Mindfulness Meditation for Migraine

A migraine is a disorder of a hyper-excitable brain, and it makes sense for people with migraine to adopt a stress-reducing lifestyle incorporating habits of regular meals, adequate fluid intake and sleep, sensible use of medication, and practices to achieve emotional stability.

There is evidence that behavioral interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and biofeedback, compare favorably with preventative medication for migraine.1 One behavioral intervention that may be useful, not only for migraine but also for life in general, is what is called mindfulness meditation.

Insight (mindfulness) meditation has two aspects: stopping and observing.

Stopping means being rather than doing—enabling quiet, gentle, focused concentration moment-to-moment, typically by focusing on the breath. Such stopping then allows observing through mindfulness—that is, non-judging awareness of present moment experience, allowing whatever is present to be exactly as it is without trying to manipulate it or fix it.

Observing means expanding our field of awareness beyond the breath to include all-important body sensations, as well as emotions and thoughts without attachment to them.

Healing does not mean to cure, but rather to make whole. So often we may feel fragmented in our minds and bodies, ignoring or pushing away those parts of ourselves we feel are painful or undesirable. When we allow our minds, hearts, and bodies to be heard and felt through mindful attention, they will say back to us, “Thank you for listening,” not because we tried to fix anything but just because we paid attention with gentle, nonjudgmental awareness. This nurturing umbrella of awareness is the key. It is both a form of refuge and a means of really being able to take control of and managing our lives. It is a way we can cultivate and honor the wholeness of our being. It is how we heal.

Controlled studies demonstrate how mindfulness may improve anxiety, depression and also our response to physical pain.2 While we await studies assessing its effects specifically on headaches, these prior studies suggest that mindfulness likely has a role in the treatment of patients with headaches.

Furthermore, brain wave and imaging studies show how mindfulness practice actually can modify brain structure and activity, including promoting thickening of cell-containing layers of the brain, and modifying activity in a positive way in certain brain regions.3, 4.

There are numerous resources readily available to assist headache patients in beginning mindfulness meditation practice—including books and soundtracks. Reading about mindfulness is useful, but regular ongoing practice is the key; thus, taking a class or practicing on your own can be especially beneficial.