BREESE - Breathe RElax Easy SmilE

(Yes, I know that’s not the right way to spell breeze.) I use the analogy of a breeze to learn to relax and disengage mental and emotional energy. In his book Breaking the Headache Cycle, neurologist Ian Livingstone, M.D. explains how our nervous systems need both a reasonable amount of stress, building the tone of the nervous system and keeping us growing, and a reasonable amount of relaxation, allowing the nervous system to rest and recover, and calm down.

Migraineurs are not necessarily more keyed up or more stressed than others (despite lingering myths about a “Migraine personality”), but our nervous systems are more sensitive to stimuli, and the higher our stress load, the lower our resistance to Migraine triggers. Dr. Livingstone cites research showing that Migraine frequency and severity can be reduced an average of 40% through regular practice of relaxation. A study at the University of Rajasthan, India, found that “Three months of intensive yoga practice—one hour, five days per week—curbs frequency and intensity of migraines by 70 percent,” according to Liz Somes in Psychology Today.

Imagine a soft gentle breeze blowing through our minds and bodies, carrying our stress away. We can generate the breeze through:

Breathe – We rarely breathe fully, but to breathe fully induces relaxation. In particular, we hold our inspiration and do not breathe out fully. One deep breathing practice is to breathe in deeply, to a count of three, and then breathe out completely, to a count of five.

Shortly after I started working with Dr. Livingstone I took on breathing like this for 10 – 15 minutes a day, and also any time I noticed myself getting anxious, tense or upset. Later that month I was driving to the airport for a business trip, cutting it rather close for my departure time, a situation which makes me very agitated. I noticed my stress level rising and the tension increasing in my hands, arms, shoulders, and neck. A few minutes later I had a tell-tale pinpoint of pain over my right temple. I began the 3 in – 5 out breathing practice and felt myself calming down. By the time I got to the airport half an hour later my head pain was gone.

RElax – Relaxation is a completely different state for our nervous systems than excitation. We need both states to be healthy. But many of us do not consciously and deliberately relax very often. Relaxation can occur in sleep, in meditation or visualization, in enjoyable conversation with a friend or loved one, in exercise or sexual activity, in reading or listening to music. Some of the activities we think of as relaxing – some computer or video games, for instance, actually excite us and raise our stress levels. I took on a daily practice of spending 15 minutes doing deep breathing, meditation and visualizations. Within a couple of months my migraine frequency was cut in half. When I stopped doing it regularly, within a couple of months the migraines had inched back up again.
Easy – give it up, let go, don’t worry! Stress and anxiety are real, physiological states. But they are also occurring in our minds, where we can notice them. I have taken on a practice of detachment with love, creative disengagement, stepping down. This becomes easier with a regular practice of meditation, where I can notice the things I need to let go of and picture myself dropping them.

SmilE – cultivate gratitude, humor and joy. This doesn’t mean you can’t gripe and vent when needed – but keep a commitment to do it in order to clear the bad stuff and regain your own optimism. Without gratitude, humor and joy, life is not worth living. When we smile it actually affects us physiologically, emotionally and mentally. Maybe you don’t want to smile – but try it anyway. You may say, “Megan, this just the power of positive thinking!” I won’t argue with you, but I will suggest that most of us spend most of our time submitting to the power of negative thinking! So try this for a change. Watch, read or listen to a gentle comedy. Look at something beautiful. Talk to someone you love. Play with a child. Find something to smile about.

Author's Bio: 

If you practice generating the breeze, you can calm your system and reduce your Migraines. If you want to make it easier to practice, join us for the Free my Brain relaxation teleclasses. I will be leading a group in learning and practicing yoga breathing and full body relaxation, and guided visualization, in two 35 minute teleclasses, coming up. Visit freemybrain.com to read more or to register for the BREESE teleclasses.