Headache Relief Meditation: The Science on Migraines

Headache relief meditation and science are coming together to prove the benefits of meditation in reducing migraine frequency. Science yearns to explore and discover new things by doing experiments.

Scientists and Doctors have discovered significant differences in the brains of regular meditators compared to non-meditators.

Hale and Evans (2009) say that when we are truly relaxed, both mentally and physically, “there are changes in the brain wave pattern until it is predominately located and fixed with the alpha state.”

In this alpha state, the brain triggers chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins have frequently been called “nature’s very own special opiates.”

One of the easiest ways to achieve this is though meditation. Thanks to headache relief meditation and science discoveries, we know that “there is also a real physical benefit, as these endorphins boost and recharge the immune system, helping you to fight off all kinds of infections.”

Endorphins increase with both excitement and pain but are also responsible for pain reduction. When a nerve impulse reaches the spinal cord, the body signals to release more endorphins to prevent the nerve cells from releasing more pain signals. After an injury or accident, it’s what gives us time to take necessary actions.

However, people who experience chronic pain have been proven to have lower endorphins than those who are typically pain free. Consequently, our migraine brains get the message that there is pain in the head but it is very possible that there are not enough endorphins to put a stop to it.

Headache Relief Meditation and Science at Harvard Medical School

Headache Relief Meditation and Science

Dr. Herbert Benson from Harvard Medical School has been studying meditation as it relates to mind body medicine since the early 1970s. He is helping us layman understand the connection between meditation and science.

He has written a number of books now, but the one that stands out for me is the one he co-authored with Miriam Klipper called The Relaxation Response.

Dr. Benson has long been proving that we have a physiological reaction that is quite opposite to our commonly well known innate fight-or-flight stress response which is what he has termed the relaxation response.

Over the past four decades, Dr. Benson’s method has been testing his theory and it has now become an effective form of therapy widely used to counteract the harmful effects of stress on our bodies.

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Scientific Proof that Meditating Reduces Migraine Frequency and Severity

Headache Relief Meditation

Dr. Benson and other researchers are now looking into how the brain changes through meditation.

He says our basic genetic structure and its activity have been measured in: yoga, mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, prayer, yoga, and tai chi.

Over an average of 9 years, headache relief meditation and science studied comparisons on the gene activity – forty to fifty thousand genes – surprisingly there was a significant difference. Some were acting completely opposite – like inflammation - and were being turned down instead of turned up. Migraine as we know is an inflammatory condition.

Dr. Benson continues that the cells were statistically significantly living longer. In another study, they used controls for 8 weeks and compared the same genes activity in the same people at the start and again at the end of 8 weeks and they got the same gene changes in those people. Dr. Benson says this is remarkable as the statistics are 1 in 10 billion chances for this to happen twice. This supported his theory and the idea that the mind can control genes activity.

So then, Dr. Benson and now a number of others have hypothesized that the brain knows your healthy state – when you evoke the relaxation response – you can visualize and use your memory to recall wellness. He says the brain is still hard wired to remember wellness – this is also called the placebo effect.

“You can turn on, in a positive fashion, the capabilities of your memory.” We are so lucky Dr. Benson studies meditation and science together, so I can now relate it to headache relief meditation.

Meditation and Science - The Power of Om

Headache Relief Meditation Om

There are so many ways to find headache relief meditation information.

According to Carey Goldberg, a Boston Globe Newspaper Staff member, in the article The Power of Om dated November 21, 2005, “meditation research is coming of age, as neuroscientists measure surprising benefits.”

This article is now somewhat dated, but the facts are still valid.

The article cites a few studies that validate not only the health benefits of meditation but also more, what I call, headache relief meditation and science, about the brain. A study done by the Massachusetts General Hospital researchers “who scanned the brains of 20 people who meditated regularly” found that the “four regions of cortex, the rind of the brain, associated with higher functions like memory and decision making were thicker than in 15 subjects who didn't meditate.”

They also found that the one area of the cortex aged less in comparison to those control individuals who did not meditate. So then, what this means is that this study provided evidence that the brain structure was indeed altered by “western-style meditation practice.”

On a more practical and objective level, other researchers reported that “people who reached deeper states of relaxation exhaled more nitric oxide, a gas known to relax the smooth muscles in arteries, and aid blood flow” by using a device that measures an individual’s exhalation.

