Author Topic: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??  (Read 13529 times)

PreviousViking

Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« on: February 28, 2012, 03:43:46 AM »
Hey guys!

I have been practicing zen meditation for about a year and a half now. I focus strictly on my breathing, with the hopes that I will improve my concentration and expand my awareness of reality. I have become very in to zen and the philosophies associated with it. It has really changed the way I view and understand life, although I realize I still have a long, long way to go.

About the time I began to practice meditating on a consistent schedule, I began to notice that while people were talking to me, I would occasionally suddenly lose focus and not be able to understand what people were saying; like I would suddenly forget the English language for about 30-60 seconds.  For that time I would not be able to understand their words or be able to speak. I later learned that I was having a form of seizure called a petite mal or "absence" seizure, something I still have about twice a day. I'm only 28 years old, and I never had any seizure symptoms before I was 27! But when they first started, they didn't happen often or strongly so I didn't seek any kind of help for it. I didn't even realize I was having seizures. I was developing epilepsy and didn't know it!

About a year ago I woke up in a hospital bed. My wife said I was having a seizure in my sleep and she called an ambulance. This time it was a grand mal seizure. The big kind everyone thinks about when you say "seizure". I lost my driver's license for six months, and lost my job of five years that involved driving. I'm still not working and I still have the small, petite mal seizures about twice a day. I was having occasional grand mal's, including one in a public place.

All the while, the doctors have never been able to tell me why I've been having them. I don't do illegal drugs of any kind, and tests show that my brain is fine. I'm told that I probably won't have any in a few years, so I'm crossing my fingers.

I am not assuming anything, but is it possible that meditation could indirectly or directly cause seizures? Has anyone heard of this? Could my ego/mind be fighting back? I don't mean to dwell on this, but something in a meditation book says that sometimes a "metaphysical snag" could occur that could require some help from an expert. My snag is that I have become afraid of meditating. I can't overlook how my seizures seem to be stronger after meditation sessions. I thought I was over the big grand mal seizures, but then a couple weeks ago I went right into one immediately after meditating! While meditating I began to feel very sleepy. I stopped and layed on my bed and then immediately lost consciousness. Then I had another one a few days later. Before this point I had actually taken a two month brake from meditating, and I notice that I didn't have grand mal seizures that entire time. I actually thought I was over those!

I really don't know what triggers them. In the past I have had a more than an average share of stress and depression problems, and I would not be surprised if my emotional problems had alot to do with my seizures. But I'm afraid to meditate because of this. I have read in a few books that in some later stages things can become very difficult for awhile, but they never elaborate on what they mean. Do they mean you become epileptic? Is epilepsy a part of the process? Is it a possibility? Maybe this is my mind fighting back.

Cilla

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2012, 08:11:06 AM »
No one here is sufficiently expert to be able to answer your questions, i believe.

However, there probably are some doctors somewhere who know more aobut your condition than the ones' you've been speaking to are letting on.

Also probably expert meditation teachers would have come across this before and so i think you shoudl track down some senior buddhist teachers to ask them. One website you might ask is a zen website upaya.org  since you are a zen meditator.

I think what you've got is indeed a type of epilepsy. Krishnamurti i believe had a similar condition. Every now and then he used to collapse but he didn't admit to it being a medical thing but considered part of his spiritual process. However, i think he was wrong.

The theravada teacher and writer Jack Kornfield would be an interesting person to consult. In his book a path with heart, he writes about all sorts of altered states of consciousness. However, i do believe that this is more than transitory effect of meditation and you do need to consider it as a medical situation and it is possible that it could be triggered by your meditation depending on how you mediate.

Anyway i'm just putting my inexpert thoughts out there too so go ask the experts. And i do understand that  you would be afraid to meditate so you should talk to them.

Also i suspect with such a condition, its going to be slightly different for all people. Just keep reading and asking and observing your own processes.

You can still do mindfulness meditation but perhaps its the intense concentration meditations which are causing your brain to malfunction, so i would continue with mindfulness practices as you go about your day but go easy on the concentration practices until you know more.

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Member
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • Buddhism is a practical psychology and philosophy, not a religion.
    • If you cling to view, you must know this limits your potential.
Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2012, 10:42:19 AM »
PV,

No one here is sufficiently expert to be able to answer your questions, i believe.

....

You can still do mindfulness meditation but perhaps its the intense concentration meditations which are causing your brain to malfunction, so i would continue with mindfulness practices as you go about your day but go easy on the concentration practices until you know more.

