Many of us stop and think about our health only when things go wrong. By that point the body forces us to stop and listen. As a lifelong migraine sufferer, I’ve learned to listen attentively to my body.
If I ignore what my body is saying…I’m out of commission for 1-3 days. The pain is so unbearable that it makes me nauseous. I can’t keep anything down. I can’t move. If a three-day migraine episode happens, I get the happy privilege of visiting the emergency room for a life-saving butt shot.
Genetically this was the hand I was dealt, since migraines occur on both sides of my family. The debilitating effect of migraines has been my Everest all my life. Changing my lifestyle was the only way I was going to win this battle.
A decade ago I went on a natural migraine treatment mission, and I’ve lived a life with less pain ever since. Here’s how.
Using “Life Knowledge” to Treat Migraines
A good friend of mine went through two weeks of migraine hell recently. Fed up with being unable to function like a human being, she did what a lot of people do…she saw a doctor. A neurologist.
When she told me this, I was coming off the heels of a weekend Ayurveda workshop, where I spent three hours a day learning from Dr. Ghanashyam Marda. A highly experienced Ayurvedic doctor from Pune, India, this MeetUp event series was his first visit to Portland. Needless to say, this nine hours of health / life education was a steal.
After all, “Ayur” means life and “veda” means knowledge.
One of the Ayurveda workshops was devoted to overcoming pain. Unsurprisingly, migraines were part of Dr. Marda’s curriculum. Dr. Marda reinforced what I learned on my own over time…that migraines are muscular pain (not a neurological disorder) for the majority of us.
With my friend, although I already knew the answer to my question, I asked her: “What did your neurologist recommended for migraine treatment?” She said: “Medication.”
I’ve tried them all. The answer to my migraines seemed to be the latest magic migraine pill on the market. Most of the medication I experimented with made me worse, and I was back to the emergency room for a shot in the ass.
I’m not a doctor. I’m a reluctant migraine expert. I’m also a certified yogi who is an advocate for choosing natural methods for dealing with pain—and only using unnatural remedies as a last resort.
Now I choose meditation over medication. But it took me a while to get here.
I think the key with people who tend to get migraines is to understand that they have many sensitivities to both their external and internal worlds. Another term for this: migraine triggers.
Happiness comes only if you are healthy.” – Dr. Marda
Natural Ways to Combat Migraine Triggers
Anyone who deals with migraines likely has a laundry list of triggers they are “supposed to avoid.” This is perhaps the most infuriating thing about living with migraines. Unless you want to channel your inner Howard Hughes and quarantine yourself in some dark room away from society, triggers are pretty damn impossible to avoid.
Since I have no desire to be a shut-in, I’ve learned several natural ways to combat triggers. I’m sharing these tips today in case they can help any of you.
If you get migraines, prescription drugs might be the culprit. Ladies…don’t rule out birth control. This was my nemesis for a long time. After reading Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, I ditched the pill, slowly balanced my hormones, and I’ve had fewer migraines.
If you can, wean yourself off prescription drugs and explore ways to address and heal the root cause. Visiting a naturopathic, acupuncturist, or Ayurvedic doctor are all good places to start.
If you live in a place with distinct seasons, migraine sufferers tend to be more susceptible to sinus headaches. I grew up in Southern California with steady weather temperatures year-round. My first spring in Wisconsin years ago was brutal. But I didn’t want to take over-the-counter allergy medications or use nose sprays anymore.
That was when my happy relationship with a neti pot first began. I have used one every morning for many years and it totally helps. Should allergies flare up, or the rare times I have a cold, I use a neti pot more frequently to clear out my sinuses.
A couple of years ago, I started using Nasya oil drops before bed during allergy season. These drops help lubricate and clean the nasal passages. Also, I love this allergy vitamin, Counter Attack, which I take preventively every morning during allergy season.
With yoga, I recommend pranayama (breathing) techniques. Nadi Shodhana is one of my favorites for combatting sinus headaches.
When it’s 80 degrees on Monday and the temperature drops significantly on Tuesday, you might get a splitting headache. Same deal if rain comes after being absent for a while. That’s because you’re like me…a human barometer. These headaches aren’t the full-on migraine experience. I can function, but the headache greatly affects my energy and focus.
I repeat the same treatments as mentioned above with seasonal allergies. This doesn’t always work, and sometimes I have to ride things out until the weather levels off. Though not always feasible, one of the most natural ways to beat these headaches is to live in a more temperate climate with mild or few seasonal changes.
This trigger has an easy solution. The average adult human body is 50-65% water. Drink more water. Keep in mind that even though there is water in caffeinated beverages, they will dehydrate you. If you don’t like water, try infused waters and herbal teas.
When you have a hangover, you are dehydrated. Those of us with migraines can truly end up with the hangover from hell if we’re not careful. One option is to avoid alcohol entirely. Another, more balanced option, is to moderate with the type of alcohol you know your body can handle.
Unfortunately, I really struggle with wine. I’ve tried every color and type, and it’s a bit of a crapshoot. However, I’m good with moderate levels of beer or clear liquors. If you’re going to drink, be mindful of amounts and alcohol types. And, of course…drink plenty of water.
The Lady Holiday
Hormones play a part in migraines, absolutely. For us womenfolk, that usually happens once a month during our lady holiday. I’m a big fan of seed cycling for hormonal balance.
