As a migraineur, you will already know about all the painful and often debilitating symptoms that come with various types of headaches and migraines. While there’s no doubt that you have tried several different kinds of treatment for your condition, have you ever tried yoga for migraines?
Many people have heard about yoga, but although it has become popular worldwide, there are still many misconceptions around it, given how broad the practice is. For those who aren’t familiar with it, yoga is a practice that originated in India. It combines several different elements, predominantly breathing, meditation, and physical movements, or postures.
While there aren’t any known studies that directly link the practice of yoga with the elimination of head pain, there is evidence to suggest that it can assist with managing symptoms in the long term.
Since there are many different styles of yoga, teachers, and various kinds of migraines, it can be difficult to know where to turn when it comes to starting a yoga for migraines practice. To help you out, we’ll talk briefly about the different causes of migraines, and explore the various yoga styles, so that you can thoroughly investigate if this is something that might assist you.
Different Causes of Migraines
Migraine attacks occur for various reasons and link to many factors. Some relate to physiology where genetics play a role. In other instances, factors such as smells, physical trauma, and other environmental factors can be triggers. Then there are also triggers linked to diet, exercise, and stress levels which can exacerbate the condition. Overall, migraines are influenced by the neurological functioning of the body, which is apparent when reading more about ocular migraines, for example.
Expanding on this, according to a recent study, migraines have been associated with a malfunctioning of the sympathetic nervous system. In layman’s terms, this means it is linked to our “fight or flight” response. It is the different nervous systems in the body that influence the way that we experience and control certain functions, like heart rate and blood pressure.
When it comes to investigating the link between yoga and migraines, another study showed that in conjunction with conventional care, yoga assisted in “decreasing the sympathetic drive” in the body. The documented results state that yoga therapy led to an improvement in clinical variables, and could be used as adjuvant therapy for the condition. As we’ve briefly discussed, since migraines have a correlation with the functioning of the sympathetic nervous system, and yoga has been shown to help manage it, this forms a basis for further investigating the practice as a useful tool for long-term management.
Therefore, without making any assumptions, linking the two studies above gives us pause to consider the fact that the practice of yoga and yoga therapy could be of help when managing head pain and related symptoms.
Different Types of Yoga
While it seems plausible that yoga could be of benefit when managing pain and related symptoms, it isn’t advised just to start doing any kind of yoga without talking to your doctor or a qualified yoga instructor first. This is because there are many different styles of yoga with varying intensities, some of which could actually aggravate migraines.
For example, “hot yoga” styles performed in a heated room might be too intense for migraine sufferers. This is because the heat might interfere with blood pressure. Also, many of these practices incorporate intense postures that might strain the neck, which is not ideal.
As there are multiple styles of yoga, it can become overwhelming when one starts to look into yoga for migraines. However, hatha yoga and any gentle or restorative practices could be a good place to start. This is because they typically focus more on connecting the body, mind, and breath, which may be beneficial in reducing stress symptoms, and the “fight or flight” response.
So, before you begin any kind of practice, it’s advisable to talk to your doctor. Discuss your specific migraine symptoms and what the various triggers could be. Also, be sure to talk to a qualified yoga teacher before practicing too. Let them know your reason for attendance so that they can guide you to find the right classes, and make any adjustments you might need during a class.
Evidence of Yoga for Treating Migraines
While you probably won’t want to do yoga while experiencing a migraine, as we mentioned above, yoga has been linked to a reduction in sympathetic drive. In turn, this is linked to decreased heart rate and blood pressure. If you think about it, this makes sense. When you’re stressed, your heart rate and blood pressure go up as your body prepares to respond to an emergency. Therefore, this practice can possibly help, especially if stress is an issue for you and one of your migraine triggers.
Without being too vague, additional studies have shown that chronic migraines have a strong correlation to perceived stress. Therefore, by taking time out to do yoga for migraines and destress, you may very well assist yourself in being able to manage this kind of pain in the long term. This is because by managing stress, you may be concurrently managing the symptoms of your condition too.
In addition, yoga is also very focused on teaching breath techniques, including diaphragmatic breathing. This has been shown in studies to “…improve cognitive performance and reduce negative subjective and physiological consequences of stress in healthy adults.” As we all know, proper oxygen intake is essential for the optimal functioning of the body. So it makes sense that this kind of practice could help with managing your overall health and stress levels. Not to mention promote more oxygen flow into the brain too!
With all of the studies we have mentioned in this article, it seems clear that there is some proof that managing stress through practice could help you to manage your symptoms.
How to Start a Yoga for Migraines Practice
Many people start their own yoga practice by following videos online as it is an easy and more affordable option. However, we recommend you first consult with a physician and qualified yoga instructor before attempting any postures on your own.
Yoga sequences are designed to follow a certain pattern. So if you consult with a relevant teacher, it’s possible to create your own sequence; one that you can practice and perfect in your own time.
That said, it may be beneficial to attend classes, especially in the beginning while you are still trying it out. This way, you will have the necessary guidance to help you in and out of postures without straining yourself.
Some Basic Poses and Benefits
This article is more focused on the science behind the benefits of yoga, but just to give you an introduction, here are some poses, or asanas, that you can do when starting out:
This pose is gentle and restorative. It can be done at any time to help relax the nervous system as well as stretch out the lower back muscles.
Start in a kneeling position sitting on your haunches. Slowly bend forward at the waist and make your way down with your arms are stretched out in front of you. Proceed until your forehead and hands are touching the floor. Then close your eyes. This pose helps you to take a break from stimulation and is a gentle pose that can help you relax while taking deep breaths.
Downward Facing Dog
One of the most common and integral postures in a yoga sequence, this pose is great for promoting the circulation of blood to the brain. As you know, better circulation could assist in managing symptoms in the long term. It also helps to release tension in the neck by engaging the shoulders. So, it could be helpful if you suffer from neck tension.
All you need to do is come onto all fours. Then flatten your palms on the floor, and lift your pelvis upwards, creating a triangle shape with your body. Bend your knees if you need to, and enjoy the stretch in the back of your legs.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
While the name might be a bit off-putting, this pose is about lying back and doing nothing. The aim of this posture is to relax the body, but still maintain awareness in the mind without falling asleep.
This is a pose that you will do as part of most guided yoga classes. So it can be beneficial to do when you need to take a break or de-stress. Just lie down on the floor with your arms by your sides, feet flopped out. Then close your eyes and focus on your breath.
Overall, the active practice of yoga forces you to slow down and think about the movements you are doing. Therefore, besides the scientific benefits of lowering the sympathetic drive, perhaps it can also give you more awareness about what is going on in your body.
This type of awareness could possibly assist in understanding your body and therefore your own unique triggers a bit better. It can promote a similar level of awareness as recording your symptoms, actions, and triggers in a headache diary.
While yoga for migraines treatment might not be a cure-all for everyone, we have discussed some of the studies that suggest how partaking in a practice could be beneficial in managing your symptoms when combined with conventional treatment. In addition, we have included some basic postures to help you get started on your journey.
Perhaps with a bit of investigation and practice, you might find this is a tool that will change your life.