Seizures or Qigong?—Part 4

My problematic brain and I are back from the gallows. Kinda sorta. More or less. I did survive my second EEG. Unlike with the first one, I experienced nothing—no colored lights in my head, no qi sensations in my legs. I didn’t even end up with “stigmata,” which is how I thought of the long-lasting marks on my forehead where the electrodes had been during the first EEG.

At the end of the first EEG, I’d asked to do some qigong while still hooked up. However, my neurologist told me afterwards that the qigong had just created a lot of muscle artifact. So I was surprised when the technician volunteered that I could do some this time, too. When she told me to start, I tried moving internal energy first without moving my hands, and then with minimal movement of my hands, holding them above my dantian beneath the sheet. Very little happened. Boring, boring, boring. I had shorted myself on sleep per instructions for the test, and now I just wanted to go home and take a nap.

The next day I went up to Canada to take care of my grandkids on two days when they had no school but their parents had work. I wasn’t expecting test results any time soon, because I knew my neurologist was on leave. But as I was getting ready to leave my son’s house, I got an email from the neurologist saying that the second EEG looked pretty much like the first one “with possible if not probable abnormalities suggestive of seizure.” He said both EEGs were “rather challenging,” although I’m not sure whether he meant for him or for me.

Again he offered medication. Again every fiber of my being rebelled at the notion of putting my brain in a chemical straightjacket when it’s possible that, despite its kinky behavior when hooked up to electrodes, I may never have another spell.

I had been mightily upset when I went to the gallows and moderately upset while awaiting the results from what I had thought was a ho-hum test. Now I was mightily upset again.

I am working to regain a more positive or at least a more reasonable perspective. I do not actually see a neurologist for a month—a new one, for a second opinion, per the suggestion of the one who is on-leave-except-for-email—and I am seeking a one-on-one appointment with my qigong teacher. I am also reading books, doing research online, continuing my taiji and qigong practices, starting a seated meditation practice and taking walks whenever possible. (Good thing I don’t mind rain.)

What has been interesting, and more often heartening than not, has been the way my here-and-there reading keeps running me smack into articles that feel to be the perfect thing for me to be reading at that very moment in time. (Yes, I gagged as I wrote that. I don’t really believe in things like “synchronicity” and “gifts from the universe.”)

I subscribe to The Scholar Sage Online Daoist Magazine, published by Damo Mitchell’s Lotus Nei Gong School of Daoist Arts. Damo and his students are such prolific writers that I had taken to deleting articles as fast as they arrived in my inbox. But not long after the first EEG, I chanced to read one by Diana Keener titled “Letter to a Friend,”, which comprised photographic images of the 15 handwritten pages in a letter about why she practices qigong. I read the letter again just now, hoping to find an evocative phrase or two to quote, but it was too heartfelt and beautifully written to be dismembered in that manner. I had been having difficulty remembering why I loved qigong; Diana reminded me.

Later, while I was in Canada, I read another article from Scholar Sage, An American woman, Jane Driscoll, described witnessing a Chinese woman perform a taiji sword form in a railway station in China.

“As soon as she picked up the jian, she was transformed, and proceeded to give a demonstration that I will remember for the rest of my life. She and her energy completely filled and merged with the large cavernous hall. … She was one with the jian and, at once, I understood the meaning of connecting with and serving as a conduit for the energies of heaven and earth.”

Jane’s taiji teacher said that can only happen if you live “a complete taiji life.” Jane decided that was what she wanted. Thank you, Jane. That’s what I want, too.

When I was planning to drive to Canada, I had intended to take four books—three on qigong and one on how to use my iPhone—but when I decided to go by train, I didn’t want to be schlepping four books so I almost arbitrarily chose one—Damo Mitchell’s “White Moon on the Mountain Peak.” As I began reading it during spare moments at my son’s house, I kept congratulating myself on my choice. It was the right book. Absolutely the right book!

I continued reading “White Moon” as the train left Vancouver and headed back to Seattle. I had known for some time that I needed to start a sitting practice, but there in the book were simple, precise directions for how to proceed. Yes, the right book!

Once across the border and able to go online again, I abandoned the book and began googling “qigong and seizures” on my phone. Two of the articles I found stand like beacons in my memory:

One, from the online site of the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain, was titled “Tai Chi Chuan as an Aid to Epilepsy,” Its author, Fergus Ryan, had been experiencing grand mal seizures for four years when he took up taiji. He believes that taiji reduced the frequency of his seizures and helped him cut back on medication. Interesting….

But even more interesting was his description of how taiji helped him process a major seizure.

He had returned home from an evening of partying when he felt the signs of an oncoming grand mal seizure, namely “a partially felt, partially heard vibration along my centre line … with sensations in the head area.”

