Meditation for Migraine Prevention

Regular practice may mitigate some triggers and promote healthy brain function

Meditation may be an effective way to deal with migraine headaches. Such practices as mindfulness, yoga, and other mind-body techniques are being touted as powerful players in pain management, and a growing body of research suggests that a regular meditation practice may help prevent certain migraine triggers and even cause beneficial physical changes in the brain.

If you've never meditated before, you may find the idea of sitting still for a prolonged period of time daunting—and it can be difficult in the beginning to learn how to turn off your thoughts and simply just be. But there are many different meditation techniques, so you may find that there's at least one you can master and even enjoy—especially if it helps you deal with migraine pain.

meditation for migraine prevention

Verywell / Emily Roberts

How It Helps

Several studies reveal how a regular meditation practice may be effective for dealing with migraine headaches. Whereas stress can take a physical toll on the body, meditation can reduce the likelihood that stress or tension held in the body will trigger a migraine attack. There are a number of ways meditation can positively impact the body as well as the mind.

Stress Management

Tension, stress, and anxiety are common migraine triggers. Meditation may help to alleviate these by inhibiting the part of the nervous system that is responsible for them, according to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF). Research has also found that meditation can increase heart rate variability, which may lead to improved cardiovascular health, better sleep quality, and greater physiological resilience to stress.

In one 2020 study, adults who performed a sequence of stretches for 20-30 minutes followed by 10 minutes of meditation three nights a week reported improved heart rate variability, positive feelings, and quality of sleep. These adults also exhibited faster post-workout recovery rates than the control group, which was not tasked with the stretch-and-meditate sequence.

Brain Growth

Studies show that people who experience chronic migraines may have reduced grey matter—the neural tissue of the brain that processes information—and that this may be a result of frequent migraines.Areas of the brain most affected by this are those involved in emotion, perception, memory, and decision-making, along with some functions involved in self-regulation, working memory, and problem-solving.

A number of studies have found that meditation can increase grey matter volume in certain parts of the brain. For example, a 2010 study found that people who practice Zen meditation have thicker grey matter and are less sensitive to pain. What's more, the longer a subject had been meditating, the more grey matter they had.

Improving/Balancing Levels of Neurotransmitters

For many people, brain chemical imbalances and poor sleep are key players in migraines. Meditation has been found to have positive effects on several important neurotransmitters.

Specifically, some studies have found that meditation can increase dopamine (involved in the regulation of attention and reward), melatonin (the body's sleep-wake regulator), and serotonin (involved in influencing mood and other functions). It can also decrease the "fight or flight" chemicals cortisol and norepinephrine.

Pain Relief

Meditation has been looked at specifically to determine its effects on migraine pain. In one small but significant study that will likely be a springboard for further research, 10 people with episodic migraines (fewer than 15 per month) participated in a standardized, eight-week meditation practice called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). They were compared to a group of nine subjects who followed their usual care for episodic migraine.

The people who did MBSR had headaches less often and also experienced positive changes in "headache severity, duration, self‐efficacy, perceived stress, migraine‐related disability/impact, anxiety, depression, mindfulness, and quality of life," the researchers reported.

Getting Started

The many types of meditation fall roughly into two main categories: concentration meditation (focusing on a single, particular object, such as a candle), and mindfulness meditation (paying attention to whatever is going on in the present moment and noticing then dismissing any thoughts that come up).

No single form of meditation has been singled out as best for migraine pain, but mindfulness meditation is the type often used in studies. It is easy to learn and just a few minutes a day can be beneficial.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. This is especially key for beginners; advanced meditators often can practice anywhere.
  2. Settle yourself. You can sit cross-legged on a cushion and even lean back slightly against a wall. It's also fine to sit upright in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. The important thing is to be comfortable but not so relaxed that you might fall asleep.
  3. Rest your hands on your thighs and close your eyes.
  4. Focus your attention on your breathing, but don't try breathing in a particular way. Just notice how the air comes in and out. Don’t worry if your breathing changes.
  5. Whenever random thoughts pop up (and they will frequently), notice them and let them go, making a point to refocus on your breathing.

A Word from Verywell

Meditation can be transformative for many people, including those who experience frequent migraines. Practicing meditation regularly may be an effective form of pain management that can reduce or possibly even eliminate the negative effects of stress on the body. And while some people may find that meditation is beneficial as a complementary therapy for migraine prevention, others may find that meditation is powerful enough to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks in a way that is natural, soothing, and safe.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kim H-G, Cheon E-J, Bai D-S, Lee YH, Koo B-H. Stress and heart rate variability: a meta-analysis and review of the literaturePsychiatry Investig. 2018;15(3):235-245. doi: 10.30773/pi.2017.08.17

  2. Gottschall JS, Smite Z, Hastings B. Stretching and meditation improve heart rate variability, positive feelings, and quality sleep in active adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2020;52(7S):502-502. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000679596.28585.dd

  3. Kim J, Suh S-I, Seol H, et al. Regional grey matter changes in patients with migraine: a voxel-based morphometry studyCephalalgia. 2008;28(6):598-604. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2982.2008.01550.x

  4. Grant JA, Courtemanche J, Duerden EG, Duncan GH, Rainville P. Cortical thickness and pain sensitivity in zen meditatorsEmotion. 2010;10(1):43-53. doi: 10.1037/a0018334

  5. Gamaiunova L, Brandt P-Y, Bondolfi G, Kliegel M. Exploration of psychological mechanisms of the reduced stress response in long-term meditation practitionersPsychoneuroendocrinology. 2019;104:143-151. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.02.026

  6. Wells RE, Burch R, Paulsen RH, Wayne PM, Houle TT, Loder E. Meditation for migraines: a pilot randomized controlled trialHeadache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. 2014;54(9):1484-1495. doi: 10.1111/head.12420

Additional Reading

By Joy Bauer, MS, RD
Joy Bauer, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, the nutrition and health expert for NBC's TODAY Show, and a New York Times best-selling author.