Studies prove that using mindfulness meditation for migraine headaches reduce migraine frequency and severity with regular practice. Techniques like Vipassana, mindfulness, transcendental meditation and guided visualizations all show benefits.
Here are some ideas to experiment with to find the right meditation to ease your migraines.
My psychologist sent this me this information on mindfulness.
She said that:
“when we practice mindfulness we focus our attention on the task that we are doing and in this way our thoughts will be about the simple tasks we are doing rather than berating oneself” or other mental thoughts. So mindfulness is more a place of being with the doing rather than thinking about the doing.
If you think of Tai Chi or other martial arts or yoga or rock climbing, one’s concentration and energy is focused on the task at hand rather than thinking about other things. I would call that being focused on one thing.
This is not to be confused with meditation where one sits down to go into an altered state of consciousness. Mindfulness is a way of being when we are not overpowered or controlled by our thoughts.
I had an ahh-hah moment the other day when I realized that my thoughts are not always right! And I also find it easier to be mindful just before or after a migraine when I slow right down.
Shinzen Young tells us about three methods: turning towards, turning away, and focusing on change. Focusing on change means to watch the flow and be aware of the flow and changes in your pain. I used to watch my migraines move all over my body, they would even go through my feet.
Mr. Young talks about the turning away strategies as:
1. Focus on relaxation – physical or mental
2. Focus on positive thoughts and emotions. He calls this the feel, image, and talk reactions.
The turn toward technique uses the focus on physical sensations like touch.
And then the focus on change method, which directs the attention to follow and become aware of the flow though the body and the changes in the pain. Location, size, texture, color, intensity, emotional connection, etc.
In this series of 3 videos Shinzen Young does a guided mindfulness meditation with a man named Rich and goes through his pain. I know this is not migraine pain, but it gives us some idea of where to start.
This is only part 1 of his 3 guided mindfulness meditation example (again, I feel these can be easily adapted to suit mindfulness meditation for migraine):
1. Find a comfortable sitting position either on the floor in lotus
position or in a more comfortable chair. Make sure your spine is
2. Take a few deep full breaths – allow the breath to fill the lungs. Slowly and gently exhale. Allow your breath to find its natural rhythm. Bring your attention to the strongest sensations of your breath moving.
Notice the rise and fall of your abdomen with each
inhalation and exhalation. There is no right or wrong way to breathe.
I normally notice the coolness right at my nostrils as well.
3. This is the hard part. Once you feel that your body is more relaxed and your mind is calmer “embrace and penetrate the pain! Observe how the pain in the head shifts, morphs, expands, contracts, spreads and pulsates.
Note and mentally label the sensations as “flow”. I would even suggest to say that quietly to yourself. Flow ..... flow.
4. Remain as a
neutral observer watching your pain move around your body. It is
important to remember that while doing your guided mindfulness
meditation you are to maintain a passive attitude.
5. The pain should peak and then eventually dissipate. Your awareness may shift, “instead of observing the pain, you begin to feel its wave-like sensations. When you notice the wavy sensation, just ride it. A few moments later, you’ll notice that the pain just vanishes. It is replaces by a relaxed and open attention. Continue with the meditation session as usual.”
This is how it worked for one meditator; however I did not have this experience. I could watch the pain move all over my body, for days (10 in most cases) and follow the flow and wave he describes, but I just passed out from the pain eventually.
Please be gentle with yourself if you try this method. If the pain does not dissipate you may want to find another method.
Find a sitting position that allows you to be alert and relaxed at the same time. Rest your hands in your lap and allow your awareness to travel through your body. And where it stops, soften, relax and let go in those tense areas.
The physical sensations will attract your attention, but don’t focus too long in one area.
Soften the hands, let go in the shoulders, and relax the abdomen.
We can easily get lost in thoughts, so the Vipassana technique often starts with awareness of the breath which helps quiet the mind. As you practice you might find a more useful anchor to use like your migraine pain, sounds, physical sensations or feelings that arise.
This teaching says “what’s important is that your sensations are awake” so you know you are here.
As far as I am concerned, what is important for us migraine sufferers is to learn what degree of intense pain we can sit with and remain objective observers before the unbearable migraine pain phase starts.
Many theories say not to label it as pain, but to choose the word physical sensations instead.
I used to do 10 day silent retreats in Vipassana meditation. They were intense, yet so wonderful. In fact, I still recall some of the extreme moments that occurred for me back then. It’s a very powerful technique.
The practice I did scanned the body. The physical sensations become more and more intense. But it sure taught me that thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations come and go - "impermanence." I still remember watching a few sneezes come and go without actually sneezing. I didn’t want to disturb all the other meditators.
I did this practice for many years watching my migraines. I find it much more intense than just doing a gently guided imagery meditation now to calm me down into a sleep state.
I would not recommend such an intense form of meditation with a migraine coming on, a gentle mindfulness meditation for migraine would be best to take you away from the pain instead of into it.
But, hey don't let me stop you. Remember to experiment and find what works best for you. Finding the right mindfulness meditation for migraine, your unique migraines, is part of the journey.
Professor Brutus, a Clinical Psychologist, does this guided mindfulness meditation exercise titled Mindfulness Meditation Acceptance of Thoughts and Feelings recorded in 2010. Here is part one:
And part two:
His voice is nice and deep, and his pacing is slow and comforting.
