Yoga has been a life-long passion of mine and it has truly transformed my life in so many ways. I never would have imagined that yoga could help with reducing the intensity and frequency of migraines, but it has!
Not only have I seen the benefits for myself, but I have also seen first-hand how yoga can support others suffering from headaches and migraines.
In this blog post, I'll be sharing my own personal story as well as some tips on how you can use yoga to help ease your migraine pain. I hope that by reading this post, you'll be inspired to give yoga a try (if you haven't already) and see the transformative power it can have on your life too!
What are migraines and how do they feel?
Migraine causes severe headache pain and is associated with other characteristic symptoms.
Migraine is often characterized by throbbing pain in one area of the head lasting 4 to 72 hours and is associated with symptoms such as sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, and vomiting. Some individuals experience visual disturbances (auras) that may present as zigzag lines or flashing lights either before or during a migraine.
Migraine affects an estimated more than 10% of people worldwide, occurs most often among people aged 20 to 50 years, and is about 3 times more common in women than in men. In a large US survey, 17.1% of women and 5.6% of men reported having migraine symptoms.
While migraines bring a unique challenge which can affect the lives of those living with this condition, there is hope. Practicing yoga has been medically proven to reduce the intensity and frequency of migraine attacks in many individuals, providing an opportunity to reclaim our autonomy from this challenging disorder.
Yoga Can Help
Yoga has proven to be a lifesaver for both myself and my many clients dealing with migraine attacks. Through stretching, myofascial release, mindful breath-work and poses, I have found the capacity to reduce the intensity of the pain in my own body and frequency of attacks, as well as that of others, by calming the nervous system.
Yoga can help people with migraines in several ways:
Reducing stress: Stress is a common trigger for migraines, and yoga is an effective way to reduce stress. Yoga practices such as deep breathing, meditation, and gentle stretching can help relax the body and calm the mind, reducing the likelihood of a migraine attack.
Improving circulation: Migraines are often associated with poor circulation, particularly in the head and neck. Yoga postures that involve forward bends, inversions, and twists can help improve blood flow to the head and neck, reducing the severity and frequency of migraines.
Regulating the nervous system: The autonomic nervous system plays a key role in migraine development. Yoga practices that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, such as restorative yoga and deep breathing exercises, can help regulate the nervous system and reduce the likelihood of a migraine attack.
Improving sleep: Sleep disturbances are a common trigger for migraines. Yoga practices such as relaxation techniques and gentle yoga postures before bed can help improve sleep quality, reducing the likelihood of a migraine attack.
The results of various studies indicated that short-term interventions based on yoga can help to reduce not only the clinical symptoms of migraine headache but also alleviate comorbid anxiety, depression, the stress associated with migraine which can aggravate the disability and pain
My journey with yoga has been an incredibly powerful tool not only for mitigating the effects of migraine pain, but for deepening body awareness so I can better understand my triggers. Many migraineurs have triggers, including lights, smells, and foods that can cause a migraine attack. Of the typical triggers, six come out on top. Do you know what number one is? Stress.
The top six triggers, in order:
Stress - reported by 28% of respondents
Lack of sleep - reported by 20% of respondents
Anxiety - reported by 19% of respondents
Neck pain - reported by 17% of respondents
Dehydration - reported by 13% of respondents
Weather - reported by 13% of respondents
It is nothing short of remarkable how implementing simple yogic practices can make such an immense difference in managing this difficult condition.
Due to the countless and varied symptoms experienced during a migraine attack, people suffering may often feel overwhelmed. One of the most powerful tools we have for reducing those symptoms is through yoga. By targeting specific areas of the body and combining postures with mindful breathing and relaxation, we can bring comfort, clarity, and relief from migraine pain.
Here are six yoga poses that can help alleviate migraines:
Child's Pose (Balasana): This is a gentle forward bend that helps to calm the mind and reduce stress. It can also help to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders, which are common trigger points for migraines.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): This pose is a gentle inversion that helps to improve circulation to the brain and reduce tension in the neck and shoulders. It can also help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana): This pose is a deep forward bend that can help to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders, while also calming the mind and reducing stress.
Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana): This pose is a seated forward bend that can help to stretch the neck and shoulders, while also providing a gentle inversion to improve circulation to the brain.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana): This pose is a gentle backbend that can help to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders, while also providing a deep stretch for the hips and groin.
Legs up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani): This is a gentle inversion that can help to improve circulation to the brain, while also relieving tension in the neck and shoulders. It can also help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Breathwork & Mudras
In addition to yoga postures, slow, deep breathing is one of the most successful techniques to reduce stress. It also has the best outcome for helping treat migraines and headaches.
When you’re stressed, the tension creates inflammation, which contributes to migraine symptoms. Controlled, deep breathing and relaxation techniques reduce the stress response, reducing inflammation. Deep breathing also enhances the relaxation effect on your body.
