The next time a headache hits you, before reaching for those pain pills, try popping some yoga poses for headache relief instead! Headaches and migraines often come at the most inconvenient times in life… the day of a big presentation, the night before a final exam, or even right in the middle of a toddler tantrum.
Unfortunately, anyone who suffers from chronic migraines or tension headaches, also knows all too well how headaches and migraines can bring life (and your productivity) to a screeching halt. But new studies are coming out showing that a regular yoga practice may be able to help change that. Keep reading to find out why and which proven poses you should try adding to add to your exercise routine!
Pain relievers only help about 50% of headache sufferers
According to this three-month study published in 2020, only half of the patients who suffered headaches had luck finding relief with medication alone. Those that added yoga into the mix found more success in getting relief from their headaches and migraines. And there’s a good reason for that. Yoga helps manage many common headache triggers.
So while doctors struggle to pinpoint what causes each and every headache, we some common triggers include anxiety, exhaustion, muscle tension, sensory overload, and stress… which is likely why more people have been turning to yoga for help.
Related: What’s Your Headache Telling You?
How to get started with yoga for headache relief
The wonderful thing about yoga is that it requires very little equipment to get started. If you have access to a yoga mat, blocks, or a bolster, that is a wonderful start. If those props aren’t available to you, just grab a spot on the floor, a stack of books, a couple of pillows, and a quiet spot in your house.
While you can practice yoga on your own at home, it is always recommended to seek the guidance of a skilled teacher. Some great options to find yoga classes near you include:
- Yoga Studios
- Fitness Centers
- Recreational Centers
- Online Classes (some you can even do for free from home)
Always start your yoga session with breath practice
Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose, slowly counting to 4. Feel the air filling your lungs. Hold your breath here and slowly count to 4 again. Try not to clamp your airways shut. Simply avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 counts. Slowly exhale to the count of 4. Hold the exhale for another 4 counts. Repeat steps 1-4 for 4 minutes or until you feel calm and centered.
Once you are feeling centered in your breath, begin exploring these five basic postures that are designed to gently stretch and open the areas in your body (such as your neck, shoulders or back), while circulating blood to your head. The poses suggested here are to be practiced in a restorative (supported) nature to provide extra comfort and relaxation. The idea is to incorporate these into your life to reduce stress and reduce the frequency of your headaches.
5 yoga poses for headache relief
At the center of every good yoga practice is the breath. Begin your yoga practice with a breath practice (pranayama) to begin settling your mind. Box Breathing is an easy and accessible way to begin this practice.
1) Try Neck Stretches to relieve tension headaches.
Since the neck is often the culprit of tension headaches, it’s important to stretch it out with a basic yoga exercise. All you need to do is:
- Sit in a comfortable position, ensuring that your spine is straight and your neck lengthened.
- Place your left hand on the right side of your head and gently tilt your head to the left.
- Hold for a few breaths and then slowly switch sides.
- Repeat on both sides a few times to reduce the intensity of the headache.
2) Use Child’s Pose to reduce stress and ease migraines.
This pose calms the nervous system and is a great stress buster. Try this pose to reduce your next headache.
- Begin on all fours in a tabletop position.
- Lower your hips toward your heels, resting your chest onto your thighs and stretch your forearms out in front of you to rest on the earth.
- If you have a mat, try gently massaging your forehead on your mat to relieve pressure in your head.
VARIATION: Take knees wide and place a bolster or pillow vertically between the thighs. Rest the chest along the length of the bolster with the head turned to one side or forehead down.
3) Practice Downward Dog for headache relief.
Also known as the Downward Facing Dog Pose, this is one of yoga’s most widely recognized poses. This beginner-friendly asana helps get rid of fatigue, back pain, and stiffness from sitting all day by stretching the hamstrings, 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.
- “Begin on all fours, with your wrists in line with your shoulders and toes tucked.
- On your exhale, lift your hips up and back. Feel free to peddle out the feet to get settled or keep your knees slightly bent if you have tight hamstrings.
- Engage your arms, while trying to keep your shoulders away from your ears.
- Take five slow steady breaths, lower your knees and when you’re ready, begin again.
4) Calm the mind with a Standing Forward Bend.
A forward bend calms the mind. It also boosts blood supply to the brain and decreases anxiety.
- Standing nice and tall, take a big inhale.
- On the exhale breath, hinge at the hips and fold forward.
- Knees can remain bent and chest resting on the tops of thighs if your hamstrings are feeling tight.
Variation: For a more restorative pose, support the crown of your head with a block, bolster, or hands on the chair.
5) End with Corpse Pose to help restore calm.
Savasana, or corpse pose, is the ultimate resting pose. Play around with finding a position that truly helps you settle.The essence of Savasana is to relax with attention. That means you’re going to remain conscious and alert while still being at ease.
- Lie on your back.
- Extend your legs out long, hip-width apart.
- Allow your arms and hands to rest at a comfortable distance from your torso.
- Once you settle, close your eyes and spend 5 minutes here taking long and slow breaths.
- To return to a seated position, slowly roll to your right and hold the fetal position for 3 breaths before rising up.
Variation: To make it more comfortable, try any of the following: Place a bolster or pillows under your knees, a blanket under your head, or a cloth over your eyes.
Ready to these yoga poses a try for headache relief?
Before starting any new exercises, however, it’s always best to check with your local AlignLife chiropractor or health provider to make sure you’re incorporating the exercises that will work best for you. Thankfully, yoga poses are exercises most doctors will approve as a great, low-impact way to build core strength, stretch and straighten your spine, as well as help you find relief from those unwanted aches, pains, and headaches.