In another study done by Wachholtz and Pargament (2008) cited in an article written by Cathy Wong (2012) in Alternative medicine about.com, findings were that regular meditation reduced migraine frequency and increased pain tolerance when compared to the control group of participants. This study monitored 83 migraine patients for one month.

In fact, this study supported the theory that practicing any stress management techniques on a regular basis may help reduce your migraine occurrence. The study, as most studies do, said more needs to be researched in this area and that stress management alone should not be used for migraine pain management.

Norman Doidge, M.D. in his book The Brain that Changes Itself says that “even leisure activities change our brain, meditators and meditation teachers have a thicker insula, a part of the cortex activated by paying close attention.”

Mindfulness Over Migraines Covers the Science and the Links to Migraines

Mindfulness Over Migraines

Cynthia Perkins (2012), a fellow migraine sufferer, has found a way to eliminate her migraine attacks in 15 minutes using meditation and the all important, timing.

In her e-book Mindfulness Over Migraines, specifically in chapter two on “The Science of Mindfulness and Migraines”  she identifies individual body functions associated with migraines, stress and our brains (p.14).

”Using neuroimagery on the brain it has been found that mindfulness stimulates the frontal lobes of the brain which increases our stress reducing neurotransmitters like: dopamine, serotonin, GABA, endorphins and enkephalins, and reduces our primary stress inducing neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, that sets off the stress response system” (p. 14).

She also cites Dr. Herbert Benson, and talks more about alpha brainwaves, theta brainwaves, our neurotransmitters, and the autonomic nervous system which “is a primary contributing factor to migraines” (p.19). I don’t know about you, but I definitely go into fight response before a migraine and my anxiety levels increase significantly! My poor body must be in constant state of stress just from the threat of the next migraine attack.

“Although pain is experienced in many different areas of the body, pain of any kind is regulated in the brain and influenced by the autonomic nervous system” (p.21). She also emphasizes that a crucial point for us migraineurs is to be aware of our triggers. I wanted to quote her yet again because her list is very good:

”The crucial point you want to be aware of in regard to the autonomic nervous system is that it becomes dysfunctional for a variety of contributing factors, which may include but is not limited to: emotional trauma, war, poverty, violence, natural disasters, loss of a loved one or any great loss, environmental toxins, poor diet, sugar, caffeine, nicotine, drugs, alcohol, nutritional deficiencies, metabolic problems like hypoglycemia, excessive oxidative stress, hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances, emotional stress, structural disorders like TMJ, food sensitivities, Candida, yeast infections, parasites, any physical trauma like a sports injury, car accident or tooth extraction, chronic stress of any kind and even lack of meaning and purpose in your life” (pp.21-22).

I couldn’t have said it better.

Ms. Perkins provides greater detail on headache relief meditation and science - to buy her ebook and have the information at your finger fingertips – please click on this link for more information. It's the best money you will ever spend!

Let Me Know

What headache relief meditation helps you most with pain relief? 

Thousands of other readers including me, love to hear from you.

Until next time, be well and be pain free,


References for Headache Relief Meditation and Science:

1. Benson, H. M.D. (1975) The Relaxation Response. Harpers Collins Publishers: NY.
2. Doidge, N. M.D. (2007) The Brain That Changes Itself. Penguin Books: USA. p. 290.
3. eHow.com (2012) What Happens to the Brain When You Get A Headache. [Online], Available online at: http://www.ehow.com/how-does_4965875_what-happens-brain-headache.html
4. Goldberg, Carey (2005) The Power of Om. Globe Newspaper Company, Nov.21, 2005 Issue. [Online], Available at: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/health_science/articles/2005/11/21/the_power_of_om/?p1=MEWell_Pos3.
5. Hale, G. and Evans, M. (2009) Feng Shui: Mind and Body, Spirit and Home. Anness Publishing Ltd.: London. p. 490.
6. Perkins, C. (2012) Mindfulness Over Migraines. Cynthia Perkins Self Published: USA.
7. Wachholtz, A.B., and Pargament, K.I. (2008) Migraines and Meditation: Does Spirituality Matter?" J Behav Med. Vol 31(4). pp. 351-66. [Online], Available online at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18551362 Accessed June 14, 2016.
8. Wong, C for Alternative Medicine (2012) Stopping Migraines with Stress Management. [Online], Available at: http://altmedicine.about.com/od/headache/a/migraines_stress.htm

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