Extremely Bad Headaches

Neil Cavanagh, modified 6 Years ago at 7/3/16 8:57 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/3/16 8:57 AM

Extremely Bad Headaches

Posts: 17 Join Date: 9/5/15 Recent Posts
Although my interest in Buddhism, yoga, etc., goes back decades (I'm 65), my practise has been on and off during that period. I have attended a few retreats and spent a short time learning basic technique in a Zen Centre (in NY). Nearly all my experience and understanding has a strong Mahayana approach.

I retired when I was 59 and thought it would be an excellent time to commit myself to putting in the hours and getting on with the practise during the final years of my life - events didn't turn out that way (!). I suffered a severe mental breakdown and almost ended up being admitted to a psychiatric ward with life threathening depression.

However, all things must pass, and last year I felt well enough to start sitting again, eventually (with medical consent) coming off my medication.

Now, here's the issue: during the last year I have had several periods where the amount of sitting time has increased from around 20 mins up to about 3 hrs per day. At the beginning I start with simple breath meditation and then move to Shikantaza since these are the practices that I have been taught. However after a week or two of sitting for between 2 and 3 hrs per day I start to get daily, very severe headaches - usually over my left eye. Then, when I stop sitting for a few days the headaches disappear. (One strange thing I have noticed is that often during the actual sitting the headaches will diminish or cease altoghter)

I would say that there have been 4 or 5 rounds of this behaviour during the past year and each time I start sitting again I try to attend to my position, my technique, my breathng, etc.. - I do not try to force anything, just trying to allow things to arise. I've even tried to go through the headache, examing it - trying not to react to it, watching it but it is crippling - and so each time I stop.

Yesterday was one such stopping day. I just couldn't take the pain any longer. Today, although there is a small sensation of pain the NSAID analgesics are working and it isn't an issue. Tomorrow, if the past holds true, I will be headache free.

But, I am now very worried about continuing my practise, as simple as it is. It seems to be too strong a coincidence that the headaches are not related to my sitting but I haven't the foggiest idea whether that it true, nor why it should be happenng.

Can anyone offer any advice please? Thank you.

Stirling Campbell, modified 6 Years ago at 7/3/16 10:41 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/3/16 10:41 AM

RE: Extremely Bad Headaches

Posts: 611 Join Date: 3/13/16 Recent Posts
Are you concentrating on an object? If so, work on sitting with your eyes relaxed instead. That level of focus for hours will give you headaches. It could also be that you are sitting too much. I'm 48, and it's no cakewalk to sit for hours on end for me either. It's hard on the body. I would recommend going through your body when you first sit and looking for any muscles that are tense in keeping you in your posture. Relax them, and adjust your posture to make it more neutral and self-balancing. I sometimes get tension in my neck from sitting. This is common. Stretching before and after sitting is a good idea.

I sit for about 40 min. give or take 10 min. a day. If you feel you are slacking off if you don't sit for a specific set of time, or that you aren't sitting enough, realize that this is an attachement. Work to unravel that attachement. Don't look at how long you sit. Don't time yourself. Sit for a few periods a day, and alow them to end naturally, trying to take your practice with you when you get up.

If you have the time to keep up practice thoughout the day, my suggestion is that you take your successful sitting practice and walk around with it. Integrating meditation into the rest of your life is a critical step, and, yes, it's cumulative too. I imagine you know what walking meditation is - if you have success with that, take it for a walk in a natural setting. Find a park or something, sit in your car for a few minutes to get yourself "in" then take a slow-mo walk around - but with a little more normal gate and aspect. If you need an object, choose birdsong, or your ears ringing, or even the distant thrum of traffic, OR move from object from object, resting your mind gently on them for few moments.

I actually have more realization when walking in nature than anywhere else. Highly recommended.

Talk to your teacher about these issues if you have one. If you don't, it's worth finding one.

Hope some of this is helpful.
Neil Cavanagh, modified 6 Years ago at 7/3/16 11:04 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/3/16 11:04 AM

RE: Extremely Bad Headaches

Posts: 17 Join Date: 9/5/15 Recent Posts
Thank you for comments. Using Shikantaza I don't tend to focus on any particlar object - just watching the thoughts and activity of the mind, trying not to get caught up in anything - just watching.

One thing I feel I should clarify - I do not sit for 2 to 3 hours at one go. I tend to sit for 30 to 45 mins in one sitting. 

I do appreciate what you say though about using kinhin and indeed trying to adopt mindfulness at all times. In fact this has been the only thing that has kept me going - carrying out actions such as cooking the dinner without thoughts arising and just watching how I seem to know what to do without thinking it has been helpful - if not weird at times.

But I'll take on board what you say. Right now, I am in a low phase of sitting (10 mins per session with only 2 or 3 sittings per day) in order to let the headaches subside. 

Thank you.
Kim _, modified 6 Years ago at 7/3/16 4:40 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/3/16 4:40 PM

RE: Extremely Bad Headaches

Posts: 708 Join Date: 2/5/13 Recent Posts
Hi Neil,

Sorry to hear of your problems. Let's see.

The mention of that severe mental breakdown caught my eye. It is quite recent, I understand. I am not a psychologist nor a doctor but have experienced two types of nervous breakdown myself, both quite serious along with plenty of pains and aches throughout the years. I don't remember pains so bad that I would have needed to stop sitting or significantly reduce it.

So what do we have here... 1. mental breakdown (which is an energetic problem) with 2. bad headaches when sitting (which are also caused by breath energy rising to the head) with 3. your age and with 4. added sitting too suddenly... This gives me the idea that it simply might be too much for your bodymind to handle at this point which is the reason why the pranic currents go haywire. I think it would be best to stick with short periods of sitting (not pushing it too far to get a headache), combined with many short recognitions of awareness during the day.

