Migraine meditation

In the Indus Valley dating from between 5,500 and 7,000 years ago painted on rock walls are images that depict people sitting on the ground with crossed legs, hands resting on their knees, and their eyes slightly narrowed but not completely closed. Yes, that doe sound remarkably like a meditation posture and these paintings are the first records of meditation being practised by humans. So meditation dates back at least 5,500 years but probably much longer than that because it takes a while for a practise to make its way into popular media (such as rock paintings)…just as “rock and roll” was around before radio stations decided there might be something to this new musical style. The thing with meditation is that it is not only ancient, almost primal, but it is also widespread. We associate meditation most distinctly with the Buddhist tradition but Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all advocate it in different forms. The root of the word “meditate” is the Latin “meditatum”, to ponder, and time for reflection is a widely advocated practice among humans not only for spiritual reasons but for mental and physical ones as well. Meditation is widely recognised as a valid way to reduce stress and anxiety and as more research is done we are finding further benefits of meditative practice. In a recent study for instance, evidence has emerged that meditation can help relieve the pain of migraine headaches.

The figures in Europe and America suggest that around ten per cent of the population are migraine sufferers. In Australia it is estimated that around three million people suffer and that means around 23 per cent of homes contain a migraine sufferer. Since migraines are so debilitating and widespread, there is a need to find effective ways to manage and reduce their incidence. According to this new study it looks as though meditation may be an answer.

The study involved migraine sufferers who were put into one of two groups; one group received standard medical care while the other took part in an eight week mindfulness meditation program. The meditation program involved one meditation instruction class per week and then practising meditation for 45 minutes a day for five days in the week.

Before and after the eight weeks of the study the participants completed questionnaires that evaluated disability, self-efficacy, and mindfulness. The subjects also kept a log of their headaches noting their frequency, severity, and duration.

The results showed that people who had done the mindfulness meditation had an average 1.4 fewer headaches per month than the other group and their headaches were less severe. People in the meditation group also had headaches that were shorter in duration and less disabling. Additionally the meditators reported an increased sense of personal control over their migraines (self-efficacy) plus there were no side effect and excellent compliance with the meditation program.

Although this was not a huge study and the effects were not huge, there is enough here to suggest that meditation would be a useful practice for anyone with migraines. Who knows, maybe it was being hit in the head with big sticks by angry neighbours that started our ancestors meditating all those millennia ago?

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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