Why do we suffer?
After treating patients with migraines for over a decade, I have concluded that pain has a purpose. Those who experience pain, especially from migraine headaches, are actually being given a lesson. If this lesson can be mastered, then the purpose of living will become all the more clear, leading to greater happiness and wisdom.
Migraine headaches, as classified by the World Health Organization, have been determined to be one of the most disabling conditions known to mankind. Severe migraine attacks are ranked as among the most disabling illnesses, comparable to quadriplegia, dementia and active psychosis.
This attack of pain is meant to stop you in your tracks. The reason this condition occurs most commonly between the ages of 20-50 is because this is when you are most productive in your life. Missing work, being unable to care for children, saying “no” to social events all have quite an impact during these years.
You are afflicted with attacks during these times because your body is directing you to stop and listen. You are meant to silence yourself in those moments and stop multitasking, overworking and focusing on others. It is time to go inward and understand the language of your pain.
Why Listen to Your Brain?
Imagine having a rough day at work, staying up late the night prior and then skipping lunch due to the busy day. You arrive home to a mess left by your kids. You feel a subtle throb in your right temple, a touch of nausea and a sense of edginess.
These symptoms are specific warnings your brain is giving you that its elements are being disturbed. Your brain is asking for a remedy, be it a tea, nutrient, breath technique, yoga pose, herbal supplement or some properly selected foods. Your brain is talking to you — are you going to listen? Or will you choose to “Band-Aid” this pain with a pill and ignore this important message? It is up to you to listen, learn and heal.
To survive in this world, we must have the ability to communicate our needs and then act accordingly. The brain has a language of communication, scripted in ancient science. It is imperative that you learn this language, which may seem foreign and secretive, but it’s not.
There are three steps that I believe will allow this communication to begin.
Step 1: Acknowledge that pain is a lesson, and simply begin observing
Pain is often an unpleasant, frustrating symptom experienced by the sufferer. Emotions such as anxiety arise, as you fear that the cycle of pain will never end.
You may ask yourself, “Why is this happening to me? I have too much to get done and do not have time for this,” leading you to become angry and upset. The attack often leaves you feeling exhausted and depleted. Instead of letting these emotions control you, be in control of your emotions, and with compassion allow these emotions to be acknowledged and released in a healthy manner.
The goal with this step is to simply observe the natural progression of the pain in terms of its location, severity, triggers, associated features and accompanying mood symptoms. Do not judge, just observe. This is the first step toward healing: acknowledgement and observation.
Step 1 Action: Start journaling your emotions and your pain presentation. I recommend that you do this each time you feel your stress level, emotions and/or pain begin.
Step 2: Connect with yourself and find your optimal, balanced state.
You become so involved with your work, family, children, etc., that you lose the connection with yourself. During this time, you become caught up with the needs of others, pursue goals that may not resonate with your true life purpose, and subsequently find yourself with people who do not honor your goals.
Connection is the key to understanding who you are and how you want to live. In ancient Ayurvedic medicine, this connection with yourself and understanding the balance of your elements is fundamental to life. You cannot choose the right foods, the ideal spouse, the perfect job or even understand how to rid symptoms without knowing what your basic elemental makeup is. This is known as your dosha — your own unique, energetic mind-body type that you are given at birth. Your goal is to stay in balance with that birth state. Any time you move from that balanced state, symptoms such as pain are likely to occur.
It is this secret language of the brain and the body you must learn to solve the mystery of pain and other symptoms you may have.
Step 2 Action: Take the Dosha Quiz
Step 3: Create an optimal state
After acknowledgement and observation, followed by connecting and understanding your balanced state, your aim is to achieve harmony in your daily rhythm to heal. This phase requires effort, as your body will start to heal if led down the right path.
The most important part of this step is to reset the circadian rhythm, specifically, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) pathway. This is also known as the “stress pathway.” Reconnect the mind and body to the rhythms of nature. This resetting may take months, based on how stressed your system is, but each step in this direction will give your system the ability to eventually fight off pain and other symptoms naturally on its own.
Step 3 Action: Commit to a 10 p.m. bedtime seven days a week and set your mealtimes to be the same time each day
Relieve your pain by realizing its purpose, taking the time to observe the pain, reconnect with yourself, and create the balance your body and mind have been seeking.
1. Shapiro and Goadsby, Cephalalgia, September 2007.