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Yoga Shows Promise in Reducing Epilepsy Stigma and Seizure Frequency, Study Finds

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New research published in the November 8, 2023, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests practicing yoga may have positive effects on people with epilepsy. The study indicates that yoga not only helps in reducing seizure frequency but also alleviates feelings of stigma associated with the disease. Led by Dr. Manjari Tripathi from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, the study highlights the potential benefits of yoga in improving the overall quality of life for individuals with epilepsy.

The Impact of Stigma on People with Epilepsy

People with epilepsy often face social stigma. This social stigma creates feelings of being different and impacts various aspects of their lives, including treatment, emergency care, and mental health. The study’s aim was to explore how yoga can mitigate the perceived stigma associated with epilepsy and enhance the overall well-being of individuals living with the condition.

The research focused on participants with epilepsy in India, with an average age of 30. Stigma levels were assessed based on participants’ responses to questions gauging discrimination, contribution to society, and feelings of being different from others. The selected individuals experienced an average of one seizure per week and were on at least two anti-seizure medications.

Yoga Therapy vs. Sham Yoga

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Participants who met the study’s criteria for social stigma were randomly assigned to either yoga therapy or sham yoga therapy. Yoga therapy involves exercises encompassing muscle loosening, breathing techniques, meditation, and positive affirmations. Sham yoga replicated the physical exercises of yoga but lacked specific instructions on two key components believed to induce a relaxation response: slow and synchronized breathing and attention to body movements and sensations.

The yoga and sham yoga groups each received seven supervised group sessions lasting 45 to 60 minutes over three months. Additionally, participants were instructed to practice sessions at home at least five times a week for 30 minutes, tracking both seizures and yoga sessions in a journal. The study followed participants for an additional three months after the therapy period.

The study found a number of benefits to practicing bona fide yoga for study practitioners:

  • Reduced Perceived Stigma: Participants who practiced yoga experienced a notable reduction in the perceived stigma associated with epilepsy. Compared to those doing sham yoga, the yoga group demonstrated a significant decrease in stigma scores, indicating an improvement in how they perceived themselves in society.
  • Seizure Frequency: Individuals practicing yoga were more than four times as likely to achieve a 50% or greater reduction in seizure frequency after six months compared to those in the sham yoga group.
  • Seizure Cessation: The study found that individuals in the yoga group were more than seven times more likely to no longer experience seizures compared to the sham yoga group.
  • Decreased Anxiety: Yoga practitioners also experienced a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms, showcasing the potential mental health benefits of yoga for individuals with epilepsy.
  • Quality of Life and Mindfulness: Participants in the yoga group reported improvements in quality of life measures and mindfulness compared to those in the sham yoga group.

The findings of this study suggest that incorporating yoga into the lives of individuals with epilepsy could have multifaceted benefits. Beyond the physical aspects of seizure reduction, yoga appears to play a crucial role in reducing stigma, improving mental well-being, and enhancing overall quality of life. 

Study supervisor Dr. Manjari Tripathi emphasizes the need to consider alternative therapies like yoga for people with epilepsy facing stigma. Additionally, the accessibility of yoga, which can be easily prerecorded and shared online, makes it a cost-effective and resource-efficient option for individuals seeking holistic support in managing epilepsy.

While the study acknowledges limitations such as self-reported seizure frequency, the positive outcomes encourage further exploration of yoga as a complementary approach in epilepsy care. As research in this area advances, yoga may emerge as an integral component of a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan for individuals living with epilepsy.

Have you ever tried yoga to manage epilepsy? Leave your thoughts in the comments section. 

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