You’re going about your busy day, juggling work, family, and those never-ending chores and errands – and suddenly, boom! You’re hit by a headache. Headaches can attack seemingly out of nowhere and disrupt your life in a major way. Many people who get headaches regularly end up taking medication, which can be expensive, is not always effective, and may come with dangerous side effects.
But what if you could train your body to get fewer headaches? Forward-thinking researchers are looking into natural, lifestyle-oriented solutions for frequent headaches. The good news is that practicing something as simple and accessible as yoga may help much more than medications alone – and all you need is a mat.
Yoga practice can cut migraines by half
A new study published in May 2020 has highlighted the potential of regular yoga to reduce migraines. The study involved 114 people between the ages of 18 and 50, who reported having four to 14 headaches per month. The participants were randomly assigned to two groups: medication-only, or yoga plus medication.
The people in the yoga group were taught a yoga practice that included breathing, relaxation exercises, and yoga postures. They practiced their yoga routine three to five times a week, for a total of three months. While the yoga group received the extra yoga training, both study groups received the appropriate medications and counseling about lifestyle changes that may help with migraines – such as getting adequate sleep, eating regular meals, and exercising.
Throughout the study period, the participants kept a log about how long their headaches lasted, how severe they were, and which medications they took. At the end of the 3-month period, the results showed that the benefit was higher in the yoga group in all areas, including headache frequency, pain intensity, and use of medications.
The yoga group started with an average of 9.1 headaches per month and ended the study reporting just 4.7 headaches per month, which equates to a 48% reduction. In comparison, the medication-only group reported an average of 7.7 headaches per month at the start of the study, and 6.8 at the end of the three months – a 12% decrease.
The regular yoga practice was able to reduce not just the pain and life disruption experienced by the participants, but also the treatment cost of migraines. This could be a game-changer, especially for people who struggle to afford their medication.
Based on this promising study, it could be time to take a detour from your medicine cabinet and head straight to your yoga mat instead.
Yoga poses that help with headaches
Before you get worried about needing to perform anything too acrobatic to lessen your headaches – don’t worry. Here are a few simple, comfortable poses that could make a big difference when practiced regularly over time.
Downward facing dog
This beginner-friendly asana helps get rid of fatigue, back pain, and stiffness from sitting all day by stretching the hamstrings and chest and lengthening the spine. It helps provide additional blood flow to the head – which can often be just the thing to relieve your headache – and leaves you feeling energized.
You can do this pose anywhere you can layout a yoga mat. Come to your hands and knees with the wrists underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips. Curl your toes under and push back through your hands to lift your hips and straighten your legs. Spread your fingers and focus on anchoring down through the forearms into the fingertips. Let your head hang and move your shoulder blades away from your ears towards your hips. Keep your back straight and tailbone high – it’s ok if your knees are slightly bent and heels are raised. Engage your quadriceps strongly to take the burden of your body’s weight off your arms. This action goes a long way toward making this a resting pose. Take deep breaths while practicing this pose, and just let your head hang between your shoulders. Exhale and bend your knees to release and come back to your hands and knees.
Legs up the wall pose
Putting your ‘legs up the wall’ gently stretches the muscles in your neck and allows your spine to relax. This pose could ease your throbbing headache in just a few minutes. Sit on one end of your yoga mat with your right hip touching a wall. Lean back, turn to lie flat on the mat, and extend your legs up the wall. Make sure your bottom is nearly touching the wall and your legs are close together. Put your hands on your belly or rest them on the mat, then close your eyes, relax your jaw and drop your chin slightly. Breathe deeply and slowly in this position for several minutes.
Happy baby pose
In case you think your headache might be stemming from back pain, try the Happy Baby Pose for a quick release of tension in the spine and pelvis. This restorative post will indeed instill a sense of calmness. Lie on your back, bend your knees, and grab hold of the outside edges of your feet. Bring the knees toward the armpits, feeling the stretch through the pelvis. You can slowly rock from side to side to increase the stretch in your hips and lower back and to gently lull your mind into a state of relaxation.
This simple pose goes a long way toward facilitating deeper breathing and relaxation. Sit on your heels and bring your head down to the floor. Stretch your arms out in front, breathe deeply, and allow yourself to settle into the stretch through your back and hips. Hold the pose for 3 to 5 minutes. To release the pose, roll up vertebra by vertebra, with the head coming up last.
Relieve tension, stress, and headaches with yoga
Yoga is a safe, accessible, and cost-free way to ease stress and promote relaxation. In fact, multiple studies have shown that it can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life. These positive shifts can manifest into physical benefits, lessening chronic pain such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Yoga can also lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia.
Other benefits of yoga include:
- Increased flexibility, muscle strength, and balance
- Weight reduction
- Better cardio and circulatory health
- Improved energy, endurance, and athletic performance
- Protection from injury
- Better concentration and mental clarity
Because there are so many different kinds of yoga practices, it is possible for anyone to start. Whether you’re a couch potato or a professional athlete, size and fitness levels do not matter because there are modifications for every yoga pose and beginner classes in every style. It is a great way to get in tune with your body and your inner self – and you might enjoy some major health benefits too.
-The UpWellness Team