Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Relaxation for Migraineurs – A Cool Breeze Blowing Through your Brain

November 13th, 2008

BREESE – Breathe RElax Easy SmilE

(Yes, I know that’s not the right way to spell breeze.) I use the analogy of a breeze to learn to relax and disengage mental and emotional energy. In his book Breaking the Headache Cycle, neurologist Ian Livingstone, M.D. explains how our nervous systems need both a reasonable amount of stress, building the tone of the nervous system and keeping us growing, and a reasonable amount of relaxation, allowing the nervous system to rest and recover, and calm down.

Migraineurs are not necessarily more keyed up or more stressed than others (despite lingering myths about a “Migraine personality”), but our nervous systems are more sensitive to stimuli, and the higher our stress load, the lower our resistance to Migraine triggers. Dr. Livingstone cites research showing that Migraine frequency and severity can be reduced an average of 40% through regular practice of relaxation. A study at the University of Rajasthan, India, found that “Three months of intensive yoga practice—one hour, five days per week—curbs frequency and intensity of migraines by 70 percent,” according to Liz Somes in Psychology Today.

Imagine a soft gentle breeze blowing through our minds and bodies, carrying our stress away. We can generate the breeze through:

Breathe – We rarely breathe fully, but to breathe fully induces relaxation. In particular, we hold our inspiration and do not breathe out fully. One deep breathing practice is to breathe in deeply, to a count of three, and then breathe out completely, to a count of five.


Shortly after I started working with Dr. Livingstone I took on breathing like this for 10 – 15 minutes a day, and also any time I noticed myself getting anxious, tense or upset. Later that month I was driving to the airport for a business trip, cutting it rather close for my departure time, a situation which makes me very agitated. I noticed my stress level rising and the tension increasing in my hands, arms, shoulders, and neck. A few minutes later I had a tell-tale pinpoint of pain over my right temple. I began the 3 in – 5 out breathing practice and felt myself calming down. By the time I got to the airport half an hour later my head pain was gone.


RElax – Relaxation is a completely different state for our nervous systems than excitation. We need both states to be healthy. But many of us do not consciously and deliberately relax very often. Relaxation can occur in sleep, in meditation or visualization, in enjoyable conversation with a friend or loved one, in exercise or sexual activity, in reading or listening to music. Some of the activities we think of as relaxing – some computer or video games, for instance, actually excite us and raise our stress levels. I took on a daily practice of spending 15 minutes doing deep breathing, meditation and visualizations. Within a couple of months my migraine frequency was cut in half. When I stopped doing it regularly, within a couple of months the migraines had inched back up again.

Easy – give it up, let go, don’t worry! Stress and anxiety are real, physiological states. But they are also occurring in our minds, where we can notice them. I have taken on a practice of detachment with love, creative disengagement, stepping down. This becomes easier with a regular practice of meditation, where I can notice the things I need to let go of and picture myself dropping them.

SmilE – cultivate gratitude, humor and joy. This doesn’t mean you can’t gripe and vent when needed – but keep a commitment to do it in order to clear the bad stuff and regain your own optimism. Without gratitude, humor and joy, life is not worth living. When we smile it actually affects us physiologically, emotionally and mentally. Maybe you don’t want to smile – but try it anyway. You may say, “Megan, this just the power of positive thinking!” I won’t argue with you, but I will suggest that most of us spend most of our time submitting to the power of negative thinking! So try this for a change. Watch, read or listen to a gentle comedy. Look at something beautiful. Talk to someone you love. Play with a child. Find something to smile about.

If you practice generating the breeze, you can calm your system and reduce your Migraines. If you want to make it easier to practice, join us for the initial Free my Brain relaxation teleclasses. I will be leading a group in learning and practicing yoga breathing and full body relaxation, and guided visualization, in two 35 minute teleclasses, coming up on December 1st and 4th. Click here to read more or to register for the BREESE teleclasses.

- Megan Oltman

Grass in the breeze image courtesy of Andrew Storms.