Relaxation relieves muscle tension from the neck and shoulders, where many migraines and tension headaches start.
Deep, controlled breathing also offers these benefits:
It calms your nervous system.
It improves your respiratory system.
It elevates your digestive system.
It releases tense muscles.
It improves your ability to absorb information, concentrate, and memorize.
It enhances your creativity and passion.
Deep Rhythmic Breathing
Place both hands on your belly button and focus on breathing into that spot.
Take a deep breath through your nose and feel your lungs slowly expand as you count to five in your head.
Release and exhale slowly through your nose, counting to five.
Inhale for four seconds
Exhale for four seconds
Repeat for a minimum of 60 seconds
Inhale while imagining the air going down your windpipe and into your lungs, filling them.
Imagine you take in all the peacefulness and calm as you breathe in.
Exhale while imagining the tension leaving your body.
Repeat for five to ten minutes.
Deep, deliberate breathing introduces more oxygen into your brain and removes carbon dioxide. More oxygen relieves inflammation that can trigger migraines. When you feel an attack coming on, deep breathing could help stop it or reduce the misery.
There are also a number of great hand mudras you can try. Here are two of my favorite.
Mahasirs mudra is also called the ‘Great Head‘ mudra. It helps in stabilizing the congested energy.
Emotional stress and tension accumulate the energy in the head which becomes excess to stay normal with. Practicing Mahasirsa mudra distributes the piled up energy throughout the body results in the soothing and calming effect overhead.
To do Mahasirs Mudra,
Sit in comfortable seat (in a chair or cross-legged)
Now, touch the index, middle, and thumb finger to each other and bring down the ring finger to touch the folds of the thumb while extending the little finger.
Focus on deep breathing as well.
Practice 20 to 25 minutes, two or three times a day.
Mahsirs mudra helps in balances those earth elements due to which the body is suffering in whatever way. Hence, it cures the headache. This mudra also helps in sinus problems.
Gyan means ‘knowledge’ and mudra means ‘Gesture or seal’. It is also known as ‘Vayu vardhak Mudra’ (air element enhancer). An increase in air element helps in harnessing brainpower and cure headaches.
Practitioners with the condition of disturbed mental state, stress, tension, headache, migraine, etc can get relief on the regular practice of this mudra. Gyana Mudra stimulates the root chakra, which gives the feeling of groundedness and encourages stress-free feeling.
To do Gyan Mudra,
Sit in comfortable seat (in a chair or cross-legged)
Now, place your hand on your thighs. Fold index finger and touch it to the tip of the thumb finger.
Hold the position while focusing on deep breathing.
Practice this mudra for 20 to 30 minutes daily for the optimum benefits.
Give it a Try
Yoga has been an incredible source of support and relief to me throughout my life. It has allowed me to manage the intensity and frequency of migraine attacks in a sustainable way.
For those who also suffer from migraines, I encourage you to try out some of these yoga practices for yourself and see how you feel - it could be the key to finding lasting relief from your migraine pain. With regular practice, you can learn how to develop healthy habits with your body that will help you find balance and freedom from any negative effects caused by migraines in the long term.
Yoga can be a powerful aid for those suffering from migraine attacks, if not a public health strategy. Not only can it support reduction in intensity and frequency of migraines, but also help build strong connections within the body to better prepare it for potential attacks before they begin.
Join Us - Yoga for Migraine and Headache Relief and Prevention (4 Week Yoga Therapy Groups)
In this workshop, you will develop pain management skills to calm your nervous system and stay ahead of pain patterns. You will learn postures and activities that address nausea and discomfort during a headache and release tension in the neck, jaw, face & shoulders.
Healing can sometimes be confusing because each practitioner is different and pain situations can be complex. Yet, Yoga is a pathway to hope and vitality. Through Yoga, there are clues and practices that can support you to find pathways to healing.
Mayuri has applied these strategies herself to bounce back from debilitating migraines and enjoys helping practitioners develop a toolbox of asana and pranayama that encourage independence with healing techniques. Once a practitioner has tools, feelings of helplessness transform into knowledge and then mending and living can begin.
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Robbins MS. Diagnosis and management of headache: a review. JAMA. 2021;325(18):1874-1885. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.1640
Nayar D, Mahapatro M, Nayar P. Role of Yoga as an Adjunct in the Management of Migraine Headache-Current Status and Future Indications. Int J Yoga. 2022 Jan-Apr;15(1):12-18. doi: 10.4103/ijoy.ijoy_173_21. Epub 2022 Mar 21. PMID: 35444373; PMCID: PMC9015090.
Ailani J, Lipton RB, Goadsby PJ, et al. Atogepant for the preventive treatment of migraine. N Engl J Med. 2021;385(8):695-706. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2035908