Understanding Migraines through a Traditional Medicinal perspective.

Chances are if you are reading this then you are probably all too familiar with migraines. I will spare you the list of painful symptoms and focus on a Traditional Chinese approach to both the understanding and the treatment of migraines.

I’ve noticed that most people suffering from migraines are incredibly in tune with the nature of their specific migraine and have a ritual to cope. The migraine type of pattern has been documented and analyzed for over 3000 years with the advent of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Characteristic of the migraine is the unilateral throbbing headache that wraps the lateral side of the head. Interestingly, in Traditional Chinese Medicine one meridian, the Gallbladder Meridian, wraps the lateral side of the head and travels down the lateral portion of the body culminating at the foot. Meridians are essentially lines that traverse the body and distribute Qi or energy. The Gallbladder meridian is most often treated to alleviate migraine symptoms and correct the root of the disharmony.

Five Elements:

The Gallbladder Meridian is a paired meridian with the Liver meridian. The two together comprise what is known as the Wood Element, which is one of the 5 Elements discussed in Traditional Medicine that connects the external world with the individual. The other elements expressed within the body are Metal, Earth, Water and Fire. Numerous traditional cultures including Indian, Tibetan, Persian, Norse, and Native American healers utilize knowledge of the elements in diagnosing and treating illnesses in people.

Between Heaven and Earth:

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Humans are a living microcosm of both the Heavens and the Earth. Rivers are reflected in the body through the meridians as well as the flow of blood through the vessels. The Liver and Gallbladder correspond to the natural world as Wood, the climactic condition of wind, the color green, the emotion of anger, the sound of shouting and a “goaty” odor. Their point of entry is in the eyes and the Qi of the Liver and Gallbladder are manifested in the sinews, joints and nails.

Migraines reflect stagnation of Qi within the Gallbladder meridian. As the Qi is constricted pain ensues and vision can be affected as the Gallbladder and Liver Qi open to the eyes.

Some Common Causes:

Diet can affect the Spleen Qi: 

Many people do not realize that they are sensitive to certain foods that can trigger a migraine. Some common offenders are processed foods high in MSG, and foods high in tyramine.

The following foods that are high in tyramine: Meats that are pickled, aged, smoked, fermented, or marinated, most pork (except cured ham), chocolate and fermented foods, such as most cheeses, sour cream, yogurt, shrimp paste, soy sauce, soybean condiments, teriyaki sauce, tempeh, miso soup, sauerkraut, kimchi, fava beans, green bean pods, avocados, bananas, pineapple, eggplants, figs, red plums, raspberries, peanuts, Brazil nuts, coconuts, processed meat and yeast.

Stress affects the Liver and Gallbladder Qi: 

Stress can release a cascade of hormones that prepare your body for fight or flight. Adrenaline or epinephrine acts as a neurotransmitter and a hormone. Adrenaline prepares the body for action by increasing the heart rate, blood pressure while slowing down some of the blood flow. Blood is drawn away from the extremities and abdomen and sent to the vital organs. Muscles often tense as they are prepared to spring into action.  This is one reason the muscles of the jaw and neck can be extremely tight on people who undergo lots of stress.

Muscle strain: Clenching your jaw (throughout the day or at night) puts a lot of tension on the Sternocleidomeastoid (SCM) muscle that inserts at the base of the head. This tightening creates a shortening of the muscle and therefore oxygen, Qi and blood flow are diminished. This tension can trigger a migraine.

Posture affects Qi and Blood in the Channels: 

Occupational hazards such as sitting for extended periods of time or leaning forward can cause “slow whiplash”. As the head leans forward pressure is placed on the occipital muscles, which, creates a decrease in Qi and blood flow. This tension can cause or exacerbate migraines.

Physical Trauma:

Many migraine sufferers can report an acute situation when their migraines began. Often this can be a car accident, acute fall, post-surgery, sacral traumas like epidurals and broken coccyx bones.

Hormones:

Migraines are often related to the fluctuating levels of estrogen. Triggers can be the sharp rise of estrogen at ovulation or the steep drop in ovulation before the menses.

