I have migraine. I don’t like to refer to it as migraine disease as it implies something incurable or something gradually taking over my body. I also don’t like referring to myself as a ‘migraneur’ like it is my profession – the labels don’t work for me. They feel like weakness.
When people talk about migraine, they usually regard it as a bad headache. True, part of it may be a headache, however if it was a headache alone then I wouldn’t mind so much. The symptoms I can have are frightening to me. It starts with a ‘scintillating scotoma’ or visual aura that comes on like someone has flicked a switch. It starts as a dot which I can deny for a minute or so until it becomes a pulsing shape taking up most of my field of vision. It later travels down my arm in a tingle until my hand goes numb.
I have just a short time to find my way home or somewhere to sit where I can try to relax. I hate sitting somewhere public as it reminds me of when I had to leave the classroom at school and sit in the corridor with my eyes closed, worrying that people were looking at me. Wondering why I was sitting there with my eyes closed.
Recently I was with a friend when it happened and although very grateful that she was there, I was just so mortified that it had happened. I had ruined our evening. When it happens, I know that in reality I won’t be back to my pre-migraine self for a few hours, if not a few days.
We found somewhere to sit – unfortunately, only a bar was available and she went to get me a glass of coke and some ibuprophen. I sat worrying about my friend, feelings of sitting in the school corridor flooding back. Every few seconds I opened my eyes to see if the aura had gone, but then it got worse and turned into a huge blind spot. I was cursing myself that I hadn’t drunk enough water throughout the day, wishing I was home, hoping that it wouldn’t get so bad that I would lose the ability to articulate. I know that a state of panic is not at all helpful. It definitely isn’t. When she returned, I couldn’t see her outstretched hand giving me the tablets.
As quite often happens when I’ve had one, I had another a couple of weeks later. This time not in a busy city at the end of a journey and a working day, but during a great day out with my partner where we’d been out walking along the coast path and enjoying a picnic.
In the city, while I sat, I had practised alternate nostril breathing or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, if you are a yogi. At first, it just gave me something to focus on so that I could screen out everything around me in the busy bar, but after five minutes or so I began to notice that I felt calmer and the palpitations in my chest had begun to slow. However, more surprising than that, the visual aura that was making me feel so disorientated had started to go away – much quicker than it does usually. I continued for another five minutes and I was able to open my eyes again.
I was so relieved that day and since have been become really interested in the technique. There is little research available to access outside of the yoga community where the explanation is much more spiritual as to why it might work. However I can understand that by using one nostril at a time, the left and right hemispheres of the brain are activated in equal measure creating balance where previously one side is inflamed. I have since found a study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology that found reasonable evidence of this. I tried alternate nostril breathing again that day at the coast and again, it seemed to lessen the severity of the visual aura. Fascinating.
I don’t claim that this is a fix for everybody’s migraines, or even my own, but I do think that something we can do naturally, for free and anywhere is worth a go. It would be amazing if one day we see some more extensive research into the technique being applied to migraine. But in the mean time, try it. I’d love to hear if it works for you.
Here are some simple instructions from livestrong.com:
To practice alternate nostril breathing, sit in a comfortable position and close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close that nostril and exhale through the right. Repeat the process, this time inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left.