No More Excuses – It’s Time to Use Mindfulness Meditation for Migraines

Meditation has been used for thousands of years to combat stress and its related health consequences. Now, research has shown that mindfulness meditation may help with migraine attacks; however, there are a lot of misconceptions about meditation that I’d like to address in this post.

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Meditation is the act of focusing your attention on your mind and thoughts, identifying and becoming aware of distractions, and learning skills to direct conscious thoughts.  Mindfulness is the practice of consciously paying attention to external and internal situations or events that are happening in the present.

Our minds are rogue wanderers, thinking about things like:

  • I should have said that differently in the meeting yesterday.
  • What will my boss think if I take a slightly longer lunch to run an errand?
  • Did I take out the chicken for dinner?
  • Do penguins have knees?

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These are not mindful thoughts. They are distractions that lead to additional stress because of the lack of focus and chaos that happens when you do come back to the present. That additional stress and behavior puts migraineurs at a higher risk of attack.

What the Research Shows

Meditation has made its way into the news again, and with good reason.  Several large-population studies have identified and validated the health and well-being benefits attributed to mindfulness meditation.  Let’s take a look at a few of the findings:

  • People who practiced mindfulness meditation had 30% improvement in their daily activities
  • 55% had significant improvement in mood
  • Participants regularly reported decreases in negative emotions like fear, anxiety, depression, and anger. This included a decrease in the preoccupation with health issues
  • Patients had higher energy levels, reduced whole-body pain, and enhanced cognitive functioning
  • 28% experienced reduced medical symptoms
  • 44% reported less frequent anxiety attacks
  • Most importantly, follow-up several years later showed maintained improvement in those who continued the practice

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For more information about the research, see the sources section below.

Common Misconceptions About Meditation

Whenever I mention meditation to patients, I always hear the same things:

  • I can’t sit still long enough to meditate
  • My mind wanders too much to focus
  • I can’t make my brain go blank

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These are excuses. Let me explain:

I can’t sit still long enough

You can be still when you sit down to eat, while you cook, or when you lie down to sleep. Mindfulness meditation is just a piece of being mindful, which is the act of focusing on the present.  You do not need to sit still to do this.  And, better still, you don’t need to have magical abilities to take a moment of mindful meditation.

My mind wanders too much & I can’t make my brain go blank

Meditation is not about erasing your mind; it’s about calming it.  Rest assured, nobody can make their mind go blank. The goal is to recognize when you wander, and then gently bring it back to the present.

How to Meditate to Help Prevent Migraine Attacks

The work begins here, and the instructions can be summed up in two simple words. Are you ready?

Your Breath.

That’s right. Your breath. To practice mindfulness meditation, even if only for 2 minutes while you wait for the toaster to spit out your gluten-free bread, all you need to do is focus on your breath.  Become aware of how the air feels going in through your nose, traveling down your throat and into your lungs.  Hold it there for a moment and imagine the transfer of oxygen and carbon monoxide. Then release, following the breath in your mind’s eye out through your mouth.

Yep. It is really that easy to start. Give it a shot!  What have you got to lose? With the medical research proving to us that meditation is a key ingredient to good health and pain reduction, wouldn’t it be worth an experiment? You don’t need a schedule or an instructor. You need your breath and a reminder to come back to the present moment.

Sources:

  1. www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/understanding-migraine/mindfulness-meditation-for-migraine/
  2. www.migraine.com/blog/common-misconceptions-about-mindfulness-and-meditation/
  3. www.mhni.com/headache-pain-faq/non-drug-treatment-alternatives/meditation

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