Cilla does not believe anyone here is expert enough to answer you and then goes on to answer you and even prescribe what you should do. Please excuse this confusion.

There is an ongoing debate in medicine about this issue. On the one hand some studies have show that show some types of meditation can reduce the number of seizures encountered by epilepsy sufferers whilst on the other hand there is a school of thought that the synchronous neuronal firing patterns induced by some meditations can bring on both individual seizure events or even precipitate epilepsy.

There are 38 scholarly articles related to this issue on pubmed. There is an interesting interview here of the author of one of these published papers Erik St. Louis ("Meditation and Epilepsy: A still hung jury").

St. Louis is of the opinion at the time of writing (2006) that it is unlikely meditation can cause de novo cases of Epilepsy such as yours. I suspect he may be wrong, personally.

As you say, you have always suffered anxiety and for this reason I would be surprised if Zen is the best of meditation techniques for you. Zen is derived from Chaan (Chinese) which is in turn derived from Jhana - bliss states of meditation that deepen the practitioners concentration to the highest levels and lead to some of the deepest experiential understandings of our existence - but it may be a double edged sword for someone with your anxious predisposition.

Unless you are working very closely with a Zen teacher (and a very good one at that), you may inadvertently place your mind into mild hypnotic trance states that would induce the correlated neuronal firing patterns thought to possibly induce epilepsy by some. Of course, it may also be that the two are entirely unlinked. As St Louis says, the jury is out on this issue.

In your case you have anecdotal personal experience that seems to link your meditation to epileptic episodes. You could try meditations other than Zen and see if there is a style that helps and does not seem to induce seizure or you could contact some of the physicians taking an interest in this area and see if they are doing studies such as EEG and Functional MRI scanning that you could take part in. You might help move the understanding of these issues forwards and help delineate what works and what is harmful.

Just take it easy and make sure whatever meditation practice you do is based in calm and relaxation - this is the most fundamental part of the path, missed by many modern schools (and all "Insight" or "Vipassana" traditions).

Kind regards,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

rob

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2012, 05:23:47 PM »
I'm not a doctor, but I've seen one on TV ;)

I watched a documentary about tourettes where they were able to control the symptoms by installing pacemakers in people brains. Stands to reason that if outside influences like electrical impulses or head injuries can "rewire" the brain, then elective "internal" influences can do the same.

I can't imagine your doctors would have missed such a thing, but you mention depression... have you ever been on anything like Seroquel or Zyprexa or Risperdal or any antipsychotic/antidepressant? Many of them carry risk of seizure, exacerbated by drinking alcohol.

Also, I'm sure you've read a lot more on the subject than I have, but I just picked this up from Wikipedia and I think it's interesting since you focus strictly on your breathing:

Quote
Typical absences are easily induced by hyperventilation in more than 90% of the patients. This is a reliable test for the diagnosis of absence seizures: a patient suspected of typical absences should be asked to overbreathe for 3 min, counting his or her breaths.

I wonder if you tried using a different object of meditation, maybe walking meditation somewhere safe, if you'd have the same experience. Either way, I'm sorry you're going through this.. can't imagine how tough it must be.

Cilla

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2012, 11:53:32 PM »
Quote
Cilla does not believe anyone here is expert enough to answer you and then goes on to answer you and even prescribe what you should do. Please excuse this confusion.

I am certain i was clear that i was giving an inexpert opinion and offered my ideas as something to consider or to try. I doubt the op was confused by my advice.

My essential advice was to seek advice from well experienced buddhist teachers and to keep asking the doctors.

Yes and not all doctors know everything there is to know about any particular medical condition. I've worked with doctors a lot. They are subject to all the same foibles as us - laziness, bias, stubborness, self interest, general incompetency and so on. So the OP would benefit from asking around around.

Also by the way when i mentioned krishanmurtis fits, these are well described in his  biography, volume 2 if you are interested in further reading. When i read about petit mal episodes i recognised the similarity. Also since then other i have discussed this with, put forward the same view as me before i even mentioned it. So it seems that i am not the only one to hold this view.

The reason i suspect that concentration medication could indeed have an effect, is because of physiological stress we put on our bodies during meditation. It is known that we tend to breathe less. I read once that you might take 3 breaths a minute when well practiced. My own zen teacher talks about stopping breathing (though surely not totally). I think it is to some extent this reduction in breath that causes a lot of the wierdness that goes on in this sort of meditation. Its not that we try deliberately to reduce the breath, it seems to happen naturally, i understand.