Oral Birth Control affects Liver Qi and Blood:

Synthetic estrogen and progesterone can trigger migraines.

Lighting changes / Glare / Fluorescent Lighting:

Visual changes and sensitivity to light as well as extended times viewing computer screens and other digital devices can trigger migraines. Light emanating from fluorescent bulb has a flicker that is imperceptible. Ever feel woozy in a mall? This is most likely from the visual onslaught of numerous fluorescent lights.

Environmental Toxins

Holistic Treatment:

Migraines need to be evaluated based upon triggers, frequency, duration and intensity. Traditional Chinese Medicine looks at every aspect of the individual to determine the root of the condition as well as a clear strategy for treatment. It is important to understand the root of your personal situation.

If you suffered a traumatic accident to either your head or sacrum CranioSacral therapy may be a valuable modality. Dr. Sutherland at the turn of the century discovered that the cranial bones are actually not fused. This is why an injury can “shift” or compress the nerve plexus and create continuous disharmony until regulated.

Acupuncture and Herbal Therapy is an effective way to treat the source of tension in the body while releasing musculoskeletal constrictions. Acupuncture and herbal therapy can also help address underlying causes of stress and trauma to help individuals cope with stress more manageably as well as uncover new ways of being.  Additionally, this modality can have a powerfully balancing effect of the endocrine system, which will help regulate ebb and flow of estrogen.

A personal plan will be formulated to address your specific needs. Herbal therapy, dietary therapy, manual manipulation and acupuncture will be utilized to help reduce migraine frequency and intensity.

Get Connected: Choosing to be content.

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” -Siddhartha Guatama Buddha 

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It’s mind-boggling how many people that on the outside appear to “have it all” report being unhappy.
Some people fall into the clinically depressed and/or anxious category. I’m actually referring to people who are living with a day to day underlying sadness, loneliness or indifference. Indifference is probably the worst…it’s resigned sadness.

There are many external factors that may influence ones internal landscape but ultimately, if you listen to the happiness pros you must learn to change your self and not the circumstances. Easier said than done however, especially when we live in a society that is focused on what you produce versus who you are as a person.

Unlike many other cultures our society is focused on what we can churn out. Even the question “what do you do?” could not exist in many other cultures. Yet in our western society we can reflexively answer that question with our profession. Omitting the source of what really inspires us or helps us connect with others. 

This creates is disconnection between who we are in our heart and what we do with our bodies.

When the heart and mind are disconnected it is difficult to feel grounded, satisfied,  and content. 

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People often tell me “everything is great, I just don’t feel happy”.
It’s pretty obvious by now that stuff and achievements to do not create lasting happiness. Happiness must come from within…but how? Why is it so elusive?

Ways that Happiness Eludes us:

Happy all the time = Happy

Many people think that they need to feel great all of the time to be truly happy. That is the stuff for social media…an unrealistic slice of life that has been proven to increase disconnectedness and depression.  No one is supposed to feel great all of the time. Seasons of life and seasons of moods are a closer reflection of the natural world.

External events create lasting Happiness:

This is generally a form of anxiety rearing it’s ugly head. Someone who constantly sets the bar higher and higher. Never comfortable with where they are at…never really happy with any accomplishment…”Perfectionism vs Optimalism”. If this resonates with you check out an outstanding book, The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben Shahar.

Some people use external life events as a way to measure happiness. “When I finish law school then I’ll be happy”. “When I’m earning a six-figured salary, I’ll be happy”. “After I run this race then I’ll be happy”. But then they run the race, get through school, get the great job, make the great salary and then what….

I often ask people what makes you feel happy? A resounding amount of people say they just don’t know?

Improving Happiness through Connecting the Mind and the Heart:

The Journey is the Destination:

My Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Professor says all of the time, its not the ownership of a Black Belt that is worthy but who you become in the process of earning the Black Belt. The transformation is the goal. 

Do what you love: Connect your Mind and Heart

It’s amazing how many people perform jobs and chose professions that they despise. Willing to spend countless hours if their life doing something that they hate. Their mind may be able to override the rebellion but they body cannot. This can lead to a myriad of physical complaints. Listen to your body’s inner wisdom. 

