Headaches and Meditation - What You Need to Know

Sometimes I am asked, "Is meditation causing my headaches?"

Firs of all, use your common sense…does anyone anymore  dare risk saying anything to an unknown stranger in such a litigious society, especially someone you don’t know and  don’t see in person? If a doctor doesn’t do that, why would you … especially when the answer only involves commonsense? 

The standard answer for any health question/issue is: if you have a health issue, see a doctor.  See a physician.

Now, if you asked a different question, "Can meditation cause headaches?" or "Can  headaches occur as a result of strenuous cultivation?" -  that’s a different issue. You can read the story of Zen master Hakuin (and the So Cream meditation) for an answer to that; Tibetan medicine contains all sorts of formulas for problems caused by unbalanced FORCEFUL meditations, which is why I don’t recommend them unless you have a teacher at hand. Ardent cultivators of the forceful form schools in yoga, Taoism, and Tibetan Buddhism typically screw themselves up if they don’t know what they’re doing.

I remember meeting a Chinese student of the Wang Yang Ming neo-Confucian/Taoist cultivation school who  picked the wrong mountain to cultivate in (he thought he was smart), used the wrong Tao school techniques and unleashed all sorts of errant dragon chi currents in his body he could not control — it would take him two years of Chinese TCM on a weekly basis just to get his intestines back into order because of the things he practiced, mistakenly thinking he was brilliant in knowing how to cultivate  forceful techniques. As Master Nan likes to say, which is why he doesn’t teach the esoteric school, the  guys that practice the forceful techniques and esoteric techniques are typically the WORST disasters in cultivation … even the wrong habits they create tend to persist across lives.

First remember, that meditation means letting go of thoughts. If you are letting go of thoughts, and are thus mentally peaceful, why do you have headaches? That should answer most people’s questions. Meditation does not cause illness or sickness. On the other hand, it may REVEAL latent illnesses that are laying dormant.

If you are holding on to thoughts, then just as in regular life due to holding on to stress, a mental worry, or some other problem in life, maybe you are causing yourself headaches. But that’s a different issue than letting go of thoughts. If you can’t differentiate between those two, how can you understand anything in regards to cultivation? So first you have to do some personal diagnosis.

Now if you are letting go of thoughts and your chi starts arising subsequently, you’ll tend to feel it. When the chi channels have opened somewhat to the area of the brain, and the chi starts trying to open up the chi channels in the head because you’ve made this meditation progress, then all sorts of symptoms can come out - more dreams, headaches, pressure int he head in certain obstructed regions opening up, dizziness, hearing voices, etc. In Tao and Longevity, these are discussed with a cool, clear , logical analysis. You can find some of them discussed in the free Chapter 4 of Measuring and the free Stages page download, too. But this happens after you’re making progress, and you should notice allsorts of subsidiary signs to know where you are on the gongfu ladder. So if you start meditating today, and one week later you have headaches, sorry but you’re assuming just too much progress.

Can you have samadhi or be enlightened and still get headaches? Good question. Sure! Once Buddha got a terrible headache and his students asked why. Buddha said, "In a past life I was a little boy, and they drained a pond. I went to the empty pond and started playing with a fish lying there in the drained pool, flopping it up and down and hurting it. Now that karma has matured and I’m experiencing a bad headache as a result."

Everything has a karmic cause …

You can also get irritated even though enlightened. Once Buddha just got tired dealing with all these unruly monks, and made his way into a forest to get away from them for awhile and be by himself. He bumped in to the king of the elephants, who was also a bit tired from dealing with all the troubles of dealing with his clan, and who was there to get away himself for awhile. Recognizing the same situation, Buddha laughed a bit and pat him on the head saying, "You and I are both perturbed." Moral: Even the enlightened get mentally fatigued and need a break, so don’t bother them so much, especially with trifles. The same was said of Moses in the Bible even though just a samadhi master.

You can still get sick, too, with samadhi attainments and even enlightenment, especially catching colds or the flu. Why? In Chinese medicine it’s called a "wind invasion" - your chi channels are open and easily invaded by external wind (chi) which results in sickness. This has nothing to do with negative thoughts, unlike what the New Age crowd likes to say (all sickness is caused by bad thoughts" yada yada). So people meditating often find they have to start wearing more clothes, protect their heads by wearing a hat, and so forth (except for some individuals that live in particular weather regions, such as Southern India, which is why some masters even learn to cultivate without much clothes) . 

Protecting yourself from wind invasions is especially important during and after sexual relations, too. As I relate in the Sexual Cultivation Cd, do NOT drink cold things or expose yourself in front of a draft or air conditioner just prior to, during and after sex for just such reasons. For regular people you’ll probably feel nothing (even if you experience a wind invasion) — for meditators you’ll probably catch a cold or get a headache and feel it the next day or within a week or so. It can even cause more serious illnesses. Once again, look up Chinese medicine if you want to find out more.

And yes, you can be enlightened and die of cancer. You can also get rid of it if you want, or let past karma manifest. You can read the story of Maharaj (a Hindu samadhi master) where he rejuvenated himself with kaya kalpa two times but just let cancer take him the third time. Same with various other Hindu and other masters. When it’s time, it’s time. So Buddha’s foremost student in superpowers, Mahamaudgalyayana, had his skull cracked open and was dying but used his superpowers to heal himself, taught one more lesson to a village expecting him, came back to Buddha, said it was time to go, and then passed away. Then again, if you put yourself in the third-fourth dhyana, you can get rid of all sickness if you want, too. Mahamaudgalyayana proved that and there is lots of information available on this.

Now is there a way to open up the chi channels in the head quicker if you do start to feel pressure there because of cultivation work?

First, congratulations on your progress! Second, there is some Chinese medicine available for this and too many wind-caused-dreams, but it tastes yucky, doesn’t work too well (as far as I’m concerned) and the best solution is more meditation anyway. The more the chi goes through because of emptiness meditation of letting go, the less problems there are. It takes time - congratulations on the progress.

If the problem is caused by the bones being out of proper position in the neck, there’s chiropractic manipulations. Those cant get the Atlas bone fully in the proper position, whereas NCR (neural cranial restructuring) possibly can and has been known to get rid of long term migraines in as little as 4 sessions. Then again, magnesium deficiency and other things could be causing headaches, too.

So the answer is: it’s complicated to discuss things like this. So many possibilities are involved. You can’ t do it over the phone, you can’t do in a letter or email. You have to see the person, know their stage of cultivation, know medicine, know all sorts of things. It’s even more complicated than I laid out with this brief synopsis. That’s why I tell you you have to study everything. In life you end up picking up these wisdom rules naturally (without study) from cultural rules /traditions handed down in society  (like the Chinese rule never to eat duck or goose when you have a cold or flu, and to eat ginger with crab because otherwise it’s too yin-cold for the body), but they only take hold after people study them and start writing about them.

Where to go for basic principles about cultivation and the body?

Tao and Longevity.  It’s probably about $10-15 on amazon. I always tell people that if you think you know meditation or spiritual cultivation and you don’t know the basic material in this book, then you don’t know anything. Really. I hate the translation, but what can you do since the material is invaluable and doesn’t even appear in yoga texts?


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