Migraine is a neurological disorder that causes recurring headaches ranging from moderate to high intensity. Typically, it affects only one-half of the head and can last from 2 hours to up to more than 2 days. When under a migraine attack, the sufferer may become extremely sensitive towards light or noise.
Migraine causes severe headaches, sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. People commonly use medication to treat their symptoms. However, other methods such as yoga may be an effective way to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches.
Can yoga help with migraine?
Yoga is a mind and body therapy that began in ancient India. People worldwide now practice it. It involves poses, meditation, and breathing exercises. Studies have found it can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Yoga can help lessen the severity and frequency of migraine.
Stress is a significant and common trigger for migraine. By loosening tight areas like the neck, head, and shoulders, which hold stress, yoga can help prevent a migraine from occurring or improve a person’s symptoms.
Yoga for Migraine
With your feet hips-width distance apart, hinge forward from your hips and release the crown of your head down towards your mat.
Let your head and neck hang heavy and keep your palms down on your mat or reach for opposite elbows.
If you feel any strain on your lower back or hamstrings, place a slight bend in your knees.
Another name for ragdoll pose? Forward fold. “By allowing your head to bow towards the earth and letting go of all tension from your neck and spine, the gentle hug from gravity can help with your headache pain, and create space in the spine and neck,” Smith explains.
Seated forward fold
Come onto your sit bones and extend your legs straight out in front of you.
Inhale to stretch your arms high overhead, then fold forward from your hips, reaching for your shins or your feet.
Keep the length in your spine as you fold and draw your forehead towards your toes—you can always keep a slight bend in your knees to make this more accessible.
This pose stretches out your spine and opens up your shoulders, both of which relieve some of the tension often associated with headaches. Also, a seated forward folds in particular help your upper body and neck fully relax, so your head can rest on your legs with no effort.
Cat and cow pose
Start in a neutral tabletop position with your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
On your inhale, drop your belly down towards your mat and gaze up towards the ceiling.
Then, as you exhale, arch through your spine and tuck your chin towards your thighs.
Moving between cat and cow pose not only relieves tension in your upper body but it also boosts your blood flow and circulation, according to Kelly Smith, E-RYT 500, founder of Yoga for You. This brings more oxygen to your brain, which can help ease some of your headache pain.
Bring your big toes to touch and walk your knees out wide to the width of your mat.
Then release your torso onto the ground between your thighs as you walk your fingertips towards the front of your mat.
Let your forehead rest gently on the floor and rock your head from side to side to massage out the tension.
Child’s pose is a great way to release tension from your upper body and open up your shoulders, back, and spine, which can increase blood flow to your head. Plus, by resting your forehead on the ground, you’re activating pressure points in your forehead that can relieve migraines and headaches.
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Start in your tabletop position. Tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back, sinking your heels down towards your mat.
Hug your biceps in close to your ears and lengthen through the backs of your legs.
Let your head and neck relax as you release your torso back towards your thighs.
Because your heart is above your head in this pose, downward dog is a type of inversion. That means that it can reverse your blood flow, causing a rush of freshly oxygenated blood to your brain.
Lay on your back with the soles of your feet planted on your ground (so your knees are pointing up) and your arms down by your sides.
On your inhale, lift your hips up towards the ceiling.
Keep your chin away from your chest and press the back of your head down into your mat.
One big reason for migraines? Holding tension in your shoulders and neck. Bridge pose relaxes your upper body and can increase blood to your brain as your heart is lifted above your head.
Legs up the wall
Lay on your back and extend your legs straight up towards the ceiling (you can do this against a wall, if you’d like!) so that your legs are perpendicular to your torso.
Flex your toes back towards your face and let your arms fall down by your sides.
Legs up the wall is an incredibly restorative pose. Just like in downward dog, your blood is now flowing in the opposite direction—towards your brain. And the more blood and oxygen in your brain, the less painful your headache might be.
Lay on your back with your legs out long and your arms down by your side, palms facing up.
Relax every muscle in your body (including the ones in your face) and close down your eyes.
Let your breathing deepen. Stay here for at least 2-5 minutes.
When you’re in savasana, your entire body is completely relaxed, supported by the ground below you. That release can help reduce your migraine, along with the deep breathing that accompanies this pose, which increases oxygen to your brain.
Migraine prevention tips
Certain foods, dehydration, and lack of sleep can all trigger migraine. People should identify their migraine triggers, and keep a diary to help remember what set off previous episodes.
Doctors may prescribe certain medications to manage migraine, such as the anti-seizure medication topiramate. They may also prescribe other medications, such as the high blood pressure medication propranolol and the antidepressant amitriptyline, to help prevent migraine.
Other migraine management options include botulinum toxin type A (Botox), a nerve toxin that paralyzes muscles, and acupuncture.
There is no cure for migraine. However, someone may prevent migraine by avoiding triggers and using treatments that may help improve the symptoms. These include over-the-counter medications, prescribed medications, acupuncture, botulinum toxin type A, specialist treatments, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
Research has found that yoga can also help lessen the frequency and pain level of migraine headaches, when a person uses it as an additional therapy to other medical treatments.
Gentle yoga poses that encourage relaxation are best, along with poses that gently relax and stretch the neck, head, and shoulder area.
If an individual needs help with managing their migraine, they should seek medical advice.