I go to a zen teacher for meditation. We don't practice concentration meditaiton. We practice mindfulness in the zen tradition which is pure awareness. Another zen practice is intense questioning.

Perhaps Matthew is referring to use the use of koans when he says there's the a link with jhanas but there are two schools of practice in zen and koan practice is only one.

The concentration on the breath is not strictly a zen practice. All traditions practice this. When you say expand your awareness of reality, you are really talking about altered states of consciousness aren't you? Improving your awareness of reality, trying to see reality as it is, depends on mindfulness or vipassana techniques. This is more mentally active than concentration meditation and it is really where you should be trying to aim for if you want to improve yourself. But it sounds like your current practice is aimed at having interesting experiences. Bear in mind, these experiences are only particular to you and have no bearing on the reality of rest of the world.

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Member
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • Buddhism is a practical psychology and philosophy, not a religion.
    • If you cling to view, you must know this limits your potential.
Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #5 on: February 29, 2012, 10:26:57 AM »
..
I am certain i was clear that i was giving an inexpert opinion and offered my ideas as something to consider or to try. I doubt the op was confused by my advice.

The advice below is not offered as something to try:

...
You can still do mindfulness meditation but perhaps its the intense concentration meditations which are causing your brain to malfunction, so i would continue with mindfulness practices as you go about your day but go easy on the concentration practices until you know more.

I go to a zen teacher for meditation. We don't practice concentration meditaiton. We practice mindfulness in the zen tradition which is pure awareness. Another zen practice is intense questioning.

Perhaps Matthew is referring to use the use of koans when he says there's the a link with jhanas but there are two schools of practice in zen and koan practice is only one.

This shows a fundamental misunderstanding Jhanna --> Dhyanna --> Chaan --> Zen

~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Cilla

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #6 on: February 29, 2012, 11:38:46 AM »
You've just shown your ignorance about zen in practice.

Andrew

  • Member
    • friends tell me things, sometimes I listen.
    • Letting Go.
Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #7 on: February 29, 2012, 01:05:59 PM »
If you want someone to show there ignorance of zen, then get me talking about it (isn't it some sort of MP3 player?).

Back to the OP, I've noticed on some occasions feelings that are very 'trip' like. my understanding is the mind is like any other part of our being, subject to all sorts of potential ailments and injuries.

Some people can get off the couch and run 10kms without training for years, others who look just as fit, pull a tendon in the first 100m.

Just about anyone can get adverse effects from what I've read people talking about in there practice and experience.

If you were a runner and complained of cramps, I would tell you to stop and stretch. In this case it's more like a pulled/torn muscle, in which case I would say take a month off, and don't push yourself like that again, you are not ready.


getting it done

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Member
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • Buddhism is a practical psychology and philosophy, not a religion.
    • If you cling to view, you must know this limits your potential.
Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #8 on: February 29, 2012, 01:42:04 PM »
Cilla,

You've just shown your ignorance about zen in practice.

....
I go to a zen teacher for meditation. We don't practice concentration meditaiton.
...
The concentration on the breath is not strictly a zen practice. All traditions practice this. ....

And you have contradicted yourself. ... But so what?  What you don't seem to realise is that this place is not a war of words. Mindless speculation and discussion of a purely intellectual nature are discouraged precisely for these reasons. They lead to conflict. "My belief is better than yours" or "my egotistic understanding is better than yours". Well that's not true .. these things are not reality, they are not what the path is about.

Instead of fighting back please just consider some of the points made.

Kind regards,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Cilla

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #9 on: February 29, 2012, 02:38:45 PM »
Matthew stop fighting iwth me. I am not having a war of words with you. I am merely telling it as it is.

Just because the name zen can be traced back to jhana does not mean that this is what zen buddhist practice.

I am sorry you are upset that i have corrected you but zen practice is documented around the ridges for you to find out if you are interested.

rob

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #10 on: February 29, 2012, 05:17:14 PM »
Sooo... there used to be this guy who was asking advice about seizures...

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Member
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • Buddhism is a practical psychology and philosophy, not a religion.
    • If you cling to view, you must know this limits your potential.
Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #11 on: February 29, 2012, 07:54:49 PM »
Indeed Rob, but he's not even visited the forum since asking the question. When he does he'll have some advice and some crap to wade through .... so be it .... life isn't always pretty or clean, Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

rob

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #12 on: February 29, 2012, 08:35:12 PM »
life isn't always pretty or clean

My ex used to say the same about me ;)

PreviousViking

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2012, 06:27:47 AM »

Cilla does not believe anyone here is expert enough to answer you and then goes on to answer you and even prescribe what you should do. Please excuse this confusion.

