Have you tried practicing yoga to relieve migraines and headaches? Here’s how it can help, plus 10 poses to try.
Migraine is one of the most common headaches. Some migraine symptoms can sometimes be severe enough to interrupt daily life, including:
- light sensitivity
- shooting pain in the head on one side
Medications are frequently prescribed to people who live with severe headaches. But you can opt for a more natural way to prevent and treat your migraine symptoms: yoga.
Yes, experts and studies suggest that yoga can serve as an effective alternative treatment for:
According to a
More studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of yoga for migraines. But one
“Yoga is an effective treatment for migraine, if not as a stand-alone treatment, then as part of a more comprehensive plan,” says Pierre CouvillionNAMA Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner and Founder and Director of Santosha School.
However, he adds that migraine triggers and treatment results can vary widely from person to person.
There are many different links between migraine and the benefits of yoga, from managing triggers and prevention to treating symptoms.
Trigger management and prevention
According to the yoga physiotherapist Stephanie Carter KelleyPT, PhD, Regular yoga practice can help address some of the triggers and risk factors associated with migraine and tension headaches.
She notes that common causes of migraine attacks can include:
- inconsistent or poor sleep patterns
- eating less nutritious foods
- take certain medications
Mental and physical health benefits of yoga that can help prevent migraine include:
- stress relief
- help manage stress reactions
- improve sleep quality
- help manage
Migraine symptoms can be painful and sometimes severe enough to interrupt your day. According to Carter Kelley, practicing yoga at the onset of or during a migraine can help relieve symptoms in some people.
Effects of yoga that may help reduce migraine symptoms include:
- can help relieve pain through stretching, especially muscle tension around the head and neck
- improves vagal tone
- calms the sympathetic nervous system
- lowers blood pressure and heart rate
Carter Kelley says yoga can also strengthen interoceptive awareness, including the ability to recognize a migraine trigger and use strategies to manage it. All of these can work together to reduce migraine symptoms.
“In general, yoga helps people release energy from the fight, flight, or freeze nervous system and redirect it to the ‘relax and heal’ part of the nervous system,” says Couvillion.
Posture-independent yoga breathing techniques can also help.
“Alternate nostril breathing helps reduce crossfire between the hemispheres of the brain,” he explains. “The withdrawal of the senses – closing the ears and eyes while following subtle, long, slow breathing – helps to reduce stimuli and allows the practitioner to focus on more subtle parts of the nervous system,” he explains. .
Other migraine prevention and treatment options
Besides yoga, there are other ways to prevent and treat migraine, including medical marijuana and medication.
Before trying yoga for migraine relief, you may want to take some precautions.
As with all treatments, consider speaking with your doctor or therapist before trying yoga for migraine. Exercise can make some migraine symptoms worse, so it may be beneficial to discuss whether yoga is a safe treatment option for you.
It’s not all in the poses
Carter Kelley explains that yoga is not just about “sanas” or postures. On the contrary, the poses are only one element of an effective yoga practice with:
And while physical poses and movements can be helpful, sitting or lying down focusing on your breathing might be the best move of all.
“These components have been shown in many other studies to be important for stress management,” she says.
Prevention is key
Carter Kelley points out that incorporating yoga as a preventive measure against migraines may be more effective than practicing it during a headache.
“Rather than focusing on yoga when a headache is present, it would be better to focus on continued practice to reduce the ’cause’ of migraines and tension headaches,” she says.
Certified instructors can make all the difference
A certified yoga instructor can supervise and assist you in certain positions during your practice. They can also offer pose modifications that better suit your needs and abilities.
Other Considerations for Beginners
For those new to yoga, Couvillion suggests starting with 5 minutes of daily practice focused on floor poses. You can build from there by adding more complicated standing poses to your practice.
Couvillion also warns against any new poses during a migraine episode.
Here are 10 yoga stretches for migraine relief with instructions from advanced Iyengar yoga student Elodie Gythiel. Live yoga teachers co-founder and person who lives with migraines.
Poses for Stress Triggered Migraine
These classic yoga poses are known to calm the nervous system, which can be especially effective for stress-triggered migraines.
Child’s Pose (‘Adho Mukha Virasana’)
- Sit on your heels with your knees slightly apart.
- Keep the bottom or “seat bones” on the heels.
- Stretch forward with your hands on the floor.
- Gently touch the rib cage to the thighs until the forehead touches the floor.
Corpse Pose (‘Savasana’)
- Lie down with a blanket under your head.
- Keep the body flat on the floor.
- Let go of any tension and thoughts that come to you.
Variation of Bridge Pose (‘Chatush Padasana’)
- Lie on your back.
- Bend the legs with the feet flat on the floor.
- Grab the ankles.
- Raise the pelvis.
Plow Pose (‘Halasana’)
The plow pose can be slightly more advanced and requires more flexibility and balance than the other poses. Be sure of your own abilities before attempting this one.
- Lie on your back.
- Supporting your lower back and hips with your hands, roll over your shoulders into a shoulder pad.
- Keep your legs straight with your toes pointed towards the ceiling.
- Extend your legs overhead until the front of your thighs are directly in front of your face.
- Lower your legs keeping them straight until your feet touch the ground behind your head.
Lying down or seated, perform complete breathing cycles by segmenting your inspiration and your expiration.
Couvillion adds that breathing techniques might be a better starting point for preventing and treating migraine for many people.
He recommends alternating between nasal breathing and the “bumblebee”, or withdrawal of the senses. For the drone, close your ears and eyes and “humm” gently on the exhalations.
“In either technique, allow the breath to naturally become longer, slower, and smoother,” he says.
To oxygenate your brain (for migraines triggered by hormonal imbalance)
Try these yoga poses for migraines triggered by hormonal imbalances and menstruation, which effectively oxygenate the brain.
Standing Forward Bend Pose (‘Uttanasana’)
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Hold the elbows.
- Lean forward as far as your flexibility comfortably allows.
Downward facing dog pose (‘Adho Mukha Svanasana’)
- Begin in Child’s pose.
- Tuck your toes in so that your feet are on the floor.
- Spread your fingers apart, root yourself to the ground (or carpet) with your palms.
- Press into the feet and lift the hips to reach a 90 degree angle.
Legs against the wall (‘Viparita Karani’)
Lie flat on the floor with your legs against the wall.
Shoulder Pad (‘Salamba Sarvangasana’)
- Lie on four yoga blocks.
- Adjust the shoulders close to the edge of your support.
- Lift the legs up.
- Place your hands on your lower back for support.
Head press (‘Sirsasana’)
- Place the forearms on the V-shaped mat.
- Fingers intertwined, rest your head on the floor.
- Kick to lift the legs.
“In my case of facet joint inflammation, doing poses like Sirsasana is not recommended because it would put too much pressure on the neck and could trigger a migraine,” says Gythiel. She practices this pose on top of two stacks of blocks with six blocks under each shoulder, instead.
Yoga can be an effective alternative or additional treatment for migraines.
Practicing yoga in tandem with breathing exercises and meditation can help you find the most relief.
Before trying yoga for migraine treatment and prevention, consider speaking with your doctor or therapist. Working alongside a certified yoga instructor can help you practice safely.