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Frequent Headaches? Studies Show Yoga Can Help.

16 Jun

I admit that I am one of those lucky people who almost never get headaches, and when I do I can always pin point the culprit (dehydration, hormones, too much sugar, etc). But I know many others who aren’t so fortunate, so I want to provide a yoga sequence that is proven to be effective for headache sufferers of all kinds. Keep in mind this sequence is for all levels, so even if you have never set foot on a yoga mat, this sequence is appropriate for you. I encourage you to do this when you feel a headache coming on rather than waiting for it to get bad, but it will still be helpful even if you practice in your headache’s midst.

Poses to avoid would be any where your heart is below your head (inversions) other than Viparita Karani, which is shown in the photo below. That includes Downward Dog and Shoulderstand.

1. Begin by laying on your back in Savasana, aka Corpse Pose. If you don’t have a yoga mat, doing this on a softish surface such as carpet or grass is fine. Create a bit of space between your arms and your body, and allow your palms to face up towards the sky. Have your legs extended long, and allow them to part naturally with your feet comfortably rolling out to the side. Close your eyes and begin to deepen your inhales and lengthen your exhales, breathing in and out through your nose. Stay here for at least 15 breaths before moving on.

2. Gently roll to your right, and make your way up to all-fours. One of the biggest causes of headaches is muscle tension, primarily in the neck and shoulders, so we will use Cat Pose to loosen up these areas. Take an inhale with a neutral spine, and on your exhale, round your back and draw your navel in as you gently draw your gaze to your belly. Make sure your shoulders move away from your ears and you lengthen the back of your neck. Inhale to a neutral spine, and exhale back to Cat Pose. Repeat this movement using the rhythm of your own breath for 10-15 rounds.

3. Come to a seated position, and gently lower to your back for Bridge Pose. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor hip distance apart, and walk your heels towards your sitting bones. Make sure your feet are directly below your knees and parallel to one another. Press your palms into the mat as you gently lift your hips and pelvis away from the floor. Keep your buttocks soft and spiral your inner thighs towards the floor. Begin to roll your shoulders underneath you to create space across your chest, and if it feels okay you can interlace your hands. Hold for 5-7 breaths and release.

4. Come back to a comfortable seated position. You may want to sit up on blankets or pillows to get your hips above your knees, or sit up against a wall for extra support. For the next several moments you are going to practice Alternate Nostril Breathing, an exercise that calms the nervous system and promotes a sense of well-being and relaxation, both of which are proven methods of reducing headaches. Place your left hand in your lap, and bring your right hand towards your face. Extend your thumb and pinky finger, and close off your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it off and exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril, close it, then exhale through your left nostril. That is one cycle. Repeat 3-5 times.

5. Move to the wall if you haven’t already for Legs Up the Wall Pose. Sit with your  left hip against the wall, then swing your legs up and overhead so that they and your buttocks make contact with the wall. Your feet can stay together or separated, whatever feels most comfortable to you. Extend your arms down by your sides and about six inches away from your body with your palms facing up. Stay here for at least five minutes. Either finish your practice here or make your way back to Corpse Pose.