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Posted in Managing, Tips & Techniques | Comments (7)

Coping with Migraine: Claims of a “Cure”

June 27th, 2008

I was recently presented with a dilemma here on Free my Brain. I want to encourage dialog and exchange of ideas, but I don’t intend to provide an open marketplace for sale of migraine “cures.”  (Though I will gladly support and even promote helpful products and services.)  Migraine is a complex, genetically based, neurological disease.  The frequency and severity of migraines vary enormously from person to person; so do the number and complexity of triggers and other contributing factors.  What we know now is that this is a neurological disorder, a differently ordered nervous system, if you will, which has existed throughout human history.  Like many congenital conditions, there may have been a valid evolutionary reason for this mutation at one point.  Maybe migraineurs were the human barometers, predicting disastrous weather changes for primitive societies.  I had fun speculating on the evolutionary basis of migraine in the post Our Ancestress: A Fable.

I have heard from many people who have done just one thing and their migraines have gone away.  To them I can only say mazel tov!   (Congratulations!)  Here is a bouquet of flowers to celebrate!   For some it is eliminating just one trigger.  For others it is a particular nutritional supplement, a practice of meditation, regular exercise, a medication, a surgery, pregnancy, menopause, a life or lifestyle change.   I don’t know if there are statistics on how many migraineurs find relief from just one thing.  I do know there are large numbers of us out here who need to find a combination of factors to manage and control our migraines.  Here is a bouquet of flowers to console us!  There is no “cure” for a genetically based neurological condition, any more than there is a “cure” for my red hair and green eyes.   (Well, another 15 – 20 years may pretty well eliminate the red hair.)

A great place for some very basic facts and information about Migraine is the recent quiz at My Migraine Connection: Dispelling Migraine Myths.   The two books on migraine featured in the left side-bar on this page are both great resources for learning about migraine and how to manage it.  There is much we can do.  For most of us, we can reduce our migraines significantly.  You have probably heard me say before that I have reduced my own migraine frequency by about 50% through use of abortive medications, supplements, trigger avoidance, relaxation and meditation, and lifestyle changes.

Someone submitted a comment to one of my posts stating that 1) Migraine isn’t a disease; 2) there is a cure for Migraine “within us;” 3) he had over 20 years of migraines which are now gone; and 4) you can “retrain” yourself so you have no more migraines; he then went on to promote his methods.  I am genuinely happy for the commenter that his migraines are gone.  I am certainly curious about his methods, and glad that he wants to help others.  I don’t mean to suggest he had any but the best motives.  But I am wary of anyone’s claim to have a cure.  After some deliberation, I decided not to publish the comment and link.

There are two ways to look at “retraining.”  A nervous system which can be easily triggered into a Migraine attack can be viewed as an over-excitable or hyper-reactive nervous system.  Regular practice of meditation and relaxation can help us reduce the excitability of our nervous systems.  Note that this is not a “cure;” it is a supportive exercise or practice which can strengthen our system’s ability to resist triggers.  You could call this “retraining.”

But there is another view of retraining which comes from an idea that Migraine disease is psychologically generated.  It is not.  It is a real, physical condition.  It is no more psychological than epilepsy or scoliosis.  I view with rage books like Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” which suggest that right thinking can solve all our medical problems.  She suggests that “Migraine headaches are created by people who want to be perfect and who
create a lot of pressure on themselves. A lot of suppressed anger is

And so, if we work like crazy in therapy, meditate, recite mantras and do whatever highly subjective steps Hay seems to think will enable us to let go of the anger and pressure, if we do all that and we still have Migraines, then what?  We failed?  It’s like telling someone the devil is causing their Migraines and they just have to really believe in God.  “I do believe!”  “If you really believed the devil would leave you and your Migraines would be gone!”  “But I really do believe…”  It’s just a very sneaky way of blaming the victim!

I wish we could do a scientific study of people who want to be perfect and who put pressure on themselves.  In the first place I bet you that’s at least 75% of the population.  And I bet you dollars to donuts that 12% of all the perfectionists would turn out to have Migraine disease.  And I bet that 12% of all the non-perfectionists would have Migraine disease too.  What’s the incidence of Migraine disease in the general population?  12%!  I think you get my point.

I have been told that if I only distinguished the beliefs from my past that were making me have Migraines, they would disappear.  I will admit I tried to do that.  Like anyone else, I have a past and beliefs were formed in it!  Some of those beliefs are limiting to me.  In a life of nearly half a century, with plenty of self-help, support groups, personal development courses, and therapy, I think I’ve managed to identify most of those beliefs.  So why am I not cured of Migraines?  Is it my fault?  Or, wait, could it be that I have a genetically based, incurable neurological condition?  Hmmm…  Which is the more logical conclusion?  And which is more empowering?

