One of the causes of suffering, defined by the Yogasūtras, is the fear that when our mortal body fails, we will be gone out of existence. The Sanskrit word for these causes of suffering is kleśa. Sometimes, I feel like navigating the world with a chronic medical condition is like a game of “Name that Kleśa!” In this short article, I share my experience with health-related stress and how meditation helped alleviate it.
Only Logical Cause: A Brain Tumor
In 2016, I had a very odd experience. Out of the blue, my body felt sensations that had no obvious cause. My stomach dropped as though I’d just gone down a roller coaster. There was a chilly feeling spreading in my chest. I heard music that wasn’t there, and I had the strongest sense of deja vu. It only lasted for a few minutes, but when all the sensations subsided, I was absolutely sure that the only logical cause of all of this was that I had a brain tumor.
My husband, of course, brushed off the idea of a brain tumor as the nonsense that it was. However, these experiences continued. And over the course of two years, they increased in frequency and intensity. Every time I described them to someone, they’d be dismissed as a panic attack. Being a daily Yoga and meditation practitioner, I knew enough about myself and the regular functioning of my system to know that it was not anxiety or panic. Eventually, it was suggested to me by an acquaintance, who happened to be a neurologist, that I might be experiencing temporal lobe seizures and should seek medical care.
Calm & Peace… in an MRI Machine
I sought out my own neurologist, and she was of the same mind. The only time I had ever undergone any sort of imaging or testing was routine pregnancy care, but now I faced an MRI and sleep-deprived EEG. Enclosed spaces have never been good for me – and this was no different. I knew right away that I was going to ask for the available sedation. Even with that veneer of calm, I needed to draw on my meditation practice to make it through the MRI. I gradually slowed my breathing, let my exhale extend, I brought to mind a place to which I have a deep connection, and then linked it with the feeling of calm and peace I have when I am there. I stayed in that state through all of the strange and loud noises of the machine, forgetting that I was closed in on all sides until the process was finished. I know with certainty, that were it not for meditation, I would not have maintained the stillness needed for them to take clear images of my brain.
A New “Normal”
To make a long story short, the MRI and EEG didn’t show anything wrong with me, but my symptoms did not subside. In July of 2018, a full tonic-clonic seizure confirmed the diagnosis of Epilepsy. I was thrown into a new world of daily medication, monthly doctor appointments, and driving restrictions. I had terrible side effects from my initial anti-epileptic medication and stared blankly at the titration schedule for transitioning onto a new one. I felt completely overwhelmed by the process. The amount of health-related stress I felt was all-consuming. I kept waiting for a new “normal” to arrive, but it felt like the turbulence would never end.
Having been healthy for the vast majority of my life, there was suddenly a new fear that my body might fail. This was the cause of my suffering – my kleśa. As a result, my mental health began to suffer, and as I did not have the internal resources I needed to draw from, my personal Yoga practice became neglected. I am so grateful that I had access to the Yoga Well Institute’s Wednesday Morning Meditation during this time.
Wednesday Morning Meditation
On Wednesday mornings, I was able to spend a half-hour being led in meditation by one of my teachers, Chase Bossart. When my resources were depleted, and my stress overwhelming, I was able to borrow some of his calm and strength, making it easier to set my stress aside. I used this time in meditation to come back to myself. I came back to the version of myself that wasn’t stuck in that never-ending game of “Name that Kleśa.” This version of myself wasn’t worried or afraid. I didn’t want to run and escape from the reality of having a chronic illness to manage. The support of being guided through my meditations helped nourish me until I felt ready to return to my personal practice, while still keeping Wednesday Morning Meditation as a vital part of my week.
I am thankful to have finally reached that new “normal.” Life is on an even keel, even though nothing about my health has changed. From time to time, new challenges arise, but I know that I can rely on my meditation practice to support me through those moments when stress and health conspire together to lead me away from that version of myself that isn’t bound to my suffering.
Celia began practicing yoga in 2007, and since then has gone on to become a yoga teacher, yoga teacher trainer and is nearing the end of her training with Yoga Well Institute to become a Yoga Therapist.