A new pilot study offers hope that yogic meditation may benefit patients with epilepsy. Doctors who care for these patients continue to seek new treatment approaches for several reasons:
- Antiseizure drugs have strong side effects.
- Many patients become nonresponsive to drug therapy over time.
- Uncontrolled seizures are extremely disruptive to the personal and professional lives
There is already evidence that consistent practice of yogic meditation positively affects the nervous system. With that in mind, researchers in India decided to evaluate a yogic meditation protocol for patients whose epilepsy was no longer responding to drugs.
Investigators recruited 20 male and female patients (median age, 27 years) who were willing to adhere to a yogic meditation protocol. All 20 completed the trial. For a minimum of 3 months, participants followed a daily practice of morning and evening meditation that consisted of 5–7 minutes of pranayama breathing followed by 20 minutes of silent meditation involving concentration on the area between the eyebrows. Subjects were also required to attend supervised meditation sessions each week. Participants could choose to continue meditating after the initial 3 months.
Researchers followed the subjects for up to a year, recording seizures and noting any reductions in their frequency. During the first 3 months of meditation, all subjects except one experienced fewer seizures; in six people, the frequency fell by more than 50%. Patients who continued regular meditation kept improving—and even improved at a greater rate than patients trying new drug or vagus nerve stimulation therapies.
Doctors were not sure how to explain the improvements caused by yogic meditation. Moreover, this pilot study was limited by its small size and lack of randomization. The
authors recommended future studies on a larger scale to further evaluate the advantages of yogic meditation as a low-cost and low-risk therapy for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy.
The study appeared in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2006; 12 , 267–71).