I don't know if you are at all inclined to adjust your way of practice but if you'd like to try something that could give you a helping/healing push in your situation, there are some simple tantric practices that could and can help. I know there to be people who have gotten a lot of help by chanting the names of the buddhas, such as Amitabha (which does not necessarily require an initiation) and the Medicine Buddha also known as Bhaisajyaguru. If you are interested, check their Wikipedia-sites and do some googling to find their mantras. Then just start repeating them with an open mind and see what happens. It is safe. A simple mantra for Amitabha is NAMU AMIDA BU. Amitabha buddha has vowed to help anyone who turns to him so it is worth a try. Kenneth Folk, who is well known in this community, among many others have received Amitabha's/Amida's help in their issues.

What will happen with turning towards the help of these buddhas is that your bodymind will be flooded with their enlightened nondualistic energy... And that has a lot of healing power to it. This means that whatever pranic dualistic energy problems you have in your body, the much more subtler energy of the buddhas, will correct it, heal it and purify it. This can be done with mere awareness as well, which you mention that sometimes the headache passes but to be able to do this consistently, it requires solid skills.

I wish your headaches get healed,

svmonk, modified 6 Years ago at 7/3/16 9:12 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/3/16 9:11 PM

RE: Extremely Bad Headaches

Posts: 400 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
Hi Neil,

On the other hand, the problem might be due to your sinuses. Do you have any upper respiratory allergies? If I don't do anything, at certain times of the year, I get headaches when I sit for just 40 minutes due to buildup of mucus in my sinuses because I have pretty severe pollen, dust mite, and mold allergies. When you sit motionless, your facial muscles aren't working and so they don't help with draining mucus buildup. The openings between the sinuses and the throat and nose are really tiny, and all it takes is a grain of pollen lodged there to cause them to swell shut. I usually take Mucinex to cause the mucus to drain, which of course means I need to work to help it drain, and antihistimines to reduce the inflammation. If you don't have any allergies, then of course the sinuses probably aren't the cause of the problem.
Neil Cavanagh, modified 6 Years ago at 7/4/16 4:25 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/4/16 4:25 AM

RE: Extremely Bad Headaches

Posts: 17 Join Date: 9/5/15 Recent Posts
Wow! Thank you SO much Kim. It's so good of you to put this amoun of effort into trying to help.

'Strangely', that is the second time Kenneth Folk's name has arisen - I am reading a book called 'Evolving Dharma' by Jay Michael about the way that the dharma is changing now that it is firmly established in the West and he was mentioned in the book. Maybe there could be something in there - I'll have a look.

I do find that the shorter periods help - and yesterday I only did 2x20 mins of sitting without any undue head pressure and certainly no
headache (to speak of anyway). SO it could be your right about too much,
too soon. As I said in an earlier reply I do try to maintain constant awareness but this doesn't cause me anyway problems - although to be fair I'm not that good at it either (!).

I haven't ever done the type of practise you suggest but am very open to trying - don't see that it can do any harm and if it allows me to
develop my practise then I'm totally up for it.

Thank you again for your suggestions and I will be 'googling' later today.

Many, many, heart felt thank you's.

Neil Cavanagh, modified 6 Years ago at 7/4/16 4:28 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/4/16 4:28 AM

RE: Extremely Bad Headaches

Posts: 17 Join Date: 9/5/15 Recent Posts
Well, along with the other pieces of advice this too has some resonance. I do suffer from sinus problems - especially at this time of year due to hayfever. I also get quite bad asthma due to the allergic reaction to pollen.

So maybe there is something to be looked into here as well.

Thank you.

Kim _, modified 6 Years ago at 7/4/16 4:53 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/4/16 4:53 AM

RE: Extremely Bad Headaches

Posts: 708 Join Date: 2/5/13 Recent Posts
Great. My pleasure Neil.

One thing that I forgot to mention in my prev post was the option of chanting the Three Refuges:

I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.

This also has immense healing and mind clarifying power to it. Hope you get better.
Ernest Michael Olmos, modified 6 Years ago at 7/4/16 8:54 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/4/16 8:54 AM

RE: Extremely Bad Headaches

Posts: 219 Join Date: 5/30/14 Recent Posts
Stirling Campbell:

I actually have more realization when walking in nature than anywhere else. Highly recommended.

I strongly second that.
Not only in nature but open spaces also. It helps not only with meditation but with life too.

In my last retreat (goenka), I almost had a fight because they wanted me to meditate in my room or the hall all the time and I was making tons of progress walking in nature.
Chris, modified 6 Years ago at 7/5/16 3:22 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/5/16 3:15 PM

RE: Extremely Bad Headaches

Posts: 39 Join Date: 11/23/15 Recent Posts
On the subject of headaches, I wanted to relate something.  I had drank too much vodka one night and went to sleep for about three hours and woke up with a terrible headache.  I took 160mg of aspirin, puked it up, then laid on my floor with a wet towel on my forehead.  There was nothing to do except look at this pain and wait for it to stop.  One thing that happens with headaches is that my brain stops trying to do any extra work - the story spinning, planning and worrying all stop.  The options are to wish it would stop hurting or to look at it closely.  I wasn't tired, so I can rule out any of that affecting my experience.  I certainly got into some kind of jhana state during this experience.  After the first two times, it felt like something was going to move through my spine but it was blocked due to how I was holding my neck, so I moved and then the next time it had some definite fireworks of energy going through there into my head.  I was somewhat surprised by this.  My point is that looking at the pain served as a type of concentration, and having the pain made my brain stop trying to do distracting things that would otherwise have prevented me from getting sufficient concentration to experieince anything like this.  Full description I wrote at the time.