Headaches – not all in the head

May 12th, 2014






If there is a single definition of healing it is to enter with mercy and awareness those pains, mental and physical, from which we have withdrawn in judgment and dismay.

– Stephen Levine




Last week we looked at the many and varied causes of shoulder tension and some strategies for treating it. This week we take the high road up to the head.




End of the line


Within the confines of the physical body at least the highest point energy can gather is in the head. We have stated many times in these blogs that, in the energy-consciousness model of classical Chinese and Japanese medicine, health is defined as a free flow of chi (bio energy). Disease (literally, a disturbance of ease) is then defined as varying degrees of stagnation in chi flow.


Subjectively we experience stagnation of energy in the body as pain or discomfort. This is true even in situations that may begin comfortably. For example, imagine you are lying on the softest feather bed. Comfortable? Good. Now, don’t move a muscle for several hours and see how comfortable you feel.


Headache pain is a similar stagnation in that energy rising to the head cannot circulate and descend again so easily. Like most symptoms a headache is an attempt by the body to restore balance.



Discharging a peak threshold


(Artist unknown)

(Artist unknown)


Some headaches appear to be triggered after a certain threshold of nervous or muscular/connective tissue tension has been reached. It is similar to diseases like epilepsy in that once this threshold has been reached the only way to discharge it is through the ‘attack’ of headache, migraine or epileptic episode.[1]


The discharging effect of headache is a last resort however and it often leaves us with hangover-like lethargy afterward. I have described this threshold mechanism in the past as a kind of ‘negative orgasm’. While it releases a build up of charge or tension, it is characterized by less pleasant residual effects.


Headache can also be part of underlying systemic imbalances involving hormones or blood pressure. They can also be a result of spinal or soft tissue injury like whiplash and concussion. In extreme cases they can occur due to physical obstruction like brain tumors or cerebral swelling.


Let us now look at the different types of headache and what they might mean.



Frontal headache


In classical Chinese medicine a dull band of pain and tension across the forehead is associated with dysfunction in the intestines. This can spread to the sinuses as well and is suggests changes in the bacterial balance in the mucosa.


The outer half of our immune response is via the immunoglobulin in our mucosa.[2] Changes in this delicate balance can compromise our first line of immune defense. Factors like diet and allergic reactions play an important role in this.


If you suffer from frontal headaches it might be advisable to check your diet and/or get an allergy test. Prime suspects are flour and dairy products (producing a slimy, stagnated mucosa) and environmental allergens like pollen or chemicals.



Lateral (parietal) headache


At War with Self. All rights reserved.

At War with Self. All rights reserved.



The liver and gall bladder energy has the primary control of this area of the head along with a direct connection from the lateral base of the skull through to the eyes and vision. At the physical level any toxicity in the liver itself can manifest as headache.


Anyone who has experienced a hangover after punishing their liver with alcohol may be intimately acquainted with symptoms like headache, photo phobia, nausea, dehydration and pressure behind the eyes.


As we touched upon last week the liver/gall bladder energy system also deals with conflict, boundaries, personal integrity, anger and frustration at limitations in our power to affect decisive change in our lives.


If we suffer regularly from headache or migraine, particularly in this area of the head/eyes it might be worthwhile to reassess our relationship to these issues and seek help to empower ourselves again.



Top of the head


Pain reaching from the center of the base of the skull through to the top of the head is an indication of imbalance in the kidney-adrenal glands and urinary bladder meridian systems.


The most common reasons for this kind of headache is a depletion of energy reserves through lack of sleep, overwork or stress. The water element, to which these meridian systems belong, give us our ability to rest, replenish and recover. If we take ourselves too far into the ‘red’ of our energy reserves our old friend pain will be waiting to nudge us back into balance again.



Tension headaches


Tensing of the jaw, grinding the teeth during sleep and tension in the throat and swallow reflex are all indications of imbalance in the stomach meridian system. Headaches due to threshold tension in these muscles may be accompanied by seemingly unrelated symptoms like poor digestion and bloated stomach with episodes of gastric reflux and pain in the stomach/solar plexus areas.



The role of the unconscious mind in headache


What is unconscious in us is always trying to become conscious. One way or the other it will seize any chance to grab our attention. Symptoms like headache are one such way. The head may be the seat of the rational brain and intellect but deeper emotional issues lie elsewhere.


In previous blogs we have discussed the role of the Shen (the seat of consciousness) that is housed in the heart energy system. This center is the sum total of our consciousness – that is, all that is conscious and unconscious in us.


Repression through splitting different parts of ourselves from conscious awareness leads to an inner war. Part of us that wants to become aware of something is opposed by other parts that try to repress and push it back down into the body.


It is the equivalent of trying to accelerate in our car while engaging the handbrake. Wear and tear on the body and nervous system builds to a critical threshold that must be released in one way or another.



The ‘Window of the Sky’ points


© Shizuto Masunaga

© Shizuto Masunaga


These are a group of ten acupuncture points that line up with the heart-emotional center, throat-expression center and base of the skull. The ‘sky’ in this title refers to the mind of conscious awareness. This point group helps open and resolve conflicts between our conscious and unconscious mind.


The ‘bridge’ on which this battle rages is the neck area. Shoulder and neck tension are often a part of the symptom pattern in chronic headache sufferers.


Unsurprisingly then, these points are very effective in treating tension headaches as well as preventing their recurrence.



A head start on headaches


One simple technique for treating headache is to bring energy down from the head:

  • Sit in a dark room with a cool moist hand towel or cloth over the forehead and eyes
  • Place the feet in a bucket of warm water
  • Visualize energy descending to the feet



Identifying areas of tension and using a golf ball to apply pressure to them can also be useful:


  • Locate the tense area in the back or base of the neck
  • Sore areas that radiate to the head area are particularly useful
  • Place the ball on the floor and gently lie over it at the area of tension
  • Do not try to move or massage the area but lie still and try to relax and ‘melt’ over the ball



Where headache is triggered by overuse of the eyes: computer and mobile use, TV, video games, studying, reading, night driving.


  • Stretch the powerful muscles controlling the eyeball by holding the gaze in each direction (north, northeast, east, southeast, south and so on) for up to five minutes each with particular practice on the more directions that resist the most
  • Practice changing the focus back and forth from close to distant objects


If headaches follow sleep, check:


  • The pillow you are using and how it may be negatively affecting the neck
  • If you are grinding your teeth in your sleep
  • If you snore or suffer from sleep apnea



Other useful checkups


  • Allergies – food, medicines/hormones, environmental, industrial
  • Blood pressure





  • Practice meditation and relaxation like yoga and tai chi to reduce stress
  • Use the element of water to regularly renew and refresh energy. Showers, baths, Jacuzzis, float tanks, fresh and salt water.
  • Regular exercise will spread energy more evenly through the body and prevent it from building up.
  • Be observant of emotional triggers to headache attacks
  • Shiatsu, acupuncture, remedial massage and osteopathy are all non-invasive and effective methods in the treatment and prevention of headache.




That is a head full of information for one week.



Till Mondays are never a headache for anyone,




[1] It may come as little surprise then to learn that medicines for epilepsy are now being used for migraine sufferers.

[2] The deeper level lies within the blood.


© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. Soundcloud photo courtesy of David Decuigniére. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation: info@jeremyhalpin.com


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