Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I'd rather use Yoga for headache relief

I get headaches.

All. the. time.

Headaches from stress.  Headaches from allergies.  Headaches from hormones.  Headaches from sulfa in food.  Headaches that kick up 10 notches in bright light.  (Yes, I'm aware I resemble a Gremlin.)

The nice little mogwai in me convinced me to take a "Yoga for Headaches" class at my local studio, Paige One Yoga.  I really enjoyed the class.  There were 7 of us - from mild headache sufferer, to full blown migraine veteran.  We were all just looking for a little relief - and I think I found some.

Paige One Yoga studio

It makes sense that yoga would help headache suffers.  A study was done in 2007 that found that regular yogic practice helped reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches in sufferers.  In observing my life (and those around me) I would have to agree - since I started taking regular yoga classes, the amount of headaches I get seems to have gone down.  Yoga = less stress = less headaches.  And if you are nervous just with the word of (dun-dun-dunnnnnn) "yoga," don't be!  If my rollie-pollie body can manage it, you can too.  Plus, the type of yoga you will do for headaches is a great place to start - it is less active, and easy to follow.

Now, if you are in the middle of a headache (or are feeling that "headache hangover" from a big migraine,) then you should try to keep these things in mind:

  • Use Gentle poses and breathing.  Don't do intense poses that serve more as a workout - you are looking for relaxation and restoration instead.
  • Keep your head above your heart in all the poses that you do.  Blood rushing to your head will only make the pain worse.
I highly recommend you look for a class in your area if you are a headache sufferer.  Some practitioners will offer (as mine did) a one-time workshop, or look for classes that use "restorative yoga" or possibly even schedule a one time private instruction to learn good techniques.

I obviously can't teach you a whole class here, but I can offer some breathing techniques I learned that might help you.  I will describe them the best I can in such a small space, but check with a yoga teacher (or professor google) for more info.  You may feel pretty silly (or down right ridiculous) while doing some of these moves, but just close the door and get over it.

  • Begin with centering.  In yoga this is sitting, with legs crossed ("Criss-cross applesauce" or like the picture above.)  Shoulders are down and away from ears, jaw is parted, lips are lightly touching, spine is elongated.  Inhale and exhale deeply through nostrils.  Relax and concentrate on your breath.  This is great for decreasing stress on the spot.  It's a grown up version of what I tell my kids to do when they are upset - "okay, honey, take a deep breath..." Keep these principals in mind while doing all your breathing techniques.  
  • Skull Brightening Breath:  This consists of alternating quick exhales and longer, passive inhales - both through your nose.  Exhales are made by quickly and powerfully contracting the lower belly.  Inhales are an automatic response to releasing this contraction.  You will contract your muscles 8 to 10 times on the exhale, then inhale deeply.
  • Humming Bee Breath:  Keeping teeth parted, but lips closed, use your thumbs to to close your ears by pressing in the flap in front of your ear.  Put your pinkies on the "third eye," the space between your eyebrows and allow the rest of your fingers to rest on your head.  Deeply inhale, allowing your belly to expand, then exhale and gently hum while bringing navel to spine.  Feel the vibration in your skull - give your brain a little massage.
  • Healing Yawn:  Pinch your earlobes and gently pull them down.  Act out a yawn to release pressure on your blood vessels.

I make no claim (at all - whatsoever - not a one) that I'm a yoga teacher.  But, you might be interested in the poses we moved through.  If you don't understand the terms I use in the next paragraph, I encourage you to again, find a class.  Alternately, visit Yoga Journal for their list of poses - they offer instructions, pictures, benefits, and cautions.  If yoga makes you nervous, skip the next paragraph. ;)

Here is the asana we moved through:
We started with neck stretches (neck smiles, looking left-right, nodding) and shoulder/arm/wrist warm-ups.  Then we moved through seated forward bend, one legged bend - using a bolster to prop up our heads - and seated twists.  Next was table, cat/cow, and thread the needle.  Up we stood, and moved into Mountain, followed by a Double Angle fold, which is a fold that stops parallel to the floor (so that head stays above heart) while the hands claps behind head and stretch to the sky.  Back to floor to hero, then into pose of the moon (like child's pose, but while kneeling and keeping head above heart.)  Into reclining twists, flapping fish, and finally corpse pose.  Whew!  (Okay, I barely understand that, but there it is for all you yogini's.) 

That is just about all I have for you from the class.  But there is one last suggestion - track your headaches.  Make a journal or chart to note the date, duration, intensity, trigger, and anything that you used to treat it.  It goes a long way to figuring out what will work best for you to get past these greedy little time-sucking monsters, and on to your happy life!



  1. Oh, this is wonderful information! I have had chronic headaches for decades. Yes, decades. They are worse when life is more stressful. And I've discovered recently that sugar can be a trigger. But if I can learn techniques that will help minimize the pain, oh that would be worth it! I know someone with a yoga studio locally. I need to look into this.

    Thanks, Mandy!

  2. What a fantastic post filled with such great info!! Thank you for posting I will definitely be trying these techniques! XOXOXOXO

  3. Seriously LOVE LOVE LOVE yoga! I feel so refreshed, relaxed, energized and at peace. Thanks for sharing woman.