Mindful Meditation and Yoga for Your Migraines

Does Research Support It's Use for Soothing Your Migraines?

Young man meditating outdoors
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There is increasingly more interest in holistic or non-traditional ways to treat headaches, like massage, stress management, or acupuncture. Many times, these therapies are recommended, in addition to migraine medications, to help maximize your pain relief.

Meditation is another potentially soothing migraine therapy. While there is not much research on meditation and migraines, it's worth investigating and potentially worth a try—if anything, meditation is a good excuse to get some peace from the outside world for a bit.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness essentially encompasses being calmly aware of one's emotions, bodily states, sensations, thoughts, consciousness, and environment within that very moment. This sense of openness and living in the present moment is believed to help you develop emotional and cognitive strategies that are adaptive and positive when coping with stressful situations. Through deep breathing and yoga, the body relaxes helping to alleviate bodily symptoms of distress.

The Science Behind Mindful Meditation for Your Migraines

In one study in HeadacheThe Journal of Head and Face Pain, 19 adults with episodic migraines were randomized to receive either mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or "usual care." The control group (the participants receiving usual migraine care) were offered the intervention at the end of the study, but were asked to not engage in any yoga or meditation class on their own in the meantime.

All of the participants had a history of either a migraine with aura or a migraine without aura, experiencing at least 4 to 14 migraines per month for at least one year—so a fairly significant amount.  

The participants were all allowed to continue taking their preventive and abortive migraine therapies as usual—and the majority were taking some form of preventive migraine medication.

 

The MBSR intervention was a standardized 8-week mind/body protocol involving the teaching of mindfulness meditation and yoga. Participants met for a weekly 2-hour session and a 6-hour "mindfulness retreat day." They also were asked to perform daily 45 minutes assignments in meditation and yoga. Participants also maintained a daily log.

The first class of MBSR began with mindfulness of breathing, mindful eating, and the body scan ("sequential mindful attention to different body parts"). Subsequent classes built on these practices and encouraged incorporation of mindfulness and meditation into daily life activities, like taking a shower or washing the dishes. 

A prominent theme of the course involved teaching participants to use the MBSR skills as a way to minimize the negative effects of stress and to develop adaptive, proactive coping strategies during stressful situations. This was done mostly by "bringing attention back to the natural rhythm of the breath."

Participants who received the MSBR intervention had both less severe migraines and 1.4 fewer migraines a month than those who underwent "usual care."

Although it's important to note that these results did not reach statistical significance. This may be due to the small sample size, a real limiting factor in this study.

That being said, the study did show that the participants who underwent meditation did have shorter migraine attacks,  as well as a decrease in disability, as accessed by their MIDAS score—and these findings were statistically significant. In addition, those who underwent MBSR reported increased self-efficacy and mindfulness, compared to the control group.

The Bottom Line

While mindful meditation and yoga have the potential to be effective therapies for migraines, more studies—especially those with a larger number of participants—need to be done to say this for sure.

You are not alone if you are struggling to find the right combination of therapies for your migraines. Let's be hopeful as more studies are being done on newer, non-traditional forms of migraine therapy.

Sources:

Bishop M, et al. Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 2004;11:230–241.

Hofmann SG, Sawyer AT, Witt AA, Oh D. The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2010 Apr;78(2):169-83.

Wells RE, Burch R, Paulsen RH, Wayne PM, Houle TT, Loder E. Meditation for Migraines: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.  2014;54(9):1484-1495.

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