Yogi Rodney Ji wants people battling epilepsy to know his healing secret: thirty-seven years ago, he conquered his convulsions through yoga. By breathing and meditating, he instinctively discovered a way to suppress most of his seizures. This set him free. And the Manhattan native wants others suffering from epilepsy – and many other conditions for that matter – to know that they, too, can be free and regain control over their body and mind.
In 1964, Yogi Rodney Ji was simply Rodney, a healthy boxer, fresh high school graduate and court reporter. But soon after his eighteenth birthday, he was kicked on the head while playing football. He was rushed to the hospital, and after a 106 degree fever, he lost his sight, became paralyzed on the left side of his body and slipped into a coma for three days. When he was awake and stabilized, doctors operated on the frontal lobes of his brain, which is “responsible for cognitive function and decision-making,” according to Mayo Clinic. He was no longer paralyzed, but due to the severity of the head trauma and complications from the surgery, he developed epilepsy.
“All I could do was think, at least I can move my hands,” he said. “I can see. I’m alive. And now I’ve got something to live for. I’ll fight it off and I’ll win.”
At first, he said, epilepsy was tough to handle. It was the battle of his life. He tried to manage his condition by using medications, but they didn’t work. So he stopped taking them. At 23, he started practicing yoga. The doctors and his parents strongly advised against it. But he believed in the practice.
For years, the seizures were still unpredictable and uncontrollable. He was carried out of yoga classes, subway carts, sidewalks, cars and restaurants. Until one day in 1978, as he sat inside an organic restaurant in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan, he felt the symptoms of a seizure coming, which he described as a strange tingling sensation on his face and head. He refused to go to the hospital and he didn’t want to make a scene, so he asked the manager if there was a room in the back he could use. The manager said there was only a bathroom. So he went to the bathroom and assumed full lotus pose. He sat tall with his legs crossed, and as his arm started lashing out to the side, he breathed with his abdomen, focusing on the breath to bring oxygen to the brain. He breathed until he fought the seizure off and sent it out of his body.
“It was the happiest day of my life,” he said. “I didn’t have to suffer anymore. I realized that if I had a warning, I could stop my convulsions before they began.”
Yogi Rodney Ji applied his miraculous new technique every time the symptoms returned, and it worked tremendously. Silently, he became one of New York City’s yoga pioneers, and for several years, he taught yoga. In 1980 and 1993, he experienced his most severe seizures without warnings, which killed him and brought him back to life. He remained single and supported himself through odd jobs and social security disability benefits.
As a result, he said, “I used my suffering as a tool to develop more balance and strength.”
Nowadays, Yogi Rodney Ji can be spotted attending classes at Jivamukti Yoga NYC, a popular studio at Union Square. He usually follows the teacher’s instructions for a while, but almost always, during the final half hour of the class, he holds a long headstand. When the class is over, he announces inspirational words, rolls his mat and puts it away.
The next day, he does it over again.
“Practice as hard as the problem that is blocking you,” he said. “By practicing yoga, you’ll be free of the past and live a whole new world in the present.”
Photo credit: www.ashtangayogaphotography.com