It began one school holiday when we were about to leave for a family vacation. I was brushing my teeth in the early one morning and I suddenly collapsed on the bathroom floor. I awoke a few hours later to find my mum and cousin next to me looking worried. My mouth was sore, from the impact of hitting the ground and from biting my tongue. I felt like my memory had been wiped clean.
A few weeks later, after another attack, I was taken to a neurologist and diagnosed with epilepsy. Coming from a conservative Indian background, my family’s first fear was that I would be alienated from the society, but they reassured me that everything would be alright as long as the community didn’t find out. I started taking anti-epileptic drugs and tried to gain control over my body again. I say this because a seizure makes you feel absolutely powerless over your muscle movements, your mind becomes totally vulnerable and you want to desperately hold onto something in the hope that it will make the jerking stop – but it doesn’t.
I was always an A-student, with outstanding merits and achievements. After my diagnosis, one of the main challenges as a scholar, was keeping up with the school curriculum when my mind and body weren’t cooperating. I had difficulty studying and remembering things. On top of that, I had to deal with people suddenly avoiding me and laughing behind my back. Only later did I realise that I had developed a horrible body odour, which was a side-effect of the medication I was taking. No amount of washing or perfumes could take away the smell, so my medication was changed soon after. The new medication brought new hope since it was the best on the market. Things seemed to be falling into place and I thought I would be fine, as long as I stuck to my new diet plan and took my medication on time. However, I continued to have fits and still couldn’t pinpoint what had that triggered them.
In 2009, while completing my final year of studies for my undergraduate degree, I began to feel very helpless and had a strong urge to change something in my life. Quite by chance, I attended the Art of Living Part 1 course, now known as the Happiness Program, where I learnt a powerful breathing technique, called the Sudarshan Kriya, which is known to flush out toxins and synchronize the body’s natural rhythms. Stress is the main cause of the build-up of toxins, which results in our bodies being vulnerable to disease. Yet stress is an inevitable phenomenon in today’s busy world.
With the breathing technique, I learnt to harness the energy that built up before a seizure and redirect it towards calming my mind, which in turn calmed down my body and prevented an attack. I incorporated yoga, meditation and a healthy diet into my daily routine. The techniques taught on the course together with the practical knowledge allowed me to gain strength and move forward. Not only was I excelling again in my academic career, but I also built up a sort of resistance to that dreaded stress. Following this, my medication was reduced to half the initial dose and for four years now I have been on the lowest possible dosage of medication the doctors say is possible for prevention.
At 27, I have completed a masters’ degree in genetics, with distinction. I am proud to say that epilepsy has not taken over my life, but has in fact empowered me and made me a fighter. We’re often told that when faced with a difficult situation we should breathe, let go and listen to our hearts. In reality however, your heart is pounding, you have a million thoughts racing through your head and you can’t even catch your breath. That calm, that peace, that total freedom and absolute stillness, I’ve only ever experienced after doing Sudarshan Kriya. It’s not that I don’t feel any negative emotions anymore. It’s not even that I don’t have issues to deal with or that my problems magically disappear. I’ve just found that I am able to clear my head so that I can find the solutions. This is why when I see others like me, I feel inspired to share Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s vision for the World Culture Festival, which is… to make life a celebration, regardless of your circumstances.
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