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Calming down the migraine brain

February 20th, 2008

Several people have asked me lately about relaxation techniques. If stress is our enemy, we need to relax, yes? But if we strive and worry about whether we’re relaxing, we tense up. Raise your hand if this applies to you. My hand is up. Luckily there are some very simple techniques you can use to begin to practice relaxation.

Relaxing is not the same as doing fun things – fun things may or may not be relaxing. When I had my first job out of college I used to go to the video parlor on my lunch hour and play PacMan (yes, I am that old). I would return to work with my wrists and hands asleep, so stressed out I could
barely cope. I learned eventually that video games are not relaxing for me!

Our nervous systems have two components – the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic
nervous system controls stress – this is where our flight or fight response comes from. The parasympathetic nervous system controls relaxation, which is often neglected in a busy twenty-first century life. We can build the tone of our parasympathetic nervous system in many ways, including through deep breathing, meditation, moderate exercise, yoga and movement, stretching, reading a good book, having an enjoyable conversation, playing with children or animals, being out in nature, loving touch or sexual contact. If we take some time to strengthen our relaxation “muscles” daily, we improve our ability to handle stress. According to Dr. Ian Livingstone, studies showed a 40% reduction in migraines in those practicing regular relaxation.

So here are a few ways to get started:

  1. Sit comfortably with your back supported, legs uncrossed, hands on your knees. Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply through your nose, for a slow count of three. As you inhale, allow your abdomen to inflate like a balloon. Then breathe out through your mouth for a count of five, gently pulling in your abdominal muscles as you exhale. Gently concentrate on your breathing. If you find yourself thinking of other things, don’t get upset with yourself. Gently remind yourself to focus on your breathing. Try doing this for five minutes at first. Each day you can increase the time.
  1. Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms resting comfortably at your sides. Bring your awareness to your feet. Notice how they feel, any discomfort. As you breathe in, imagine silver light being pulled with your breath into the soles of your feet. If there is any pain or discomfort in your feet, imagine that you are exhaling it out as you breathe. Next notice your ankles. Breathe in and pull the silver light up into your ankles. Breathe out any pain or discomfort. Continue to gently pull the silver light up through your body, being aware of each part of the body in turn and blowing pain or discomfort out with your breath. If pain still remains, don’t fight it or worry about it. Just keep breathing the light into your body and exhaling out the pain. Continue until your body is glowing from head to toe. You may want to do this in bed to help you fall asleep.
  1. Take a walk and practice keeping your awareness in your body as you walk – the way your muscles feel when they move, the way your feet hit the ground. Be aware of the rhythm of your breath and
    the rhythm of your walking. Look at any trees or plants, any living things or natural features you pass – fully observe them as you pass. If you find your mind getting busy, working or worrying at anything, gently return your attention to your body and to the trees, ground, plants, rocks or sky. If you are walking in the city be aware of the sky, the wind, any elements of the natural world.

Give these techniques a try and let me know what you think!

- Megan Oltman

Not trying to be stressless, but to stress less!

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Posted in Managing, Tips & Techniques | Comments (2)

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