I mean it- I’ve dealt with headaches my entire adult life and I haven’t found anything yet that helps as consistently and regularly as yoga for relieving and preventing headaches.
Many headaches are caused by tension- life gets stressful, your muscles tighten up in your neck and shoulders and the next thing you know- BOOM< BOOM< BOOM – you’re got a headache that just won’t let up! You grab the Excedrin, the aspirin, the Motrin- but nothing comes close to the throbbing. If you’re like me and the muscle pain isn’t abated, you wind up in bed with a migraine for the next two days. If you’ve ever suffered from a migraine, you know the drill: lights, sounds, smells, movement- any and all of these triggers will cause excruciating pain, dizziness and nausea. You’re not going anywhere now, until the headache runs its course.
So how can yoga help with headaches/ Simple- according to Dr. Tomas Brofeldt, M.D. at the University of California’s Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, CA, as many as 75 % of all headaches stem from muscle tension in the back of the neck and are related to poor posture.
Many of us, and particularly those who tend to suffer frequent headaches, tend to hold our heads too far forward. This is especially true in people with rounded shoulders.
Because the muscles in the neck and the upper back are not held in proper alignment, they become overworked and fatigued. This fatigue can lead to a muscle spasm, much like a charlie horse in the calf of your leg. The muscle spasm causes constriction of the blood vessels, which is what causes your headache. If the muscle spasm isn’t relieved, the lack of blood flow begins to starve the muscle cells, which will cause certain chemicals to be released to force the blood vessels open. This is the point where you headache becomes a migraine. The pain and accompanying nausea and sensitivity to light and sound will eventually force your body to fall into a deep stage of sleep called "delta sleep." Delta sleep is a deep state of total relaxation, which allows the muscles to relax and resume proper blood flow and nutrition to the cells.
Just as we need to stretch out the calf muscles when we get a charlie horse in our leg, we also need to stretch out the muscles in our upper back and neck to relieve the muscle strain there. Learning to hold our head and neck in proper alignment will prevent the muscle strain that leads to frequent headaches and migraines. Yoga is all about stretching the muscles and holding our bodies in proper alignment, making it an ideal solution for this problem. The best postures are those that open up the chest, roll back the shoulders and keep the head on the midline. While these positions are important throughout your yoga routine, one posture that is particularly well suited to help with this is the Downward Facing Dog pose, which we discussed before.
Another pose that can be beneficial to stretching those "headache muscles" is the Bridge Pose. Lie on your back and use a folded blanket under your shoulders for support, if needed. Bend your knees and put your feet on the floor. Your heels should be as close to your hips as possible. Exhale and press the insides of your feet and your arms deep into the floor as you push your tailbone up toward the pelvis and tighten your bottom as you lift it up off the floor. Now clasp your hands together underneath your pelvis and extend through your arms. Lift your bottom up until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Your knees should be directly over your heels, but push them forward- away from your hips. Lengthen out your tailbone toward the back of your knees and lift your pubis toward the belly button.
Lift your chin away from your sternum and tighten up the shoulder blades against your back. Now press your sternum up toward the chin, firm up your outer arms, let your shoulder blades broaden and try to lift the space between your shoulder blades up into the torso. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Exhale as you release and return to the floor.
This sounds a bit complicated, but it really isn’t. It gives you a great stretch in your shoulder blades, chest, neck and spine. It calms your brain and helps reduce your headache. Practicing both the Bridge Pose and Downward Facing Dog on a regular basis can help keep the chest, back and neck areas aligned and stretched, which will help avoid those nasty headaches in the first place.