Advertisement

How Meditation May Help You Manage Migraines

What the research says about meditation and migraines and how to get started incorporating meditation into your life.

Medically reviewed in May 2021

Meditation is a practice of focusing attention, calming the mind, and relaxing the body. There are many different types of meditation, some of which have been practiced for thousands of years.

Meditation has been having a moment over the past decade. A survey conducted in 2017 found that the number of adults in the United States who have used meditation tripled over a five-year period. The percentage of children who have used meditation also increased.

People meditate for a variety of reasons—to reduce or avoid stress, improve overall wellbeing, perform better at work. Meditation can also be useful for people who are coping with illness or living with a medical condition—including people who experience migraines.

Here, we look at the basics of meditation, what the research says about meditation and migraines, and how to get started incorporating meditation into your life.

What is meditation, exactly?
As mentioned above, there are different types of meditation, and the definition of what meditation is will vary (at least slightly) depending on the type being used.

Different forms of meditation use different techniques, but most forms share some common elements. These include a quiet setting, a comfortable position, relaxed and efficient breathing, and focused attention. Many forms of meditation have you focus on a mantra, object, or guided imagery. Some forms of meditation also involve a spiritual component.

Another important aspect of meditation is having an open mind—especially if you are just getting started.

The research on migraines and meditation
Much of the research on meditation and migraines has focused on a type of meditation called mindfulness meditation.

This technique pairs meditation with the practice of mindfulness—being fully aware of the present moment and what you are experiencing in that moment. When practicing mindfulness meditation, you will aim to focus less on thinking and more on what you are sensing and feeling. (But it’s okay when your mind wanders or thoughts interrupt—meditation is more about the practice and less about getting it perfect).

Mindfulness meditation has been incorporated into treatment plans for people who experience chronic pain. It has also been studied as a therapy for people who experience migraines.

Some of the ways mindfulness meditation is believed to help with migraines include:

  • Lowering stress. Stress is a common migraine trigger. Mindfulness meditation may help you feel less stressed, better cope with stress, and help you react differently to stressors.
  • Coping and perception. Migraines are not an easy condition to live with. Mindfulness meditation may help you better cope with the uncertainty and anticipation of the next migraine attack. Migraines may also help you change your perception of pain and better cope with migraine symptoms.
  • Earlier treatment. Mindfulness meditation can help you become more aware of your body. This may help you better recognize migraines at the outset and treat migraines earlier.
  • Changes in the brain. This is where the research on migraines and meditation gets complex. The simple version is that studies using brain imaging have found meditation is associated with changes in brain chemistry and gray matter volume—which may decrease migraine frequency and severity.

Meditation may have additional benefits beyond reducing migraines. These include health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and lowering high blood pressure. It may also improve things like memory, focus, and self-awareness.

Getting started with meditation
It’s important to keep in mind that meditation will not cure migraines, and used on its own, meditation is unlikely to be an effective migraine treatment. If you have migraines, the best thing you can do is work with a healthcare provider who is experienced in treating migraines.

Meditation is also something you should discuss with your healthcare provider—especially if you are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression. Meditating can bring negative emotions to the surface and may not be the best way to process feelings of anger, fear, and jealousy.

If you’re curious about meditation and think you are ready to get started, try our 10 Minute Meditation for Migraines.

Medically reviewed in May 2021.

Sources:
Robert Puff. "An Overview of Meditation: Its Origins and Traditions." Psychology Today. July 7, 2013.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. "Meditation: In Depth."
Frederick M. Hecht. "Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Medicine." Goldmen-Cecil Medicine. Twenty Sixth Edition, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. "Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress."
Rebecca Erwin Wells, Elizabeth K. Seng, et al. "Mindfulness in Migraine. A narrative review." Expert review of neurotherapeutics, 2020. Vol. 20, No. 3.
American Psychological Association. "Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress."
American Migraine Foundation. "Mindfulness Meditation and Migraine."
Mayo Clinic. "Mindfulness exercises."
American Migraine Foundation. "Spotlight On: Treating Migraine with Meditation."
Melissa A. Rosenkranz, Richard J. Davidson, et al. "A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation." Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2013. Vol. 27.
Roma Pahwa, Amandeep Goyal, Pankaj Bansal, and Ishwarlal Jialal. "Chronic Inflammation." StatPearls. November 20, 2020.
Robby Berman. "Mindfulness training may lower blood pressure. "Medical News Today. December 29, 2019.
Elsevier Patient Education. "Patient Education: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction."
Itai Ivtzan. "Dangers of Meditation." Psychology Today. March 11, 2016.

Featured Content

video

Keto-friendly Summer Roll

These summer rolls can help you avoid common migraine triggers.
article

Telehealth Appointments for Migraines

How virtual visits with your healthcare provider can help you stay on top of your migraine management.
slideshow

8 Surprising Migraine Triggers

See if you recognize any of these unusual triggers.

article

The Stigma of Migraine: It's Real

Find out why migraine sufferers feel a certain stigma attached to their pain.