Doesn’t The Headache Healing Challenge sound like it could be the name of a new game show? You’re a contestant, and an expert panel tells you exactly how to solve your chronic migraines, just like that. It’s taped in several segments, with you going through various challenges along the way, and you win because you get rid of your pain and get your life back! Wouldn’t that be great? Considering that in the U.S. alone there are an estimated 50 million headache sufferers, over 30 million of whom get debilitating migraines, we’d be a much healthier nation with that problem solved.
The game show challenge sounds a lot like my professional practice as a headache coach. (Some clients call me a headache whisperer.) People I work with have suffered from headaches for years, sometimes a lifetime. They live in pain or ignore it, curb and restrict their lives, and extinguish their dreams. They’ve seen neurologists and a host of other practitioners and tried many, many treatments and medications—if it’s been around, they’ve done it. They feel sick, sick of the pain, sick of dealing with the pain and with their medications’ side effects. They want to re-up their efforts and are resolved to do something that works once and for all, with no side effects.
However, many longtime headache patients initially discount body-mind solutions, such as diet, stress reduction, breathing, self-massage, and transformational bodywork, because, they say, they’ve tried it all. They’re skeptical: how could something so simple work when the most advanced medications could not? In looking at why body-mind solutions may not have worked, I’ve noticed a pattern. Usually, it’s because they’ve focused on one particular therapy or aspect of their lives at a time, such as meditation, which may or may not have worked, and then they dropped it and tried another.
But, here’s the key . . . You’re a whole being. You’re not just what you eat, drink, or think, or how you breathe, sit, or move, or what’s happened to you in life. You’re all of it! So, the challenge is to become really well-versed in learning about yourself, your body, how you hold yourself in it, and how you embody your life history.
Most of us have no idea how much tension and tightness we carry around with us—body and mind—and how it effects our headaches and overall health and wellbeing. A pill may make us feel better in the moment or for a while, but a pill can’t address how we got that tension in the first place. All around good self-care that addresses our headache hotspots and helps prevent our triggers can truly help us handle (pun intended) our pain.
For example, our hands, breath, and awareness can help us ease our own pain. We’re not taught how, but we can learn and start to resolve one possible cause of our headaches. To give you a firsthand experience, how about we do something right now?
Let’s try a simple shoulder squeeze technique. Have your head centered so your eyes are looking straight ahead, not with your head tilted up or down. Reach your right arm across your chest, keeping shoulder and elbow relaxed, and grab the top of your left shoulder. Grab by squeezing together the heel of your hand and your fingers, keep holding, and pull gently upward toward the ceiling. Then take a breath in through your nose and sigh it out through an open mouth. Don’t rub, just squeeze, pull up and keep breathing, bringing your mind into that left shoulder and what you feel in your hand. Work your way along the ridge between your neck and arm until your shoulder feels softened and warmer.
Notice how it feels compared to your right shoulder. Switch sides. When your hands get tired, shake them out—like you’re shaking off water—until they feel emptied. How do you feel when both shoulders are done? Chances are, you feel a little looser, softer, less tense in that area; maybe you breathe deeper. You can use this technique regularly to prevent the buildup of muscle tension that contributes to your headaches. (You would learn a completely different technique to use during a migraine.)
The real headache healing challenge is being open, willing, and committed to doing self-care practices and handling what is revealed along the way. Always start with the basics and build on them little by little. Small steps can have a huge impact. By substituting bad habits for healthy living practices, you will begin to notice improvements each step of the way that add up to less pain and more vitality.
The information, advice, and opinion in this article is for educational purposes, and not meant as a substitute for medical advice.