For me, the answer is clear.  I am 49, a woman, 5’2″, a redhead, a migraineur.  These are facts.  I get choices about what I do with those facts.  I am choosing to vigorously pursue better and better Migraine management.  I am not wasting my mental or emotional energy on “cures.”  Or at least I won’t, once I’m done with this rant!

- Megan Oltman

Curing is good for meats, cheeses, wines, paints… Maybe our heads don’t need it?

Hammer image courtesy of Darren Hester

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Posted in Books, Communicating, Managing, Medicine, Rant, Science | Comments (4)

More Time Management for Migraineurs: Managing the Time we Have

May 28th, 2008

Do try this at home.  And at work.  I wrote a post a while back on How do you Manage Life with Migraine?, about managing our time when migraines interrupt us all the time.  Those of you receiving the newsletter got an expanded version of that post in the article “Time Management for Migraineurs (or, how can you get everything done when you can’t get anything done?).” 

The gist of those pieces was that 1) whatever is on your list, you must learn to accept that you will never get it all done; 2) you need to choose what is most important to you and put those things in your schedule first; and 3) if you keep detailed lists of what you are working on, next steps, what you need to handle if you get sick, and what you need to care for yourself, you will best be able to pick up where you left off.  I  recommend Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, as the best system I have come across for managing your time to make sure that you spend it on what is most important to you.  And as I mentioned last week, Teri Robert has taken this idea of list-making and planning for Migraines much further in the helpful article MAPP Your Migraine!

All of that said, it occurred to me last week that I had left an important piece out.  This may look like a blinding flash of the obvious, but it hit me that a key piece to making this all work is that we can only manage the time we have.  Please don’t say “Duh” yet.  Take a moment to let this sink in.

I read an intriguing post on How to Cope with Pain earlier this month, called Time Management and Pain.  What intrigued me was that rather than laying out any nitty-gritty on scheduling and managing time, the article focused on “pacing ourselves and keeping stress to a minimum.”  In other words, to manage time, we need to manage our own, often over-achieving and denial-ridden, selves! 

We can only manage the time we have.  I looked back over my Migraine and Wellness calendars for theJan last 5 years.  I’m happy to say that my time spent incapacitated by Migraine and my other illnesses decreased over those 5 years from 27% of the time to 22% of the time.  I have focused on increasing that
trend, with mixed results.  I go up and down; there are months where I’m down more than I’m up.  What I have not always remembered is that, however you slice it, I will be down for the count about 25% of the time. 

When I look at a beautiful, clear, blank work week in my calendar, I can’t say, “Oh, goody, 50-60 working hours to schedule into!”  Into that week I need to put all of the things that allow me to maintain my health, to pace myself and keep stress to a minimum.  For me that includes exercise every day that I am capable of doing it.  It includes 20 minutes of meditation or relaxation practice every day.  It includes eating lunch away from my desk – taking breaks that are real breaks.  And once I have put all those things in, that help me keep stress down and stay well, I still only have about 75% of the remaining time available for my work! 

This means if I set deadlines for myself, I set them taking that
percentage of time into consideration.  It means when I block out my
week, I leave blocks of “not working” time.  It means when I come right
down to it, I have about 27 hours of productive working time that I can
count on in a week.   Now I’m not a workplace productivity expert, but
I have worked in a lot of places, for others and for myself, and I
don’t think many people are really productive much more of their time
than that. 

I have felt such freedom since I have been scheduling this way!   My
productive100_0510 time tends to be really productive; I stay focused on what
I’ve set out to accomplish in that time, knowing that I have a
break coming.  I can use my “not-working” time for those
water-cooler type conversations we tend to have at work, or for actual
work if I choose.  Of course I can’t control that I will schedule my
migraines into the hours I have allotted, but there’s room in the
schedule to rearrange things when I do get sick.  And when I am sick I
don’t worry about what’s not getting done.  Without the added stress of
that worry, I can recover faster.

Since I am self-employed, I know I have more freedom around these issues than some of you who hold down “regular” jobs.  But you can find ways to use these ideas.  It may be about how you approach your time away from work.  It may be about how you pace yourself at work.  Please share your thoughts on managing the time you actually have!

- Megan

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