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Tai chi is an ideal therapy for migraine sufferers. It calms the nervous system, improves emotional balance, exercises the body without strain and encourages a more harmonious relationship with the world around you.


Genetic disease

Mistakenly regarded as a 'headache', migraine is a problem for millions of people worldwide. Migraine is not a headache, it is a genetic neurological disease. People who experience migraine have 'attacks' or 'episodes' where a variety of symptoms become manifest. A headache can be one symptom of a migraine attack, but some people have migraine attacks without having a headache.


There are many theories concerning the nature of migraine. Some researchers believe that migraines are caused by serotonin imbalance and overly excitable neurons in the brain. A 'classical migraine' attack typically has four stages:

  1. Warning signs

  2. Aura

  3. The attack

  4. After effects

Warning signs
(prodome phase)

When an attack commences, there are usually warning signs that you can act upon. Warning signs can include: a sense of foreboding, food cravings, depression, excitability, hyperactivity, irritability, tiredness and yawning.

Stay calm

If you can stay relaxed when the warning signs occur, it is possible to reduce the effect of the episode. Anxiety is natural, but it is essential to stay calm. Go home immediately, close all of the curtains, switch off electrical devices that hum and stay in the dark. Avoid moving if possible.

(prodome phase)

The aura is a severe visual disturbance also known as 'scintillating scotoma'. It is a blind spot. A variety of symptoms usually accompany the aura: partial paralysis, confusion, vertigo, 'pins & needles' or tingling in the hands and face, speech problems, blurry vision, hypersensitivity to light, sound and touch. If you experience these symptoms, you may be suffering from a 'classical migraine'.

The attack

After about an hour of preceding symptoms, the pain arrives. The pain is so intense that any form of physical movement worsens the effect. It pulses in rhythm with your heartbeat. The preceding symptoms usually continue along with the actual pain, and are now accompanied by vomiting, severe anxiety, and emotional imbalance. This phase of the attack can last up to three days and differs according to the individual.


People who suffer from basilar or hemiplegic migraine may also become feverish before, during and after the migraine episode. It can take a few days for the fever to pass.

After effects
(postdome phase)

People often experience after effects that last for days after a migraine attack. Lethargy, mood swings (euphoria or depression) are common, in addition to poor concentration and comprehension. B
lurry vision may continue for a sustained period after the attack.


Aiming to relieve the symptoms of migraine is a Western medical approach. Prophylactic drugs may work in certain cases but migraine sufferers tend to have a very individual experience of the disease, so a general cure is unlikely to work. Additionally, many prescription drugs have unforeseen side-effects. A migraine sufferer does not need to worry about the source of the disease - it is genetic. What they can address is the question of what brings it forth. What triggers the onset of symptoms?


Whilst the attacks may come and go, the disease remains. There are a variety of factors that may come together to produce a migraine episode. Ideally, it is possible to control the frequency of attacks by managing the triggers. Common triggers: emotional stress, food, physical stress and environmental factors.


Although the disease is incurable, you can seek to address the triggers. If the migraine is not triggered, it will not occur. Lowering stress levels can significantly reduce the risk of a migraine.

Emotional stress (trigger)

These emotional imbalances are known to affect migraine: anger, depression, excitement, shock, tension and worry.

Food (trigger)

The affect of diet on a migraine varies according to the individual, although dehydration and infrequent meals/fasting/dieting are triggers common to all types of migraine.

Drink (trigger)

Drinking alcohol is not recommended. It dehydrates the brain. If the migraine is bona fide, you really don't want to experience that level of pain. Not drinking is hardly a hardship if it reduces the risk of having an attack. If you like to drink alcohol and continue to get migraines, well, what did you expect?

Illness (trigger)

If you are ill, your resistance to the migraine will weaken. An attack can be triggered quite easily because you are already in a more vulnerable condition. Viruses, colds, diarrhoea, dehydration, temperature, fever - these will all increase the risk of migraine. You may well find yourself on the edge of a migraine for weeks if your body is experiencing some form of unassociated illness.

Physical stress (trigger)

These physical imbalances are known to affect migraine:

  1. Eye strain

  2. Clothing that constricts the head or neck

  3. Over-exertion

  4. Physical tension

  5. Change in routine

  6. Change in sleep patterns

  7. Tiredness/failure to rest

  8. Travelling

Environmental factors (trigger)

Migraine can cause a person to develop physical intolerances:

  1. Bright light - supermarket lights & car headlamps

  2. Flickering or flashing lights - televisions, mobile phones & computer screens

  3. Loud noise

  4. Intense or penetrating smells

  5. Smoking

  6. Stuffy atmosphere

  7. Certain patterns/colour combinations

Autumn and Winter are much more comfortable because of the short days and longer nights. It is important to avoid artificial lighting, flickering screens and buzzing electronic devices. Keep the curtains half-closed and buy some good sunglasses.

Anxiety (trigger)

Trying to figure out which specific trigger produces a migraine attack can be frustrating; and may lead to anxiety. Finding balance can be difficult because nothing in life is fixed and stable. A flexible mind is useful.


For some people, claiming to have a migraine is akin to having a 'cold' and saying that you have 'flu'. It sounds more dramatic. More serious. Doctors often misdiagnose migraines. It is easy to do. If your headache is serious, have it checked out professionally. Migraine sufferers can have a stroke. That's a sobering thought. See a professional. Don't self-diagnose. That's an amateur move.

Healthy lifestyle

Healthy habits such as tai chi, regular meals, drinking water and good sleep will improve your overall wellbeing. Taoism and tai chi encourage a way of living that is low stress and easy going. The risk of attack is reduced.

Page created 6 February 1996
Last updated
8 April 2012