Source: Move Nourish Believe
This is something I learned when I stopped taking birth control and worked with a naturopathic. Depending on where you are in your cycle, you take a pairing of seeds to provide the balancing nutrients your body needs at that specific time. Besides migraines, this has helped my skin and mood swings as well.
Migraines are about three times more common in women than men, and may affect more than 12% of the U.S. adults population.” – Johns Hopkins Medicine
Sleep deprivation is no bueno when you have a history with migraines. I aim for 8-9 hours every night. The minimum for me to function is 7 hours. Even if you can operate on less sleep, that doesn’t mean it’s a good way to live.
If you have trouble “finding time” for this much sleep, then I recommend evaluating your life activities to see where you can make the time. Parents…I understand you’re in a different situation with sleep patterns. Still, do your best to take care of yourself so you can take care of your family.
Diet and Hangriness
Food is medicine. It’s true. What we put in our bodies has a direct impact on how we function today—and years from now.
For ages there has been talk of food migraine triggers, like chocolate and cheese. Personally, I believe it’s more about the big picture rather than specific foods that really get to us. Organic, whole, fresh…this is medicine. The other shit we put in our bodies has the opposite effect.
Hunger can definitely trigger migraines for me. Much like a bad night of sleep, being hungry makes me feel depleted. When I get run down, I’m asking for a migraine. Keep healthy snacks on hand at all times, so you don’t put yourself in this position.
See dehydration section above.
Like alcohol, similar rules apply with caffeine. Migraine sufferers can be more sensitive to caffeine than the average bear. Consider avoiding or moderating. I go through phases where I quit coffee for a while and substitute with black tea, which still has plenty of richness with WAY less caffeine.
Hot yoga is completely out for me. As is exercising in the heat, like running when it’s over 80 degrees. If heat is a trigger for you, but you love to stay fit like I do, stick to less heated alternatives. I do yoga, Pilates, or kettlebells in a non-heated environment. I hike, dance, or swim instead of running.
You will still get a great workout, even if you’re not sweating buckets. In fact, sweating that much can be counterproductive for your body. Once again, we’re talking about dehydration and depletion (hello, migraine!).
Avoid chemical scents at all costs: perfume or cologne, cleaning or beauty products. If you stumble upon these scents in an elevator or department store, breathe only with your mouth. I have no shame…I stick my face into my shirt to protect myself from overbearing scents.
At home, stick with unscented or natural products for everything. If you want to wear a scent, aromatherapy oils work brilliantly. Unlike unnatural scents that instantly give me a migraine, aromatherapy oils actually heal my headaches.
This is a tough one if you constantly work on a computer like yours truly. Take breaks away from screens throughout the day. And be mindful of how much time you’re spending on screens in your free time. I recommend a regular digital detox.
Migraines have historically hit me in the middle of the night—and I had no clue that teeth grinding was yet another culprit. The pain from clenching your jaw can cause massive headaches.
I didn’t realize I was a teeth grinder until I got married. I finally went to the dentist for a mouth guard after I broke one of my fillings in my sleep. Though unattractive, a night guard has helped decrease my migraines as well.
What do we do when we’re stressed? Our body tenses up, specifically around our neck and shoulders. This brings us full circle to migraines as they relate to muscular pain versus being a neurological condition.
When I’m moving at warp speed or piling too much on my plate, I’m literally rolling out a welcome mat for my next migraine. There is no easy cure for stress, except to find balance in your own life. That means everything: diet, exercise, sleep, your work life AND your home life.
As you all know, I love yoga and meditation immensely for combatting stress. I think they are relevant practices for all humans. But, I also understand the therapeutic benefits of many other things, like wandering in nature or reading while snuggled up with your pets or springing for self-care. Monthly massages are not a luxury for me—they are a necessity.
Stress happens in life—one thing we can control is how we manage stress.
How to Handle That Bastard Migraine When It Hits
Despite your best intentions at being healthy and stress-free, that bastard migraine might hit you anyway. When that happens, this is my migraine routine I have perfected over the years.
- Environment – Hunker down in a dark, quiet room and place a cold compress over your eyes. A wash cloth works, but I like eye pillows even better. I always keep mine in the freezer when I’m not using it—and add a mixture of headache-reducing essential oils to the cover (peppermint and lavender, or rosemary and eucalyptus).
- Body – Massage your neck for 15 minutes. Then, move to the back of your skull. Lastly, give your face some attention. Gently massage the center of your forehead, temples, jaw, and the sinus area.
- Nausea – Eat a cucumber. Though other fruits are high in electrolytes too, cucumbers are easy on your stomach. I can’t even look at a banana without wanting to barf. Drink lemon ginger tea and / or lime water. Personally, peppermint tea is too much on my gut when I’m this sick.
- Pain – If this is an option for you, smoke marijuana or take CBD oil. If it’s not—or if you still have a splitting headache—take an over-the-counter pain reliever. The drawback with pain relievers is that they are impossible to take if you have an empty stomach from puking. If you can keep something light down, like some Greek yogurt, try that before taking anything.
I’ll leave you guys with some final words of wisdom from Dr. Marda: “You can replace your car, but you can’t replace your body.”
You spend time repairing your car, cleaning the interior and exterior, fueling it to make it run. If it breaks, you can buy another one. We only get one body. How we take care of it absolutely matters for our health and happiness.
Do you have any migraine tips to share? I’d love to hear what works for you!