One of my students has asked me to research the use of yoga for migraines. Everything I have found is positive. Even if yoga was not specifically mentioned as a treatment or preventative, it's components, like breathing and muscle relaxation, were.
To start, I found some great websites about migraines. The U.S. Department on Health and Human Services has a great article that answers common questions about migraines. The May Clinic has and article that discusses symptoms, disease process, triggers, complications and treatment. Livestrong also has many resources related to migraines and headaches. See the resource list below.
Migraines and headaches are triggered by many sources. The practice of yoga can ease the sources, preventing or lessening headaches (in strength and frequency) and ease symptoms once a headache starts.
Benefits of Yoga:
Breathing (Pranayama): Yoga practice includes time for breathing which may relax our body, releasing tension and bringing us to a quieter place.
Mudras: Yoga includes mudras, which are hand postures, that relax our shoulder/neck area releasing tension and easing pain. The "gesture of the great head" is a mudra that along with breathing may ease headaches.
Self Awareness: As we participate in yoga, we become more aware of our bodies - how they move, react and feel. With this increased awareness we are better able to sense the signs of an impending headache. We can then participate in preventative actions. We will also be able to tell our medical practitioners more about our headaches - how they begin, and what triggers them.
Relaxation: Relaxation is an important part of preventing and relieving headaches. It eases tension, allows us to power down and makes us more resilient to life's challenges. Svasana, resting pose, is a great example of relaxation in yoga. During svasana we are turning ourselves away from our daily routines, in a quiet and darkened room giving us a deep sense of rest.
Posture: In yoga we learn posture and body alignment. Improved alignment and relaxation of shoulders, neck and head will ease tension and put less pressure on those muscles that otherwise might cause headaches.
There are a few things to be aware of in yoga practice that might instigate headaches or make them worse. When in a yoga posture, avoid hyper extending the neck. Instead extend out through the crown of the head. "Cobra" is a good example of a pose where there is a tendency to hyperextend the neck. Some references said to avoid downward facing poses (downward facing dog) during headaches, others said it was okay. So it's probably good to listen to your body. Yoga as Medicine suggests being careful when using pranayama (breathing) with "long retentions of the breath and with fixed ratios of time spent inhaling and exhaling." They also stated using vigorous breath practices like Bhastrika breath could be problematic.
Poses: Restorative and more meditative postures are most helpful with headache prevention. For example, "feet up the wall" with a bolster under the hips. It may be hard to jump right into a practice of restorative poses, after a busy day, so it is suggested to do more active asana first, then move into a relaxing, quiet practice. When a headache is present, doing a quiet, meditative practice may be best.
In the end it is important to listen to your body, work with your medical practitioners, do a little research, find a yoga teacher you feel comfortable with and work out what is best for you. Below is a list of references that you might find helpful.
"On a Roll" www.yogajournal.com - how to 'melt' tightness and headache relief
"Migraine - Frequently Asked Questions" www.womanshealth.gov - Dept. of Health and Human Services
Yoga as Medicine by Timothy McCall MD www.yogajournal.com
Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lillian LePage
Yoga Benefit #17 in Yoga as Medicine - Yoga Strengthens Bones!
Woman who have osteoporosis or osteopenia are usually advised by healthcare providers to participate in weight bearing activities as long as they are physically able. Standing yoga poses, such as warrior II, require weight bearing in our legs.
Most other forms of exercise do not put weight on the wrist, a frequent location of osteoporotic fractures. Poses such ass Downward Facing Dog and arm balances do put weight on wrists.
Excess amounts of the stress hormone cortisol decreases bone formation and increases its breakdown. According to Yoga as Medicine yoga has the ability to lower levels of cortisol and therefore may help keep calcium in our bones.
So it seems that yoga is just what the doctor ordered!!
Tonight we had great yoga at Gleason Y. One of the students shared her yoga story with me. Linda, who is close to 60, said she fell while out with friends. She was so amazed at how quickly she was able to get up after the fall. Linda attributes her fast reaction to her yoga practice! Keep up the good work
A student shared a story about her use of "the cooling breath." Apparently, Sonia works out in the gym using the exercise machines. She has noticed that the breathing done during the workout irritates her throat. So, Sonia tried using the coolness breath. As she breaths in, she purses her lips and exhales through her nose! No irritated throat with this method. Great job Sonia!
Recently I was asked by a student to talk about yoga and migraines. So I have done some research. This blog entry is about the Mahashirsha Mudra "Gesture of the Great Head" that is for headache and tension relief (according to Mudras for Healing and Transformation.) This mudra helps relieve tension around the face, jaw an eyes which may provide relief from tension headaches. It may also ease symptoms from TMJ dysfunction. This mudra is also know for "instilling a sense of release" and helps us "let go of worry and anxiety". This release and letting go may also help headaches especially those that come from an anxious, tight mind and body.
How to: Tuck your ring fingers into your palms. Bring the tip of your thumb to the tips of the index and middle fingers. Extend your little fingers out as much as possible. Rest your hands in your lap with palms facing upward. Relax your shoulders back and down with your crown towards the ceiling. Concentrate on your breathing, especially on your exhale. Mudras for Healing and Transformation suggests the following verse to say while holding this mudra: "My exhaling breath allows me to release stress and tension from my entire body."
Please let me know how this works for you!
I have not been able to blog for a bit...but during that time I had a few experiences of "being present." In yoga we talk about being present to life. In other words being present to what goes on around us(people, ourselves, environment, experiences...) and not being occupied with our thoughts, worries, cell phones, and all.
Last week I went to the pet store to get some cat litter for Neely. On my way back to the front of the store,(read a fast walk) I walked by the cages of small animals. A turtle caught my eye. I stopped (from my rush) and watched a turtle eat a piece of leaf. It looked like she was having a hard time eating...she had no way to hold onto the leaf as she munched. The leaf fell out of her mouth and fell down into the rocks. Watching that turtle made me think about how hard some animals, like the turtle, have eating. I felt glad to be a mammal and have 2 hands to help me hold my food. The turtle seemed to be ok with loosing the leaf and even seemed to wear a smile like the turtle in this picture. This experience with the turtle also made me wonder what else I miss as I run around trying to get stuff done?
A few days later I shut the front screen door behind me with usual inattention, thinking about my next steps, when a spot of orange caught my eye. It was a small butterfly on the outside of the screen with wings spread. I spent the next minutes looking at this wonderful creature, noting its coloring and details. It was great!
I still have a long ways to go, but now want to work on my yoga and being present to myself and others.
I enjoy yoga as it brings peace to my life. Teaching yoga has brought joy to my life and given me a chance to encourage others in learning yoga.