For most women suffer from migraines with no history in the family, the learning curve begins slowly and usually after a couple of years have been spent grappling with the horrors of repetitive episodes. My learning began four years after I started having migraines. Today, seven years on, I have learned to tackle them fairly successfully. I believe migraines in women caused by fluctuations in their hormone levels can at best only be managed, not cured.
Though demystifying of the Why, What, When, and How took me through reams of research material that were available in books and on the Web, I found them esoteric for a layperson to assimilate in a short while. So I took to experimenting and settled on a rather strange mix that worked well for me. The bonus was that since I was the architect of the blueprint, it suited my lifestyle to a T!
In 2002, I joined a program of the popular Art of Living Foundation. There, we were made to go through cardiovascular workouts before practicing the various pranayams and meditation techniques. I realized that shortly after each session, I felt lively and positive about life. After moderate-intensity exercise session beyond 20 minutes, the body releases a chemical called dopamine. Its secretion is linked to increased heart rate, blood pressure, and rise in body temperature. It acts as an inhibitory hormone, which stops the anterior pituitary gland from releasing prolactin —a polypeptide associated with pain alertness and reception of the body amongst other functions. It works in axis with serotonin—a key neurotransmitter deficient in the migraineur’s brain that triggers a chain of events eventually triggering migraines.
Every time I got off the exercise regime for a couple of months, citing a busy schedule of a mom of young twins, I got myself into the low dopamine and low endorphin cycle, triggering migraines. So working out every day became a medicament for me. There is a gamut of aerobic activities that one could choose from to do on a pain-free day—step aerobics, pilates, yoga, kickboxing, martial arts, jogging, walking, hiking, interval training, weights, dancing, etc. Daily workouts have reduced both the frequency and the intensity of my migraine episodes.
When I began the workouts, I did them every other day. I found them tiring with a young family to raise. On the off days, I practiced my pranayam—the ones I had learned at the Art of Living courses, as well as those of Baba Ramdev whom I had watched on TV. Though each of us is born with a natural breathing rhythm, we seem to alter it unconsciously reacting to the various experiences in our lives. It was a revelation when I noticed that my breathing patterns were actually running in reverse—with abdomen deflation during inhalation!
I rectified this and stayed focused while I breathed. Imagine having to learn how to breathe at the age of 32! I would like to share that Bhastrika Pranayam, Anulom-Vilom Pranayam, Kapalbhati Pranayam and the Brahmari Pranayam benefitted me in particular. Barring the Anulom-Vilom, the other three actually help reduce the frequency of migraines over a period of time through normalising the serotonin levels beyond the blood-brain barrier. Incidentally, the practice of Sudarshan Kriya taught at the Art of Living classes got me off the migraine path for a six months. Procrastination made me give up on them and the pain returned to haunt me.
I would not be true to myself if I didn’t mention that I also used modern medicine to fire-fight migraines. When the migraines started after the twins were born in 1998, I took paracetamols. Later I toggled from aspirin to paracetamol every six months when one chemical stopped having its effect on the pain. I also noticed that taking a pain-killer along with an antiemetic always bore better results for me. I was also prescribed with Beta-blockers (Propanolol 10 mg) at one point as a prophylactic and these I found particularly helpful. I was later weaned off them when my situation stabilized.
Asking a migraineur to eat right is like asking a typist to check for typos. The norm. They have probably tried to keep off almost everything even mildly dubious. I did, too, until I was weak enough not to be able to keep myself and my household running. It occurred to me just before bedtime one evening to see what chemicals could help me and if there were available in foods we eat. To my surprise I found that minerals such as magnesium, calcium, tryptophan, omega-3 and conezyme Q10 were my saviours. I included foods that contained these on a rotation but made sure I had at least two of the items in the list every day.
To my regime, I’ve also added to my advantage massage, homeopathy, ayurveda, stretches, aromatherapy, and reiki. Most of these therapies are sciences unto themselves with minimal or no side-effects.
My migraine mix, as I call it, guided me toward the alternatives and long-term solutions available for prevention, management and treatment. Today my migraines still occur but they are milder, infrequent and I can still go about the activities of the day without giving up too much of my life or hope. Though not an easy walk, here is hoping that every migraineur finds their own road to freedom.
Mamta Singh is a certified fitness instructor and author of “Migraines For The Informed Woman,” “Mentor Your Mind,” and “The Urban Woman’s Integrated Fitness Guide.”