Meditation is highly regarded yet little-studied for managing chronic daily headache and migraine. Intensive Meditation and Migraines: Effects on Health and Well Being is a clinical trial of Vipassana meditation and chronic daily headache (the migraine sort). The year-long study includes a 12-day retreat to learn the technique. Researchers describe the study as:
Participants completing training in intensive meditation and continuing frequent practice for one year would experience reduced frequency, duration and severity of headaches along with improved awareness of the triggers of their symptoms, improved quality of life and mental health, improved heart rate variability, and reduced inflammation.
For more information on the study, see the recruiting page on ClinicalTrials.gov. Learn more about Vipassana meditation from Wikipedia’s excellent external links list.
My dad came home from the hospital Friday and is doing well. He’s having trouble with atrial fibrillation, which shortens his breath and tires him out. This morning my mom went with him to see his cardiologist and came home with new medications. He’ll take them for a couple weeks then have a follow-up appointment.
My sister arrived Saturday and we’re all having a lot of fun. We haven’t been together as just the four of us in years. I am blessed with a wonderful family. We love each other deeply and laugh nearly constantly.
I’ve felt pretty good the last week. Reglan is getting me through the daytime nausea. I’m taking Valium for it at night and have woken up every morning ready to go. I’ve never tried Valium for my headaches before, but it seems to be helping them too. Maybe it’s the quality of sleep or level of relaxation.
Most important is that I’ve listened to my body. Instead of pushing myself until I fall over the edge, I meditate as soon as I notice signs of an impending meltdown. I have so much to tell you about what I’ve learned from meditation and how helpful it has become — much more than I ever expected. I need to get back to my family now, but will share with you as soon as I can.
Thanks again for your love and support. Knowing you’re pulling for my family and me is so comforting.
Continually setting my expectations too high and continually being let down is a common theme in my life. As much as I know there’s an overachiever inside of me, I also know that I physically can’t do everything I put on my to do list each day. I try not to feel bad about it, but a small sense of failure always lingers. Sound familiar?
My meditation teacher said to our class today something she told me a couple weeks ago: Set three priorities a day, even if they are breakfast, lunch and dinner. The idea is to have appropriate goals for what’s happening in your life. By having realistic expectations, you’ll see that you are successful and able to do what’s most important to you.
I’ve been trying her recommendation. For the most part, I can reach my goals each day and not focus on all I haven’t done. My list is limited and I don’t feel as overwhelmed. I’m also open to revising it throughout the day. A day may start out well, but by afternoon I know washing my face before bed will be the most I get done. I’m a little harder on myself in that case. . . .
Today’s list was ambitious considering how I’ve felt: Go to meditation class, buy groceries, pick Hart up at the airport. The first two were checked off by 1 p.m.; Hart’s flight isn’t in yet, but I definitely feel up for the drive. I even managed to go to the library and post office, both of which I’ve been trying to do for days.
Knowing I’d taken care of the first two items on my list and that going to the airport tonight was a priority, I let myself rest this afternoon. I still feel a little guilty for watching three episodes of 30 Rock and three episodes of Weeds in the middle of the day, but knowing it was part of my plan makes it easier.
Tomorrow’s list: Go to my massage, meet my sister and nieces in Tacoma, and be back home in time for Hart to take the car to his poker game. It is kind of ambitious, but I’m pretty sure I’ll make it. If not, I’ll remind myself that even getting myself fed was a challenge that I rose to.
I went to my first biofeedback appointment yesterday expecting to learn to warm my hands. I admit I was dubious, even though research supports the efficacy of temperature biofeedback for migraine and other headache disorders. Warming my hands? Is that really all it takes to get my mind off the pain? I was happy to learn my biofeedback provider uses a different type called electromyogram (EMG) or muscle biofeedback.
The Talking Stage
My story was first, then she detailed the nature of chronic pain, including recent studies showing the brain’s involvement in pain. She also gave an overview of mindfulness-based stress release, which her approach is based on. The main tenet is to be engaged in the moment without focusing on pain.
Hooking Up to the Machine
She hooked me up to the machine with electrodes on my jaw and neck, my problem areas. The monitor showed the levels of electricity, which indicates tension, in each area. A green line indicated a good relaxation level; the red line showed what to work on.
Learning to Release Muscle Tension
At first the readings for my jaw and neck were both above the green line and most spiked beyond red. Following the provider’s continuous instruction (given in a low, calming voice), I tried to consciously relax my muscles. She advised me to look at my brain as if it were the sky and the pain was just a passing cloud — the idea was to think of the big picture of my brain and my life, not just the small portion of it that is pain.
The session was interesting and I’m eager to learn more. Turns out the therapist is teaching an eight-week class on tools for mindful-based wellness, including meditation, gentle yoga, recommendations for incorporating techniques into your life, and a lot more. Signing up was a no-brainer! Course concepts are so similar to individual sessions that I’m going to start with the class. I will definitely have an individual class at the end of eight weeks so I can see what I learned and what I should work on
There are far too many components of this to cover in one post. Expect more on mindfulness-based wellness and biofeedback. If there’s an aspect you’d like me to cover, leave your thoughts here or on the online support group and forum. You can also contact me at kerrie [at] thedailyheadache [dot] com.
Mindfulness-Based Wellness and Stress Reduction Classes
Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the techniques that my biofeedback therapist and many others use. Hundreds of providers offer individual sessions or classes. Check the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine‘s website to find a provider in your area. One place even offers online classes.
Interested in the class I’m taking in Seattle? The spring session starts Thursday (yes, this Thursday!); the next course will be offered in the fall. Classes are held at Swedish First Hill. Call (206) 215-6966 for details or to register. Please introduce yourself to me if you take the class — we can get lunch and chat.
Physical therapy, craniosacral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, hypnotherapy, tai chi, pilates, meditation, chiropractic. While my migraines were too bad to keep appointments this fall, I kept a running list of the new treatments and therapies I’d like to try.
I have fantasies of doing nothing else than jumping in and trying all these therapies at once. They’d have to add up to more than 40 hours a week. Reality quickly usurps the fantasy: No blog, no decent meals, no organizing and downsizing. You know, all the other activities of my life.
Prioritizing treatments is more challenging than it seems.
- My massage therapist’s physical therapist has aborted her migraines and his techniques are different than I’ve had in the past. No question I’m seeing him as soon as possible..
- I tried a bit of craniosacral last year and the results were promising, so that’s in.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback and hypnotherapy have common threads. With my depression, cognitive behavioral therapy is the natural starting point. I expect that biofeedback and hypnotherapy will flow from that.
- Tai chi, pilates and meditation also have similarities. I want to exercise more and learn to be mentally quiet. Pilates is more about relieving pain in my lower back, but tai chi is the perfect fit.
- Chiropractic is last on my list. Last year’s attempt was a
bust, but I’m planning to see a different chiropractor, whose approach
is quite different than the one I saw last spring. Still, having not
been effective in the past, I’m in no rush to try it.
Choosing one from each group leaves me with physical therapy, craniosacral, cognitive behavioral therapy and tai chi. Is that still too much? Combined with myofascial release and a yoga home practice, which are having good results, I’m afraid I’m overdoing it.
In fact, I know I am. This “narrowed” list would require appointments four days a week plus three tai chi classes. Ha! Like that’s possible. But they all seem absolutely necessary.
I’m stuck. What do you recommend?