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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

1. REFERENCE: Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis ( JAMA Internal Medicine. Retrieved 01/07/14.


  • amberduntley
    6 years ago

    Great, important post.
    I have always been one of those “I can’t meditate” type of people (so I thought) I would try too hard, get up inside my head, beat myself up, even focus so hard on my breathing I would end up having panic attacks. Yoga brought me closer to peace with this, but I too have problems with missing classes due to pain. My studio often offers something called Yoga-Nidra, which has been as close to serene mindfulness as I’ve been able to come. It is similar to guided meditation, with some simple gentle grounding movements at the beginning and end. I cannot recommend it highly enough for those who have a hard time staying focused or with traditional meditation techniques.

  • MigraineSal
    6 years ago

    Great posting again Kerrie . . . I started Meditating over a year ago pre my migraine diagnosis and Triptan treatment because of medication induced insomnia and I have to say it was one of the things that turned my life around.

    I always add that I am not Meditating in the traditional sense of the ” happy clappy ” way I imagined it to be when I admit to Meditating . . . I have found a couple of fantastic iPad apps that really do relax me and switch my mind off. I laughed at your description of likening it to training a puppy dog as my inner puppy is probably still not doing as it is told but it does seem to behave quite well on the whole during my meditation sessions. I am just about to have a session now because I woke up briefly and then over stimulated myself as I sometimes do so rather than fight and try to sleep I will do a bit of meditating before I need to get up for work. I find this is the next best thing to evasive sleep on nights like this and it is all about finding a coping strategy and going with the flow.

    I appear to be suffering from Hemiplegic Migraines and have been struggling with a numb / sensitive left side of my face on and off for a couple of weeks again but most noticeably since Saturday. I find Meditation does not necessarily take it away but it distracts me and makes me float and feel peaceful and during these nasty Migraine episodes Meditation is a welcome distraction I will take whenever I can.

    I used to do Guided Meditation but have since moved on and now prefer Non-Guided, which I didn’t think I would be able to do initially with my wandering mind but perhaps practice and perseverance has paid off !

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