In the chronicles of the history of medicine, meditation comes before medication. Long before conventional Western medicine and the scientific method became the de facto form of health care, ancient health practitioners relied on the powers of meditation to treat conditions such as migraines.
Spiritual healing has hardly gone out of style. It has actually evolved along with other types of medicine. In ancient times, spiritual healing had a strong focus on the supernatural and later on religion. These days, spiritual healing focuses on the mind-body connection, which is also known as the holistic experience. The practice of medication as part of a treatment plan may have originated with spiritual healing, but it is recommended by practitioners of all types of medicine, from conventional to herbal and from homeopathic to reflexology.
Since meditation is widely practiced by devout Zen Buddhists as a religious ritual, physicians who focus on psychosomatic research have conducted numerous medical studies at Zen monasteries. As expert meditation practitioners, Zen monks are known to be able to treat their own headaches and other painful conditions.
Even Buddhist Monks Get MigrainesOne of the most respected figures in modern Buddhism and meditation was a Hindu businessman whose migraine condition developed later than it does for most other patients. Satya Narayan Goenka was 31 when he started suffering from migraines, and he quickly found out that stress brought on by his business activities was the number one trigger of terrible headache episodes.
Goenka sought relief from migraines through meditation. He learned vipassana, one of the earliest methods of meditation known to Buddhists, and he eventually gave up business for a life of spiritual and religious teaching. The type of meditation that brought Goenka relief from migraines is based on an Eastern philosophy concept that calls for practitioners to initially focus solely on their breath before moving on to consider other realities intrinsic to life.
Zen Buddhist monks are not impervious to the migraine conditions, but the art of meditation allows them to find relief from headaches and to minimize the intensity of their episodes.
Five Types of Meditation That May Alleviate MigrainesAlthough the following meditation disciplines have a religious foundation, they have also been studied by medical practitioners due to their positive effect on holistic health:
- Zen - This meditation involves deep introspection and seeks knowledge of self
- Vipassana - This ancient mind-body exercise was practiced by Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha
- Transcendental - This meditation comes from the Hindu faith and involves the use of sound and mantras
- Yoga - This combination of physical exertion and meditation is often recommended to migraine patients
- Mindfulness - This Buddhist practice goes beyond vipassana to build total awareness
Physicians are not completely sure how meditation interacts with the mind and body to lessen the intensity of migraines. What is known is that even patients who are not Buddhist monks can benefit from meditation. Nearly three quarters of migraine patients who practice medication report that the frequency of their episodes and the intensity of their headaches tends to be lower. Nearly 80 percent of migraine patients who practice yoga regularly report getting less episodes and being able to manage headache pain with mild, over-the-counter medications and natural remedies.
Stress reduction is the main benefit of meditation for migraine patients. Since stress is the number one trigger of intense migraine episodes, patients who practice meditation on a regular basis benefit from living more relaxed lives. Researchers have noticed that meditation improves circulation and slows down the heart rate. There is also data that supports the idea of meditation having a positive effect on brainwaves, which means that it is easier for practitioners to produce the peptides known as endorphins, which are naturally-occurring analgesics.
*Image courtesy of Nickolai Kashirin