I’ll continue quoting him:

“Centering myself, I noticed that concentrating on Tan Tien (dantian) gave me a sense of the fit approaching from a particular direction—Northwest. As if responding to the actions of a partner in a game of Pushing Hands, I began to move, applying T’ai Chi principles as I had learned them. I found that this ‘responding’ action felt good and seemed to soothe the fit, so I continued.

“The ensuing movement involved elements of dance, Five Rhythms work, Qi Gong (Hua style) and T’ai Chi Chuan (Ch’eng Man Ching style), along with the occasional vocalization, prayer or mental image. Throughout the process I sought to maintain awareness in a similar manner to my T’ai Chi practice, yet with the intention that the movement was a vehicle for the expression of the fit. I did not know whether I would reach an end to the movement or collapse, and banished such thoughts as they arose, as it was necessary to concentrate on moving.

“During the movement I jumped once, and noticed that the strength of the fit increased dramatically whilst I was in the air; so thereafter I kept my feet on the ground except to step. I was wobbly and unstable in the beginning of this session but I don’t remember losing my balance to the point of falling over. I believe that if I had fallen, a full convulsion would have occurred. There was definitely a sense of having dealt well or poorly with the incoming ‘attack’ of the fit at any given point: Poor responses on my part meant more work for me; better responses seemed to have an ‘effortless’ quality. I don’t imagine the whole thing would have looked like a T’ai Chi form, as the movement was occasionally fast or sometimes florid. I did notice some of the forms occurring within the movement, though. I remember Separate Left Foot, Ward Off and Rollback in particular, with Snake Creeps Down being a difficult move, as the change in elevation increased the sensation of incoming seizure.

“Fortunately the room I occupied at that time was large, and I had most of the floor space clear for use, approximately 3m x 3m. I estimate having been in motion for 15 to 20 minutes in total, with a couple of minutes standing still to finish. I actually came to rest about five minutes from the end, yet did not feel secure. The fit was not completely dissipated or harmonized, so I returned to the movement in the same way as before, as though Pushing Hands. When I no longer felt the urge to move I stood in the Beginning posture and noticed that the epilepsy seemed to have passed. … I was not exhausted, as was usually the case, with my grand mal usually requiring a day or two’s bed rest. In contrast, it felt similar to having just completed a satisfying form. I was also stone cold sober again, and after a few moments quiet reflection I went on to enjoy a restful night’s sleep, awakening refreshed and ‘normal’ the following morning.”

I can almost feel what Fergus is describing. I can imagine the out-of-control energy in his brain finding some comfortable pathways to settle into to allow outward release. I have wondered if that sort of thing might have happened in a couple of my own “spells-or-possibly-seizures.”

The other article that stands out in my memory was not as cheering, and I’m not sure how much I want to or, indeed, should trust it.

In an article on the website of the New York City-based Black Taoist school of baguazhang, an article titled “Are There Dangerous Qigong Teachers?,”, Master Gin Fook Mark starts out writing about teachers who are charlatans and then branches off into teachers who cause harm by being incompetent:

“Seizures can also result from improper or excessive practice of Qigong or meditation. These seizures become easier to induce with practice. Some Masters regard seizures as a form of religious ecstasy.

“This behavior should be investigated scientifically. It is more common in Indian meditation, since many teachers don’t emphasize putting the tongue on the roof of the mouth to connect the Du and Ren channels so that excess energy does not get stuck in the head.”

Sobering words….

On the one hand, I don’t always or even generally put my tongue to the roof of my mouth. I have understood that it can be helpful in establishing awareness of the Du-Ren circulation, but that it does not create connection and is not essential once that connection is clear and strong. Are my Du and Ren channels functioning properly to clear excess energy from my head? I don’t know….

And when Master Gin Fook Mark says some masters regard seizures as a form of religious ecstasy…. Well, I guess that here we have come to a matter I have wondered about myself in previous posts, namely, what, exactly, is a seizure?

Within the next month, I hope that I will become more clear about what’s going on in my head. Am I following in my father’s footsteps and developing seizures in my old age, or does my erratic brain activity result from the hopefully beneficial changes qigong is making in my brain?

I haven’t had a so-called spell for quite awhile now, but I am trying to behave reasonably responsibly given that I am being evaluated for being seizure-prone. I rearranged my schedule and took the train to Canada instead of driving up there at night because it seemed that driving in the dark, when I was tired, with oncoming headlights and glare, would be mimicking the conditions of my EEGs. I now absolutely do not touch my cell phone if it rings while I’m driving. (Yes, I used to: It’s legal in this state, so long as you use a speaker phone.) And I have cancelled the last of my qigong classes, partly because I just don’t feel like I want to be teaching qigong to others right now or even should be, but also because that class, much as I loved it, involved a significant night-time drive.

Again, as a friend of mine would say and as I think I’ve said on this subject before, more will be revealed. It is possible that my spells will end, as some other phenomena most likely related to qigong have ended. But it is also possible that despite my current resistance, my brain will end up on drugs. I suppose that wouldn’t be the end of the world. Maybe not even the end of my qigong practice….


