For 46 years, I have been placing my hands on people’s headaches, including my own, and stopping them cold. You could say that I’m an accidental healer: At the oddest of times and places—clothes shopping, makeup counter, party, family gathering, boss’s office—people would exclaim out loud about their horrible migraine pain in progress, and I would offer to help.
For the first 21 years, I never really thought about it. It was simply a challenge to quell their pain in the moment, as in hmm, I wonder if I can do it again this time? That is, until I was laid off from a lucrative career in magazine advertising sales during our annual convention in Las Vegas. Although I pursued it with gusto, the industry was going through layoffs and transitions, and I could find no way back in to my field.
But then something happened. After relieving a client’s migraine during my goodbye rounds at the convention, I decided to change course and teach my newfangled technique to headache sufferers. In studying massage therapy, energy work, intuitive development, somatics, mind-body wellness, and reading headache research, I found the language and framework for what I had been experiencing on the head all those years.
Deconstructing Migraine Pain
However, I had no idea what I had actually been doing to produce that relief. So, I deconstructed what I had been feeling each time on the head and in my hands. If I was going to teach my protocol, later dubbed the Mundo Method, I needed to determine if it was just my touch, or if anyone could do it.
I created step-by-step instructions and a self-report questionnaire and mailed them to several migraine sufferers. To my delight, my informal test subjects were either able to back down their migraines from becoming full-blown episodes or prevent them from escalating altogether.
A few friends and people I had never met, learned how to stop their own pain without my ever having touched them or showing them the steps in person. This was the proof I needed that the method and instructions worked.
I began teaching classes through medical centers and seeing private clients, all of whom were diagnosed by their neurologists. I’ve since taught my Mundo Method, as part of a mind-body prevention program to probably thousands of headache, mostly migraine, sufferers.
Propelled by my overarching curiosity, I realized that I had experienced the same phenomena each time I worked on a headache.
1. A headache is palpable.
- You can feel or palpate a headache from an outside location that matches the location and intensity of the sufferer’s pain on the inside.
- It has an electrical quality that is stronger than a regular pulse.
- A milder headache has less amplitude than a stronger one.
2. A migraine feels different to the touch than a tension headache.
- Tension headache exerts a hatband-like hold on the head, often accompanied by pain in the neck, lower skull, and face. The headache points and areas feel held down and tight to the touch.
- Migraine pain pulsates, with pulsations that feel more marked than those of tension headache. It is often accompanied by hypersensitivity to light, sound, odor and touch during, before, or between episodes.
- Many headache sufferers have a combination of symptoms from both tension headache and migraine.
3. By very subtly manipulating, or quieting, the sensations with your touch, you can release the pain.
- Migraine pain can be elusive. It can move around on one side of the head or move from one side to the other.
- You work with a series of subtle, light touch holds rather than in a fixed spot.
- Like a dynamic biofeedback loop, each move’s results determine the next move.
4. The headache and its release go through a cycle of sensations that signal various parts of the process—from intense pain to it receding into the background.
- The sensations of the release are different than the sensations of pain.
- You must feel the sensations of the release in order for the headache cycle to complete and the pain to lift.
5. When the headache is released, it breaks the cycle.
- In the case of a migraine, when the pain reverses and recedes, the disabling associated symptoms reverse and recede along with it.
6. Mental focus influences the process and is fully one-half of the protocol.
- The practitioner (or during self-application, the headache sufferer) uses mental volition instead of strong physical pressure to work with the headache’s pulsations.
Considering that both prescription and over-the-counter headache drugs can have side effects, don’t you want to know how touch and focused concentration might work to ease migraine pain and reverse a virtual neurochemical brainstorm within minutes? (Note that the advice presented here does not replace the care of a medical professional, and any headache or migraine patient should consult with their physician before receiving bodywork.)
I would love to see research studies exploring how touch can affect the brain. In the process, perhaps researchers would discover more about the mechanisms of migraine. To date, studies have looked at blood flow, neurochemistry, and bioelectrical current, and I suspect that they are all factors.
Beyond headache, what are the implications for conditions such as concussion and traumatic brain injury, where migraine pain is secondary to the primary disorder?
My protocol is a very different technique than easing tissue by moving it around. Instead, it aims to blend with the tissue by using very minimal pressure. By matching the pain’s intensity with steadiness, you can listen for pulsations and other sensations underneath the point of contact.
This touch is much lighter than pressing on your temples to stop throbbing, which many headache sufferers report doing, while noting that the pain returned when they stopped pressing.
You can’t hurry headaches. This doesn’t refer to the length of an application, which could be from five minutes to an hour and sometimes longer, depending on the headache’s severity. I’m referring to the speed at which your hands have to do the work.
From the outside, you might as well be watching paint dry. It’s really an internal conversation between your touch, your mind and the headache. Like doing energy work with your hands on the body, you listen to the pain’s sensations and its changes.
I liken the pace to jumping onto a moving train or catching a wave: No matter how fast it’s going, you have to match speeds with it to ride.
About the Author
Jan Mundo, C.M.T., C.M.S.C., is certified as a Master Somatic Coach, Body-Centered Therapist and massage therapist. She is also a Registered Somatic Movement Educator. Specializing in headaches, stress and self-transformation, she practices in Manhattan, New York, and via webcam. Her book, The Headeache Healer’s Handbook, is forthcoming from New World Library.