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Meditation, mindfulness, and migraine

To help relieve the symptoms of migraine, some people turn to meditation or other mindfulness practices. Although more research is needed, mindfulness practices might help you manage the effects of migraine.

It may be particularly helpful to combine mindfulness practices with other treatments, such as anti-migraine medications your doctor prescribes.

Read on to learn more about the potential benefits of meditation for migraine.

There are many different types of meditation. Many of them fall under the umbrella of mindfulness practices.

Mindfulness is a psychological process in which you focus your awareness on the present moment.

Mindfulness practices help cultivate that awareness, by drawing your attention to your current thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and environmental surroundings.

According to a 2019 research review on complementary and alternative treatments for migraine, some studies have found that mindfulness practices might help:

  • lower stress
  • improve pain tolerance
  • reduce the frequency of headaches
  • reduce the intensity of symptoms
  • reduce medication use
  • improve quality of life

This review looked at studies on different types of mindfulness practices, including spiritual and non-religious meditation.

It also included progressive muscle relaxation, a practice in which you consciously relax muscles throughout your body. The review also looked at a mindfulness-based, stress-reduction program.

In many cases, the quality of the research evidence was quite low. There were issues with how the studies were conducted or their findings — so it’s hard to know if the information is meaningful and valuable to people living with migraine.

Some of the findings were also inconsistent from one study to another.

For example, one study found that mindfulness practices helped improve pain tolerance but had no effect on pain intensity. In contrast, another study found that a mindfulness-based, stress-reduction program may help reduce pain intensity.

More high-quality studies are needed to assess the potential effects of meditation and other mindfulness practices on migraine.

In the meantime, there’s little to no risk in trying meditation and other mindfulness techniques if you think they might help you.

Meditation and mindfulness practices have also been linked to more general benefits for your overall well-being.

Although these potential benefits aren’t directly related to migraine, they may improve other aspects of your health. In turn, it could make it easier to manage migraine on a day-to-day basis.

According to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, practicing meditation or other mindfulness practices might help:

  • boost your immune system
  • improve your sleep quality
  • promote positive emotions
  • relieve stress and depression
  • sharpen your memory, attention, and decision-making skills
  • bolster your self-esteem, body image, and resilience
  • foster compassion for yourself and others

There are many ways to incorporate meditation or other mindfulness practices into your daily or weekly routine. For example, consider trying one of these approaches.

Practice rhythmic breathing

Get into a comfortable position, sitting in a chair or lying down. Loosen tight clothing. Close your eyes. Consciously relax your muscles.

When you’re comfortable, start to slowly breathe in through your nose while counting to six. Hold your breath for a count of four. Then slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of six.

Continue this pattern of rhythmic breathing for several minutes or longer. When you find your mind wandering to other thoughts or feelings, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Notice the sensation of air moving in and out of your body. Notice how your stomach rises and falls with each breath.

Consider scheduling time for this activity each morning, afternoon, or evening.

Go for a meditative walk

Put on a pair of supportive shoes, find a well-maintained walking path and sidewalk, and go for a leisurely walk.

As you begin to walk, focus on the sensations in your feet and ankles.

Pay attention to the feeling of your heels hitting the ground. Notice the transfer of weight from your heels to your toes. Allow your awareness to tune into the movements of your muscles.

Next, shift your attention up to your legs. Focus on the feeling of your calf muscles relaxing and contracting. Gradually move your awareness upward to your knees and thighs.

Slowly work your way up your body in this same manner, focusing on each body part for about a minute. When you get to your face, pay special attention to the feeling of the wind, the sun, or other elements on your skin.

Download a meditation app

For more meditative exercises, considering downloading a guided-meditation app. For example, you might find one of the following apps helpful:

These are just a few of the many apps that are available to help you incorporate meditation and other mindfulness practices into your daily life.

More research is needed, but studies suggest that meditation help your physical and mental health. There’s little risk to trying meditation if you think it could help you.

Consider scheduling time in your daily or weekly calendar for meditative practices, such as walking or guided meditation. You might find it makes a positive difference in your migraine symptoms or overall quality of life.