Gratitude: Connect with a higher power.

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Prayer, journaling or conscientiously paying homage to what you are truly grateful for is a powerful way to elevate your mood.

Meditation:

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Meditation is a great way to escape perseverating thoughts. People always say “ I should meditate, but I can’t…my mind won’t stop.” Erase the vision of yourself in full lotus for an hour with a blank mind. Guided mediation is a great, user-friendly way to get started. 20 minutes before bed or upon waking a great bookend for the day. Don’t be hard on yourself, your mind is bound to chatter. Meditation will help you “watch the chatter”. Even if you can’t get there immediately you will feel something different. Connect with your consciousness.

I personally love Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Guided Mindful Meditations.

Fake it till you Make it:

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Smile more, listen to happy music. It’s hard to feel depressed listening to music that makes you shake. Connect with the muse.

Find a group that supports an activity you love.

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Martial arts, cooking, exercise, dancing, pottery, knitting…you name it and there are millions of people enthused by it! Connect with others in a meaningful way.

Read inspirational or educational books.

Millions of people have successfully navigated the world and have written books about how to do it. Connect with visionaries.

Spend time in Nature. Connect with the source.

In the eloquent words of John Muir “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Fire Cupping

Cupping has been around for thousands of years and have been used by numerous traditions to support healing. Cupping reduces inflammation, reduce toxins and improves circulation. It also promotes a feeling a calmness and reduced anxiety. Many feel this is because it helps regulate the autonomic nervous system and reduce the “flight or fight” sensation that many people experience on a daily basis.

The earliest records of cupping date back to the Ebers Papyrus (1550 BC), one of the oldest living medical documents preserved today. Even Hippocrates mentions cupping in medical literature from 400 BC. Cupping has roots in the Middle East, Asia, Northern & Eastern Europe and North American traditional peoples. Cups can be made from glass, bamboo, animal horns and shells.

Cups are applied to the skin using a flame to create a vacuum, this is referred to as Fire Cupping. Cups can also be applied with a pump like suction that draws the air out of the cup. The skin literally draws up into the cup creating tightness.

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Reduce Toxins:

Cupping is known to draw out toxins and purify the body. Some theorize that cupping promotes health by facilitating the removal of toxins. The cupping action draws toxins to the surface of the skin where the immune system is better able to eliminate them.

Others theorize that cupping helps reset the fascia that lies under the muscle and helps keep the shape of the muscle. Tension and stagnation can alter the tone of the muscle and fascia and create “knots” and trigger points. Cupping helps disperse this stagnation.

Regulate Qi flow:

Others believe that cupping works with the Traditional Chinese Medicine notion of Qi flow. Typically cups are applied along the Yang Channels of the back such as the Gallbladder, Urinary Bladder and Small Intestine channels. These channels are often tense and hold a lot of stagnation.  Cups along the channel can help improve the Qi flow and reduce pain.

There are many Cupping Techniques that can be utilized.

Tonifying Cupping: Cups are applied for approximately 10 minutes and then removed.

Draining Cupping: Cups are applied for up to 20 minutes and then removed.

Flash Cupping: Cups are applied and then removed immediately.

Sliding Cups: Cups are applied over oil and slid across the muscle or acupuncture channel.

Bleeding Cupping or Wet Cupping (Hajimah or Haracat): The skin is pierced and then cups are applied. This is no longer legal in the USA but is widely used in Turkey and Islamic countries. 3 slices are placed on the skin, to represent Allah, and bled for 3-8 minutes.

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Finnish Traditions also utilizes wet cupping in a warm environment, typically after a sauna.

I stick to sliding cups or flash cupping. Typically, I place an oil on the back and then apply the cups using fire to create the vacuum. I usually work with four cups and slide them along the channels to create a deep massage. People often feel very relaxed afterwards. In keeping with the ancients I avoid cupping if a woman is menstruating or if someone is weak or recovering from an illness. I also avoid cupping if someone has plans to drink excessively that evening as it could make people more susceptible to catching a cold.

Cupping is an extraordinary, sacred tradition that has withstood the test of time. Check it out for yourself!