A craniosacral approach to temporal lobe epilepsy
Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) also called Temporal lobe seizures, Psychomotor epilepsy and limbic seizures is the most common type of epilepsy that people can experience and is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence.
The temporal lobes of the brain rest on the tentorium cerebelli, a horizontal membrane with an opening at the centre through which the brain stem passes towards its spinal cord connection.
In the western medical model the cause is generally considered to be unknown, but in some cases it has been associated with birth trauma, head trauma and injury, strokes, infections such as meningitis, metabolic disturbance and brain tumours. Epilepsy is generally seen in biomedicine as a disease that is characterized by over-activity in the brain, more specifically the cerebrum, leading to seizures. Seizures can cause damage to the brain and neuronal death, which can lead to a decline in cognitive or other abilities.
If there is restriction to blood sup of the temporal lobes it can lead to bruising and irritation of surrounding tissue. This can lead to cells becoming fibrous and sclerotic, which can then restrict the delivery of fresh arterial blood to surround area, resulting in seizures. It has been found that people with TLE can also experience profound autobiographical amnesia. Another explanation is that epilepsy is the misfiring or over firing of specific neurons in the brain called neuronal resonators. Resonators are neurons which process information coming from sensory stimuli or from other neurons.
Incorporating the lens of medical anthropology, and widening our horizon beyond pharmaceuticals and biological pathways could lead to a holistic understanding of this condition, which affects some 70 million people, 40% of whom are resistant to drug therapy.
Epilepsy is much more complicated than treating the over (or abnormal) activity of the conductor in a machine. The brain and body work together dynamically which make diseases like epilepsy very complicated to treat. Addressing the multiplicity of lived experiences of people affected by epilepsy is crucial. A disease does not merely exist in a one-size-fits-all way for every patient in every situation. It exists inside of the person that is experiencing it, who can perceive and experience disease differently than another.
The narrow-minded focus on the brain that dominates the biomedical understanding of epilepsy is insufficient for treating the epileptic and for understanding his or her lived experience.
In the current research, idiopathic seizure disorder has presented autoantibodies; other forms of epilepsy have also co-occurred with autoimmune disorders. Raising the question of epilepsy being autoimmune in nature. Therefore, the ability for the gut microbiome to both prevent and potentiate autoimmune diseases such as type I diabetes and MS (multiple sclerosis) and the incredible association of epilepsy and other autoimmune disorders introduces the possibility for composition of an individual's microbiome affecting susceptibility to epilepsy and decrease disease progression.
In recent history, more work has been done evaluating possible connections between the brain and gut. This research supports the necessity of going beyond the brain and into the gut to treat epilepsy.
Similar phenomena to those observed in epilepsy have been reported in the kundalini yoga tradition where spontaneous 'kriyas' or body movements, asanas, pranayamas, mudras, and changes in consciousness take place, contorting the body. The individual usually remains conscious throughout the experience, which is said to represent cleaning of the nadis, though the movements are beyond his control. Occasionally the body may perform movements such as turning somersaults, or contortions, that would have previously been impossible. The energy here is allowed to take over in much the same way as in the epileptic, however, less pathologically and without harm to the body.
According to this tradition, the epileptic has to recondition his body and his mind through asanas, pranayama and shatkarmas in order to construct a vehicle capable of handling the energies being let loose.
It should be remembered, that the kundalini yoga tradition requires that a guru is present to ensure that such phenomena as epilepsy do not occur because of premature releases of energy, which may result in the following as described by Dostoyevsky in 'The Idiot':
"His mind and heart were flooded by a dazzling light. All his agitation, all his doubts and worries, seemed composed in a twinkling, culminating in a great calm, full of serene and harmonious joy and hope, full of understanding and the knowledge of the final cause. But those moments, those flashes of intuition, were merely the presentiment of the last second (never more than a second) which preceded the actual fit. This second was, of course, unendurable."
Through yoga it is possible to extend this second so as to approach the infinite. By strengthening the nervous system we do not collapse under the strain of the moment but continue to travel upwards with this energy.
One of history’s most famous epileptics, the Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, had described his seizures as blissful: a ‘happiness unthinkable in the normal state and unimaginable for anyone who hasn’t experienced it… I am in perfect harmony with myself and the entire universe’.
‘The most striking aspect of these people is that not only during the seizures, but “interictally”— between the seizures—they have tremendous religious experiences and mystical experiences,’ says VS Ramachandran, a renowned Indian neuroscientist who became obsessed with temporal lobe epilepsy in the 1990s
Why would temporal lobe seizures create a sense of universal oneness, of utter contentment, even a sense of God?
‘I don't have a clean answer for that one,’ says Professor Mark Cook, head of neurology at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital. A specialist in epilepsy, Professor Cook says neuroscience still can’t quite explain why seizures stimulate the kind of mystical experiences that people like Lucinda report, except to say that they do appear to be related to the temporal lobe.
Indeed, epileptic patients have been known to report detailed religious experiences, and numerous studies on the topic suggest that spiritual processes can change with different neurological conditions.
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