Today a friend of mine was telling me about the terrible headaches she has been experiencing over the past couple of weeks. The kind that make you want to crawl under a blanket and shut out the entire world. This got me thinking about yoga and how it helps with headache relief.
There are all kinds of things that can cause headaches. But they are often related to stress and tension. My friend has been going through some crazy emotional things in her life. Emotional and mental stress often shows up as muscle tension in the physical body. Tightness in the head, neck and shoulder muscles can lead to a feeling of pressure or dull pain in the head.
How can Yoga Help?
Since stress seems to be a big factor in headaches, yoga is an ideal intervention. Dr. Timothy McCall suggests there are two main mechanisms by which yoga helps reduce headaches:
1) Yoga practices, such as deep breathing, asana and meditation, lower stress levels. They make you more resilient to life’s ups and downs and better able to regulate your responses to stress.
2) Yoga postures help reduce muscle tension in the head, neck and back. Releasing tight muscles improves blood flow to these areas. It also helps to relax the mind and reduce the likelihood of a full-blown headache.
It’s not just muscle tightness but also muscle weakness that can be a factor in headaches. Yoga poses help by strengthening muscles, teaching us to use them properly and and improving bad posture.
A regular yoga practice also gets you in tune with your body. For example, you become more aware of how you sit, how you move your body and where you chronically feel tension. You can identify signs of headaches and perhaps prevent them before the pain starts.
When you feel a headache coming on, some gentle, restorative yoga poses can help. I have mentioned a few of my favorites below. You can do the entire sequence or choose one or two postures that feel right.
Do you suffer from headaches? Have your found anything in your yoga practice that works for you? Hit reply to let me know what.
Restorative Yoga Poses to help with Headaches
Hold each pose for 3-5 minutes or as long as is comfortable. As you practice, try to cultivate a quality of softness. Keep your gaze soft. Imagine that the skin around your forehead and eyes is soft and smooth. Focus on letting go of tension and worry. Allow your muscles to soften. Use props (bolsters, blocks and blankets) to support your body so that you can really relax.
Tip: I suggest using a bolster for some of the poses below, If you don’t have one, you can roll up your yoga mat or a couple of blankets or towels.
Supported Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Kneel on the floor with a bolster placed short end towards you. Sit back on your heels. Knees can be wide or closer together. Take a deep inhale, then as you exhale, fold forward and rest your torso on the bolster. Turn your head to one side.
Reclined Butterfly on a Bolster (Supta Badha Konasana)
Place a folded blanket at the top of a bolster. Sit in front of the bolster, facing away from it. Bring your feet together, letting your knees open. You can add a folded blanket or block under each knee for support. Lie back on the bolster and rest your head on the blanket.
Supported Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
Sit on your mat with both legs extended in front of you. Bend one leg at the knee and rest the foot on your opposite inner thigh. Allow the knee to fall open. Place a bolster horizontally in front of you, resting it across your extended leg. Inhale and lengthen your spine up. As you exhale, turn your torso towards the extended leg. and begin to fold forward. Support your forehead and arms on the bolster.
Supported Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Begin lying on your back. Bend your knees so that the soles of your feet are flat on the floor about hips width apart. You should be able to just touch the backs of your heels with your fingertips. Inhale, press down into the soles of the feet. As you exhale, lift your hips off the floor. Slide your yoga block under your sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of your spine). Let your sacrum rest on the block and your arms rest alongside the body.
Legs up the Wall (Vipariti Karani)
Sit next to a wall so that the side of your hip touches it. Bend your knees to your chest. Lower yourself to the floor rolling onto your back so your legs are going up the wall. Relax your shoulders and let your arms rest at your sides, palms up. Soften your belly and breath deeply. Close your eyes. Optional: Place a bolster under your low back.
Lie back on your mat. Stretch your legs out and let your feet fall open. Bring your arms by your side, palms up. Relax into your mat.
Image courtesy of Jarosław Pocztarski