Take A Deep Breath

What a pleasure are the ocean waves coming up to the shore. Waves of pain from a migraine are the exact opposite: repeated, powerful or overpowering – you catch your breath from the shock.

Migraines hurt so much that you forget to breathe. Being deprived of oxygen is the last thing you need. I am not a doctor. My total formal medical training consists of attending, decades ago, one cardiology lecture at a Swiss university as the date of an actual medical student! What works for me may not be appropriate for you. I enjoy peanut butter on toast. I can hear those who are highly allergic protesting already! So before adopting any of my suggestions, please check with your licensed medical doctor whether they are appropriate for you.

I am a very lucky amateur who rid herself of crippling migraines decades ago – by determined effort, personal research, in partnership and consultation with my excellent Oxford-trained medical doctor.

Doctor Emmanuel practiced medicine until he was 80, keeping fit by swimming from his summer cottage on an island off Montreal to his office on the shore.

A very stoic friend of mine suffered such intense pain at the nape of his neck that he was at the point of going to a hospital emergency room. I told him to lie flat on his back on his bed, without a pillow, arms stretched slightly away from his body, to keep his balance (yes, you can feel dizzy even when lying down!), to take a dry facecloth, folded in half, shaped into a soft roll at the nape of his neck, to take deep breaths and try to relax.

The facecloth roll reshapes the spine at the neck to its proper curve. After 15 minutes, my friend got up, completely free of pain. How could something so simple have such a powerful effect? Consider keeping an open mind to what may seem to be simplistic ideas or practices.

deep breath

An enjoyable practice: stay with that neck roll a bit longer, breathing regularly. After you are more relaxed, you may hear a few clicks in your neck as the joints of your spine fall into proper alignment, and the rest of your spine falls into place like a row of dominoes. It comes as a surprise the first time, but the waves of well-being through your system will reward you enough to make it a regular practice.

Are you a shallow breather, breathing from your upper chest? As a child, I learned to breathe deeply from the abdomen from a magazine – a photo report of a little boy with a lung ailment being trained to breathe properly with a yellow rubber duckie on his navel. Here’s an exercise that will relocate your breathing to where it’s optimal.

Hint: now is the time to buy shares in a yellow rubber duckie manufacturer. (I believe in a healthy investment account, not just a healthy mind and body!)

Lie down, place the toy on your navel, and breathe in, trying to move the toy up and down with every breath. (Don’t worry – ducks don’t get seasick.) Your lungs don’t extend that far down, but practicing breathing from your abdomen will stimulate the right muscle masses. Do this exercise for a few weeks until deep breathing becomes more automatic. Enjoy. If you do, you are more likely to make it standard practice.

Let’s try another short exercise: To the count of four (one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, four-one thousand), take a deep breath through the nose.

Hold for the count of four, then breathe out through pursed lips for the same count. Feeling a bit dizzy? That’s how unused you have become to taking in enough oxygen. That’s how much we need to relearn to breathe properly.

Another way to warm up before an exercise session? The “lion’s breath” exercise taught in yoga classes: Kneel sitting back on your haunches, knees apart, palms on your thighs, straight spine.

Through an open mouth, begin panting quickly at least a couple of dozen times, feeling your diaphragm move energetically. Stop.

Breathe quietly for a few breaths, then practice the lion’s breath again. Do that sequence another two or three times – notice how much you have begun to feel warm or even perspiring.

Picture yourself in a beautiful natural setting. As you begin to “breathe in the surroundings,” you will feel yourself entering a state of relaxation. Your nerves are starting to calm down: precisely the state your overly stimulated, enervated nervous system brought on by migraines needs to return to, to learn and practice until it becomes 100% of your daily existence.

Yes – you CAN do it. If you can be in that state for a few minutes, you CAN do it, and you can then increase the time you spend in that state, delay the next attack and reduce its intensity.

Like an athlete training toward a sports medal, you can train toward significant pain relief. All you need to do is open your mind and learn from the successful experience and knowledge of those many others who are ready to teach you how.

Taking in enough oxygen feeds your brain activity – and that’s a no-calorie diet! Bored by these three exercises? Google “Breathing exercises” and take your pick from the very long list of options (235,000,000 in 4 seconds!). Surprise your body and get it into better shape using different techniques.


  • 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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