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2 responses to “Seizures or Qigong?—Part 4

  1. Oh, my, I do relate to your dilemma. I have continued to practice qigong, even though I had that series of “spells” followed by two “unusual” EEGs which one doctor said indicated epilepsy but the second doctor said did not. (Which is why my one concrete thought about your situation is to suggest that you might seek a second opinion.)
    I still do not understand what happened to me, although I lean towards thinking the episodes of weirdness were related to my qigong practice. I had a couple of “maybe” incidents after the main batch, but for the last at least 2 years, the only difficulty I have experienced has been spaceyness that sometimes verges on dizziness when I do taiji–which may or may not be related to the spells.
    I’ve talked to lots of eastern and western practitioners about what happened and why and whether my spells were even a bad thing. I think there may have been two things in play:
    1) My weak body system is my nervous system, or perhaps I’d call it my neuroendocrine system. I have acquired some new diagnoses of late, principally esophageal dysmotility (difficulty swallowing) and atrial fibrillation. (My father had the former, and my mother had the later and they did not do qigong) Both of those, along with my temperamental colon, and my continuing hot flashes, and my jaw tremor, are about my nervous system not functioning quite right.
    2) At the time the spells occurred, and for a few years before that, I had been trying really really hard to achieve something marvelous with qigong–and I now am convinced that trying too hard, practicing too much, focusing too intently, can be a dangerous thing. My practice is now much more relaxed, and I feel pretty comfortable and stable with it.
    When I first started doing qigong, I thought it was all wonderful, all good. I now know that there are indeed risks, and I have heard some things about the dark side of qigong. I’m told there are a couple of researchers at Brown University who are doing researcher into this dark side, but I don’t know their names and haven’t really tried to track them down.
    I did talk with a man who said he trained in one system of qigong/energy work which enabled him to transcend fatigue. It was great until he collapsed, a very sick man; he now practices the system I practice and appears quite healthy.. He has a friend who threw herself into another system of qigong and still has not recovered.
    I recently attended a seminar that touched on this. The teacher said that anyone who was mentally unstable or mentally ill or a drug addict probably shouldn’t do qigong. I questioned this, because one person’s idea of quirkiness can be another person’s idea of flat-out crazy. (And by the way, I do not think seizures or even epilepsy qualify as mental illness.) The teacher answered that if your practice of qigong is leading to increased attachment/desire/anxiety instead of the opposite, then either it’s not a good thing for you, or you’re using a wrong method. He said your emotional and mental stability should increase, not decrease.
    For me, qigong has been a good thing. I still have lots of issues, but I think they have smoothed out. And I certainly do not feel anxiety when I practice.
    The trouble is, life is so complicated, and if you really look at things critically, it’s very difficult to know what caused what, at least for me. On Easter Sunday I had my first-ever incident of atrial fibrillation. I’ve had occasional runs of atrial tachycardia for years, but the a-fib was a surprise, even though my mother had it. The thing is, I had started taking CBD (legal in Washington state) because according to its hype, it would smooth out some of the neuroendocrine wonkiness I mentioned above. I had thought it might be subtly helping, but I stopped taking it the day I had the a-fib incident because it was the last thing I’d added to my therapeutic mix, and clearly it wasn’t helping my heart. I later read that marijuana is known to trigger heart arrhythmias. They don’t know if it’s the THC or the CBD or both or some other compound in marijuana. So I won’t be taking more CBD. I’m not sure it was the cause, but the benefit is clearly nowhere near the risk.
    With qigong, I continue to feel that any risk is outweighed by the benefit–and like I said, by practicing in a moderate way, not pushing for enlightenment, I feel I am very safe.
    I do wish you well as you navigate the qigong issue for yourself. There are just so many questions. Maybe what happened would have happened whether or not you were practicing qigong. Maybe it really wasn’t all that bad a thing–or maybe it was. I’m wondering if you could get more information from the western medicine people, since you’re dealing with a western medicine diagnosis. Anyway, best wishes on your journey. Yours, Barbara

  2. Pauline

    I have never before had seizures that I was aware. However about 25 years ago, I had an experience of altered vision where I was working at the computer and my vision went into zig zag or like snow on the tv. It went away after about 5 or 10 minutes, not sure exactly how long it lasted and then I drove home from work. Dr said it was migraine without the pain. I have suffered with migraines since my teems. Now at 54, I was told I had a seizure with left temporal slowing. The only symptom was confusion lasting several days. My migraines have always started with pain behind my left eye. When realizing seizures were due to excessive energy, it brought to mind that I have within the past year begun practicing chi gong. I was wondering if this had possibly caused a seizure. Please let me know how it goes with you. I am currently uncertain if I should continue the practice that has helped me so much with anxiety.

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