I'm not sure where this aggression comes from, Mathew, but I found Cilla's response to be very helpful and humble.



As you say, you have always suffered anxiety and for this reason I would be surprised if Zen is the best of meditation techniques for you. Zen is derived from Chaan (Chinese) which is in turn derived from Jhana - bliss states of meditation that deepen the practitioners concentration to the highest levels and lead to some of the deepest experiential understandings of our existence - but it may be a double edged sword for someone with your anxious predisposition.

You misunderstood me. I never said I had anxiety problems. Stress and depression can be caused by many things, like drowning in debt or having a parent die when you're a kid.

PreviousViking

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2012, 06:49:16 AM »
Cilla,

The reason i suspect that concentration medication could indeed have an effect, is because of physiological stress we put on our bodies during meditation. It is known that we tend to breathe less. I read once that you might take 3 breaths a minute when well practiced. My own zen teacher talks about stopping breathing (though surely not totally). I think it is to some extent this reduction in breath that causes a lot of the wierdness that goes on in this sort of meditation. Its not that we try deliberately to reduce the breath, it seems to happen naturally, i understand.

I've noticed this myself. As I gradually become more relaxed, I tend to take shorter and shorter breaths. This is not at all something I do consciously, however. My goal is just to watch my natural breathing and try my best to not alter it. Before you started meditating, do you remember how the second you payed attention to your breathing, your breaths change? I am trying to "just watch".

But it sounds like your current practice is aimed at having interesting experiences. Bear in mind, these experiences are only particular to you and have no bearing on the reality of rest of the world.

I am 100% interested in reality and only reality. That's why I don't do illegal drugs of any kind. I operate under the belief that we all go through life in a kind of delusion, but I want to wake up. I believe the only way to wake up is to pay as much attention to reality as possible in the hopes that someday I will brake away from that delusion. That is my interpretation of zen.

I currently take some medication for epilepsy that seems to be helping a lot. I have never taken medication for depression. I could be wrong, but I always believed that hiding from my problems would never lead to me solving them.

You are absolutely right about doctors. I have had three Neurologists now, and the first one seemed to be arrogantly giving me the cold shoulder. He didn't even care that I was on the wrong medication!  ???

In any case, Cilla, I think you understood what I was asking for from the start.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2012, 07:29:43 AM by PreviousViking »

PreviousViking

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #15 on: March 04, 2012, 07:16:07 AM »
Hey Andrew,

If you were a runner and complained of cramps, I would tell you to stop and stretch. In this case it's more like a pulled/torn muscle, in which case I would say take a month off, and don't push yourself like that again, you are not ready.

You have an interesting point. Maybe I have just been trying too hard. I didn't try meditating much before and then all of a sudden it is a part of my lifestyle!

Andrew

  • Member
    • friends tell me things, sometimes I listen.
    • Letting Go.
Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #16 on: March 04, 2012, 01:20:24 PM »
Just a question; why the Previous Viking user name?, it seems a strange thing to be proud of.

(for the record, I've got plenty of viking in me, even a red beard if i let it!)
getting it done

PreviousViking

Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #17 on: March 08, 2012, 05:59:56 AM »

Just a question; why the Previous Viking user name?, it seems a strange thing to be proud of.

(for the record, I've got plenty of viking in me, even a red beard if i let it!)

We are always changing, just like everything else in this universe. I grew up in a family that was proud of it's Norwegian heritage and I've always bought into it. But I like to think that now I'm "growing" out of it. I'm beginning to notice how funny that part of me is.

But I still had the avatar that I made, so I threw it on anyway.  :D

Thanks for asking!

Andrew

  • Member
    • friends tell me things, sometimes I listen.
    • Letting Go.
Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #18 on: March 08, 2012, 07:21:21 AM »
I thought maybe you were referring to a past life.

It is easy to assume one thing about someone and find it to be totally different.
getting it done

Vidar

  • Member
  • Write something about yourself here
    • vipassana
Re: Can Meditation Cause Seizures??
« Reply #19 on: March 09, 2012, 03:49:16 PM »
We are always changing, just like everything else in this universe. I grew up in a family that was proud of it's Norwegian heritage and I've always bought into it. But I like to think that now I'm "growing" out of it. I'm beginning to notice how funny that part of me is.

Norwegian here. I even followed tradition and invaded England. Ended up settling in suburbia and having a family, though, so I'm clearly not a very good viking...

 

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