Tai Chi – Slow Down to Speed up Pain Relief

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that uses slow and deliberate movements to promote physical and mental health. It is now practiced worldwide.  Thanks to a range of slow to quickly-executed routines and its meditative component, it develops and improves range of motion, strength, posture, flexibility, conditioning, and breathing. 

Suitable for all ages, it can be particularly advantageous for older practitioners due to the deliberate slowness of some of its movements, which help reduce hypertension, alleviate arthritis, improve balance, and improve mental condition. Suitable for able-bodied students, certain movements can be practiced while sitting down, lying on an exercise mat, or in bed for those with a handicap. 

A wide range of tai chi exercises are just what the doctor ordered against the migraine condition. In this case, slow and steady wins the race. 

If you are working with a Tai Chi instructor or master, ensure they know you suffer from migraines. The discipline has an arsenal of movements, focusing on pressure points in the body that relieve the various manifestations of the migraine condition. 

Since your nervous system, overworked and overstimulated by pain, needs to learn to calm down, even the blood rush generated by more vigorous forms of exercise can be a trigger to a migraine attack.

Tai Chi has a host of slow, gentle exercises that keep your muscles under constant slow movement and tension, keeping you in shape and the positive hormones and the circulation system flowing at a continuous and steady rhythm.

Here are some tips for a custom fit to your migraine condition. Choose exercises:

  • that are slow and steady, causing blood to flow preferably into any part of the body except the head. The idea is that with migraines, there is too much blood circulation going on in and around the head. We need to focus on other parts of the body, to teach them to get blood moving more in them again. 
  • that causes you to stretch and twist various limbs and body parts, preferably in opposing directions.
  • that, at first, does not involve lowering the head below the heart level. Add head-lowering exercises to your routine when your attacks begin to abate. 
  • that work and loosen the shoulders and upper back. Reducing tension reduces excess blood flow to the head.
  • that causes you to move the spine at the level of your neck and shoulders – gently and slowly.

While an essential mantra for the competitive bodybuilder, I don’t recommend “No pain, no gain” for migraine sufferers.

The migraine sufferer already pays more than their union dues by suffering excruciating migraines – the sufferer needs to subtract pain, not add to it. For the migraine patient, the very thing they need to unlearn is pain. Pain can be a bit of an addiction, and my column aims to show how to overcome that addiction to strong emotions or sensations.

Are you sure slower, constant movements aren’t enough of a workout? Your muscles may be moving slowly but under continuous, gentle tension, expending energy and being conditioned. Keep a towel nearby and see how much you’re perspiring after 45 minutes of a Tai Chi session. Instead of feeling exhausted, you may feel energetic, even happy. And why not? You’re teaching your body how to behave toward well-being, moving away from pain. Even if your conscious intellect does not realize it yet, your body is aware of the positive change and communicates that improvement.


  • Carla Piringer

    Related to noted medical professionals, afflicted with an inherited excruciating migraine condition, the author followed traditional medical and alternative therapies, now living migraine-free for over 35 years. She now shares her doctor-recommended method in her book to inspire sufferers to find significant pain relief.

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