Migraines are my Achilles heel, the type of torture I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Each episode vanquishes my brainpower into some mysterious abyss and replaces it with chaos and madness, sometimes with a mass of anxiety and angst rolled in. It can affect my breathing, and in some cases my digestive system but ultimately it affects my mind the most; once it reaches my head that's when I am done for. My experience with migraines has been sporadic but it almost always lies in wait, approaching with a sneak attack:
Imagine lying on your side, resting, listless, admittedly checked out. Your body retracts into fetal position and finds a comfortable spot, your eyes loll as you fall into a deep slumber. Bliss as you fall asleep on your way to la-la-land. And then there is a slight tremor, then a jolt and suddenly it shakes you awake with an unspeakable throbbing pain. Pain that feels as if a vice is covering your ears on either side, and an invisible demon is cranking tighter with the sole goal to crush the insides of your brain. It gets so bad that you can almost imagine the hangman nearby, looming over you waiting to apply the latest torture before preparing you for the guillotine.
As early as the 17th century women were treated for maladies that spoke of headaches and fainting spells where the only remedies included smelling salts, lavender compress and rest, lots of rest. In our modern world, the need for rest is considered a weakness and in any line of work, extended rest isn’t really an option. That is why despite the pain I felt I forced myself to charge through and activate beyond it; and as can be expected, the day progressed with my eyes seeing but not really seeing, my body wanting rest but typing and talking--thinking when sleep was in order.
At the end of the day rather than go home immediately, I had the bright idea that a little bit of yoga might save me. In my mind's eye I hoped for (wished and dreamed really) for an extended meditation in Savasana (corpse pose), but instead found myself in a rigorous hour of Chaturanga (sit ups), downward facing dog, inversions and of all things, shoulder stance--which I abstained from doing, lest I add even more pressure to my neck.
I knew I had pushed myself too far when on the train ride home I found myself shivering in a half wake half asleep fog flexing my body in an effort to keep warm. I could feel the invisible threads wrap their way from the outer edge of my shoulders and creep like vines around my neck. The pain scaling its way one vertebrae at a time, rooting itself onto the lower part of my cranium, unwieldy weeds at the base of a tree. Pausing for just a moment like a jellyfish hunting its prey waiting to release a trigger of poison; the pain that came next could have been filled with venom. It hit my body like a bullet, sending my thoughts off in a million different directions. Nausea was almost immediate and I was certain I would be ill on the train—one of my biggest fears. The struggle to keep my eyes open was tricky, and sleep, the Holy Grail for the evening, was all I wanted. Attaining it seemed insurmountable as the journey lengthened.
And in the end it was the yoga that saved me: one of the last things I can remember clearly is activating the Ujjayi breath (ocean breath) to bring myself to a center of calm, just enough clarity to get me home all in one piece—body, mind and soul.