Migraineur’s Guide to CAM: exercise and meditation


We often think of exercise as something to do to improve fitness. While these exercise methods can improve physical fitness, their purpose is to reduce stress, improve mental functioning, and create a state of calm awareness and mental clarity. This state of mind is sometimes referred to as “enlightenment”. Numerous studies support the practice of one or more of these methods as an excellent way to manage stress, lower blood pressure, improve pain tolerance, reduce anxiety, and facilitate general wellness.

The exercises listed here are gentle and low-impact – perfect for migraineurs who are easily triggered by more intense workouts. They improve balance, coordination, and flexibility. Your own body is used as resistance, making these practices affordable as no extra equipment is required.

Yoga has its origins in Ayurvedic practices. Regular yoga practice improves circulation, respiration, strength, and flexibility. It has also been shown to improve relaxation and is an excellent stress management tool.

Tai Chi is a mind-body practice involving slow, dance-like movements, breathing techniques, and mindfulness meditation. Regular practice improves balance and circulation.  It is a low-impact form of exercise that uses your own body weight as resistance.

Qi Gong is similar to Tai Chi in that it is also a movement discipline. The key difference is that advanced forms involve improving the flow of chi (“life force”). Qi Gong emphasizes specific breathing techniques and precise, flowing movements. Both disciplines have shown to improve overall wellness, reduce blood pressure, and are gentle, simple ways to improve fitness in even the most disabled individuals.


These meditative practices all help to calm the mind and increase awareness. As with the exercises listed above, meditation serves to facilitate relaxation, lower the impact of stress, reduce anxiety, increase pain tolerance, and create a sense of peace and tranquility. These practices are especially useful for staying calm during a migraine attack.

Kundalini Yoga is a combination of body positions, breathing techniques, and meditations. There is a large variety of combinations, so this type of meditation practice is best done with a teacher to guide you. There are specific meditations for any number of concerns (stress relief, concentration, etc.).Zen Meditation is also called "zazen" which means "seated meditation". It is a type of meditation originated with Buddhist practices. It involves the vocalization of mantras, observing breath and mind, and chanting. The teacher guides the group using Sutras (teachings) from Buddhist writings.
Transcendental Meditation™ is the only trademarked form of meditation. It was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Like Zen Meditation, it involves mantras and breathing. It has the reputation of being “effortless”.Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is often taught in medical centers by doctors, nurses, or other healthcare practitioners. It involves teaching breath awareness and body scanning. Body scanning is simply tuning your awareness to body sensations, particularly muscle tension, and then systematically relaxing the entire body, starting at the toes and working up slowly.  This form of meditation can be performed sitting, standing, lying down, or walking.Guided Meditation is often used in combination with MBSR or hypnosis. It is often used by therapists to teach relaxation to client with anxiety. It has also been used in work with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder). Many commercial meditation CDs or videos are based on this type of meditation, too.

The beauty of these practices is their simplicity. Anyone can learn, even very small children. No special equipment or skills are required.  It doesn’t really matter which you choose. All have a proven track record for reducing stress, relieving pain, and building strength & flexibility.

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