Common Misconceptions About Mindfulness and Meditation
The health benefits of mindfulness and meditation (and mindfulness meditation) have made the news yet again, this time in a meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine1 that found meditation to be beneficial for pain, depression and anxiety. As study after study finds similar benefits, have you considered adding meditation to your migraine management toolbox?
Perhaps you dismissed the idea because your mind wanders too much for meditation or you can’t make your mind blank. Maybe you’ve tried meditation and don’t think you’re any good at it or you don’t have time to practice. Well, I have good news! These are common misconceptions about meditation that can be overcome.
“My mind wanders too much for meditation.”
Practically everyone thinks this when they first begin meditating. Minds wander, that’s what they do. In mindfulness meditation, you notice when your mind wanders and bring yourself back to the present moment. Over and over and over again. Can’t go five seconds without your mind meandering? That’s totally normal!
Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist teacher, gives the example of training a puppy. The puppy will be distracted by every possible diversion. When this happens, you don’t beat the puppy, but gently bring it’s attention back to the training session. You have to do this for what feels like a million times before you can finally train the puppy to follow a single command, but the puppy eventually figures it out. Likewise, you don’t mentally beat yourself up for a wandering mind, you just bring yourself back to the moment time after time.
“I can’t make my mind blank.”
Very few people can make their minds blank! In mindfulness meditation, you’re not trying to make your mind blank, but are noticing the thoughts you have without getting caught up in them. A common visualization is to imagine your thoughts as clouds floating through the sky.
“I’m not good at meditating.”
Could you immediately solve the first algebraic equation you encountered? Was the first meal you cooked from scratch worthy of a Michelin rating? Of course not! Unless you have an extraordinary talent, you had to practice these things to become good at them. Meditation also requires practice.
You can find a lot of written instruction on meditation. That might be all you need to get started, but you may find listening to a guided meditation helps your focus and attention. This is how I learned to meditate and it’s still my preferred approach. (See Meditation & Mindfulness: “Bruce Almighty” for recommended recordings.)
“I don’t have time to meditate.”
Like with physical exercise, you have to make the time to meditate if you want to reap the benefits. Twenty minutes a day is often recommended for beginners, but if you can only spare five minutes, then meditate for five minutes. If the only free time you have is when you’re falling asleep at night, meditate then. Although meditation teachers will tell you to avoid falling asleep while meditating, it’s better than not doing it at all (and can help with insomnia).
These days, my own meditation practice is irregular at best. Yoga is meditative for me, but migraine means I attend classes sporadically. Bedtime is my preferred meditation time and I often fall asleep when doing so. Even with these limitations, learning mindfulness meditation has transformed the way I cope with migraine and has influenced how I live my daily life. The lessons of mindfulness are always in the back of my mind and enable me to be more present in everything I do, whether I’m writing, running errands, having a conversation or eating.
It may seem paradoxical, but this ability to be present also makes each migraine easier to endure. When my mind reels on how horrible the pain is, how long it’s going to last, how unproductive I am, how unfair this illness is, or when the next migraine is going to come, I keep bringing my attention back to the moment and try to let these thoughts float by. This is more difficult on some days and during some migraines than others.
I continue to practice at it because I’ve discovered that mentally churning on what might happen makes the already miserable experience of migraine even worse, as does wallowing in “why me” thoughts. I continue to practice at it because, quite simply, mindfulness reduces the burden of migraine for me.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?