activemind

How Can Meditation Help With Migraine Headaches?

February 24, 2021

Migraine headaches are one of the more excruciating types of head pain the people experience. While some people may only experience them occasionally, others are more susceptible to migraines and deal with them regularly. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do to prevent them because there is no known cure. However, there are a number of things you can do to reduce their frequency and intensity. Meditation is one of them. While meditation alone may not be the most effective means of treating migraine headaches, when used in conjunction with other options, it has shown significant promise.

What is Meditation?

There are many different types of meditation and many different interpretations of what it means to meditate. For the purposes of this article, we’ll define it broadly for those who aren’t familiar with the practice.

Essentially, meditation is a state of focused attention and mindfulness. It’s the practice of focusing on your breathing, body, and emotions to bring your consciousness into the present moment, instead of thinking about the past of the future. Anyone can meditate; it takes no special skills, just a willingness to try. Click here for more information on meditation.

How Can Meditation Help With Migraine Headaches?

There have been several different studies on how meditation and mindfulness techniques affect migraines. Some of these studies present conflicting information or poor overall practices, but there’s no denying that meditation has helped people with migraines. It should be viewed as a complementary technique and not the sole practice for treating migraines. However, you may just find that meditation is the very best thing for reducing or eliminating migraine attacks.

Below are some of the ways that meditation and mindfulness have helped people with migraines.

Reduced Stress and Anxiety

For many people, stress is a significant migraine trigger. Unfortunately, modern life is pretty stressful. You can try to limit it in your waking life, but it’s easier said than done. Along with stress, many people experience anxiety. These factors can cause muscle tension, irritability, and an overly-sensitive state of awareness. Luckily, meditation has been shown to help relieve anxiety and stress, which can help lessen the occurrence of migraines.

Improved Sleep

Many people identify sleep issues as a major migraine trigger. In fact, 81% of participants of one study claimed that sleep problems were a trigger for them. Usually this is too little sleep, but some people find that too much sleep is an issue, as well. However, most people don’t get enough sleep, which is where meditation comes in.

A systematic review showed strong evidence that mindfulness practices like meditation did in fact increase the quality of sleep for many. This is thought to be the calming effect meditation has on your mind, particularly when you do it regularly. The better you get at calming your mind with meditation, the easier it will be for you to quiet your thoughts when it’s time to sleep.

Increased Pain Tolerance and Decreased Pain Intensity

Scientists don’t yet know why, but it seems that meditation can have a positive effect on how the mind perceives and experiences pain. It may be that mindfulness meditation shares a pathway in the brain for pain relief. No matter the reason, meditation may work to limit the intensity of migraines while they happen, and may even affect how your brain perceives that pain.

Can Balance Important Chemicals

Chemical imbalances may play a part in migraine attacks. Improper levels of cortisol, dopamine, melatonin, and serotonin can have all sorts of negative effects on your mood, sleep, and body functions. The good news is that meditation has been shown to help balance these (and other) important neurotransmitters, which can help reduce migraines.

How Do You Meditate?

As long as you’re following the overall tenets of meditation, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Remember, it’s all about focusing on the present moment and how your body feels. It’s perfectly normal to get caught up in your thoughts, but when you realize that has happened, bring your attention back to the physical rather than the mental. The most common type of mindful meditation involves sitting, but you can also meditate pretty much anywhere. Here’s a quick rundown of how to meditate in different ways.

Meditation Sitting or Lying Down

  • Find a quiet room where you can sit or lay down.
  • Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes.
  • Focus on your breath, breathing in and out however you feel comfortable.
  • Notice the sensations in your body; how your chest and stomach rise and fall.
  • When your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breathing and your body.
  • That’s it! That’s all it takes. You can do it for as little as 5 minutes or as much as an hour. However, if you’re just getting started, work your way up from 5 minutes a session.

Meditation While Walking

  • Don a pair of comfortable shoes and some appropriate clothes for the weather.
  • Most people find walking meditation easiest to do in a park or surrounded by nature, but you can do it anywhere. A busy city street will simply bring more distractions, so it may be more difficult.
  • Once you have found a place to walk, do so at your own pace.
  • As you go, pay attention to your body; how your muscles move, the feeling of your feet on the ground, the way your arms swing as you walk.
  • Focus on your body and your breathing, either moving from feet to head or head to feet, switching focus to a new area every 30 to 60-seconds.
  • If your thoughts start to wander, gently bring them back to the physical sensations, including that of the wind or the sun on your skin.
  • Make the walk as long or short as you like; the key is to do it regularly.

It’s perfectly okay to switch between different kinds of meditation; the key tenets remain the same. If you usually take a walk to meditate but the weather is bad, try sitting or lying down instead. There are also several meditation apps that you can download to help you keep your practice regular. A few of these include:

  • Mindfulness Daily
  • Headspace
  • Stop, Breathe, & Think
  • Insight Timer
  • Calm
  • Simple Habit
  • Prana Breath
  • MyLife Meditation

What Other Treatments Can You Use With Meditation?

As mentioned earlier in this article, meditation is best used in conjunction with other migraine treatment options. This is why we’ve included several popular options that have already helped those suffering from migraines.

  • Acupuncture
    • This ancient technique has shown promise in reducing migraines, based on 22 clinical trials with nearly 5,000 participants.
  • Chiropractic Care
  • Yoga
    • Yoga’s many benefits include helping those with migraine headaches. This is probably because regular yoga increases blood flow, relieves stress, and reduces tension in the muscles.
  • Medications
    • You can always talk to your doctor about your options for migraine medications. A few common types of medications include Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), Analgesics, Triptans, and Ergotamine.

For some people, avoiding trigger foods and meditation may be enough. For others, medication and meditation may work best. Everyone is different, so you won’t know what works for you until you try it. Luckily, meditation is incredibly safe, as is acupuncture, chiropractic care, and yoga. Each of these migraine relief practices is safe and readily available in most areas.

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