, Advisor and Peer Mentor for both at-risk and international students. I am also in the process of launching Project1 in 26, a not-for-profit program meant to bring epilepsy awareness and education to schools. I have been seizure free for over two years.
Yoga brought me back to life and allowed me to dream again. One of my dreams is to share with others all that yoga has given me. I hope to one day incorporate counseling services with yoga to promote healing and empowerment for survivors of trauma, domestic violence and abuse, as well as those experiencing grief and loss.
You don’t have to be flexible, skinny or in perfect health to do yoga. You just have to show up and try. When you let go of expectations and all of the ways you tell yourself you can’t, or that you’re not good enough, you open yourself up to the possibility of achieving what you thought was impossible, both on and off the mat.
Article written by Alyssa Scarano. Alyssa is one of our YIS teachers working the Summer Saturdays project.