My favorite thing to do is meditate. I can go anywhere in my mind or just rest my mind and go into my body. It’s so easy and I can do it almost anywhere any time to bring inner peace and calm.
Like I already mentioned above I feel that a gentle mindfulness meditation for migraine works best.
I really would like to add visualizing: balanced blood vessels, relaxed eyes muscles, balanced hormones, perfectly balanced neurotransmitters and a balanced nervous system, but most meditation practices say not to label anything.
So if I slip here and there, and use labels, please use the words that feel right for you.
Let me give you a quick example of a guided mindfulness meditation for migraine relief I do, if you don’t have time to watch the above videos:
1. Bring your awareness to your breath. Feel the inhale and the exhale and feel the coolness of the inhale. Allow your lungs, belly and chest to fill with air. Allow the muscles to relax when you exhale.
mindfulness meditations are about bringing attention to and being with
your breath. Take three conscious breaths with your awareness in your
body like this. Then follow the inhale inside your body. Let your
attention rest in your stomach or lower abdomen.
2. Now notice the weight of
your body sitting on the chair. Feel the chair supporting you and allow
yourself to settle into your sitting bones. Allow yourself to feel
held by that chair. Feel the touch of your feet on the ground. See if
you can feel mother earth or the ground supporting you, taking all your
weight - just supporting you.
3. Notice what you can hear outside the room, spend some time there (say two or three breaths) and then notice what you can hear in the room, and then inside yourself.
How was that for you? It didn’t take long did it? Do you feel a little more relaxed now? Add these if you have time:
4. Notice your body from the feet up. Wiggle your toes, feel your ankles, knees and thighs. Bring your attention back to your sitting bones on the chair, feel your torso, and neck.
Roll your shoulders, feel your
hands and fingers and allow your awareness to linger on your head and
face. Relax your eyes, nose and mouth. Relax those ears. Relax all
the places your migraines strike.
5. This is where we can adapt the guided mindfulness meditation for migraine. Hold an image in your mind's eye that makes you feel happy. See yourself in health, pre-migraine, smiling or laughing. I know that can be hard if the pain has already started.
For years I visualized a very small image of me
sitting at the back of my head putting out the sparks flying off the
nerve endings in my head. Peacefully and lovingly putting them out with
my hands as I meditated. I saw a smile on my face as I imagined the
6. I would also visualize my healthy, clean blood flowing effortlessly in and out of my strong blood vessels all though my body, head and ended in my ears. Include the sides of your head around your ears, the side your migraine pain comes on most often.
Taking the time to meditate regularly helps reduce stress which is associated with migraine attacks.
I found this blog by Sharanam with some amazing insights around migraines and meditation. I just had to share them with you.
S/he also has a list of Vipassana and pain management websites which I wish I could copy for you, but I can’t - so please click here if you'd like to see her list.
“When we experience chronic pain like this, the mind develops a pattern of relationship with the pain. Obviously, we don’t want the pain. We want to shut it out. We want it to go away. We don’t want to be aware of what’s happening.” Guided mindfulness meditation for migraine can be very difficult to practice when you are experiencing the intense pain from a migraine.
The pain is used as the focal point, the anchor, of the meditation. One must also consider the “mind’s reaction to the pain” which can be so unpleasant it is “virtually impossible to be at peace with.”
Once you can begin to see how your mind is relating to the pain and making meaning of it, over time, you may be able to stop the attacks ahead of time like this meditator Sharanam discovered.
Her guru Ajahn Amaro said that our minds are restless and that we often shut “off to something we don’t want to deal with – like physical or emotional pain. Unconsciousness is nature’s anesthesia.”
They suggest the best way is to “create some distance between the mind that is aware of the pain and the body that is experiencing the pain, when we can truly observe objectively, it changes the whole equation.”
I think this is amazing insight about redefining our own mind’s relationship to our pain. The way our mind reacts to and relates to our pain may hold the key to reducing or maybe even eliminating migraines for good.
So, “it’s not in shutting ourselves off to it or trying to push it away, but rather in opening up to it and allowing it to be that we find freedom.” And in saying that I also know that it may be easier said than done to open up and allow the pain.
I use a technique with my clients called Focusing Therapy which is very similar to mindfulness meditation for migraine in my opinion. It brings awareness to what needs your attention by saying "hello". Its very gentle.
Please share your experience(s) of using mindfulness meditation for migraine combat your attacks in the Facebook comments box below. I'd love to hear from you.
Until next time, be well and be pain free,
Mindfulness Meditation for Migraine References:
1. C4Chaos (2012) Open Practice: How Vipassana Meditation
Relieves My Migraine Headaches. [Online], Available at: http://www.c4chaos.com/2009/07/open-practice-how-vipassana-meditation-relieves-my-migraine-headaches/
Accessed June 6, 2012.
2. Sharanam (2010) Mindfulness tools for dealing with emotional and physical pain. [Online], Available at: http://sharanam.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/mindfulness-tools-for-dealing-with-emotional-and-physical-pain/ Accessed June 5, 2012.
3. Study on Meditation for Severe Headache (2001) Department of Psychiatry, Department of Family Medicine, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Kaohsiung.
Meditation for Migraines
Guided Mindfulness Meditation For Migraine Headache Relief