5 Yoga Poses for Migraine Headache Relief and Prevention
1. Downward Facing Dog
From hands and knees, straighten legs to make an upside-down V.
Improves circulation to head, open shoulders.
2. Child's Pose
On hands and knees, sit butt back onto heels and rest forehead on floor.
Opens spine and relieves tension.
3. Standing Forward Bend
Standing, reach both arms toward ceiling and dive hards down toward floor.
Opens spine, takes weight off neck and back.
4. Happy Baby Pose
On back with knees bent and feet near butt, hug knees, raise feet to ceiling, relax shoulders.
Relaxes and supports lower back.
5. Simple Seated Twist
Seated on floor, pull knees to chest and slide left foot to touch right hip. With right foot outside left leg, raise hands to ceiling and rest left elbow against right knee, drop right hand to floor behind you. Gently twist, turning head to look over right shoulder.
Stretches and lengthens spine and loosens back.
Can Yoga Help Relieve Migraine Headaches?
Yoga can’t cure a migraine headache that’s already started, but it does work to prevent them and reduce the frequency and intensity.
Yoga can also help to prevent tension headaches, which can turn into migraine headaches. Tension headaches very often originate in tired back muscles. It’s important to understand that the muscles along your spine don’t act in isolation. They function as a chain, and when one muscle in the chain becomes tight and cramped and can no longer function as it needs to, the next muscle in the chain will take up the slack. Since the next muscle in the chain isn’t made to do all of its work plus the work of the adjacent muscles, it will then tighten up and start cramping, just like the last one, and so on down the line. Eventually, like a line of falling dominos, the tension will reach the muscles in your neck and skull and cause a headache.
If you suffer from chronic migraines or tension headaches, yoga can offer some relief by reducing stress, improving circulation, releasing tension in the muscles along the spine, and, if done just before bed, aiding relaxation so that you can get a good night’s sleep.
All of these poses are gentle poses, designed to relax rather than energize. All of them are suitable for beginners, too.
In order to get the full benefit of these poses, remember not to strain for a greater stretch. If you stretch your muscles too far, they’ll respond by trying to contract against the stretch. You want to maintain the pose in proper form and feel a slight stretch, but to still feel comfortable and relaxed.
1. Downward-Facing Dog
Benefits: Improves circulation to the head, opens up the shoulders, lengthens the spine, and stretches the backs of the legs.
Contraindications: If you're suffering from a recent head or brain injury, avoid this pose and others like it which encourage increased circulation to the head.
Begin this pose on your hands and knees on a yoga mat or carpeted floor. Make sure your knees and hands are about hips’ width apart. Curl your toes under and straighten your legs, pushing against the floor with your palms, until your body makes an upside-down ‘V’ shape with your arms and neck in line with your spine.
Pointers for downward-facing dog: While in the pose, rotate your arms slightly inwards towards your head without moving your hands. This will open up your shoulders and upper back a little more.
Keep a nice long, straight line through your spine – no sagging!
Stretch evenly through both your arms and your legs. Don’t favor one over the other.
If you can’t reach the floor with your heels, place a yoga block or thick book underneath them. You want to feel a stretch all along the backs of your legs, but you don’t want to strain.
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2. Child’s Pose
Benefits: Opens the entire spine and relieves tension all over the back and neck.
Begin this pose on your hands and knees. Without moving your hands or feet, sit back so that your butt rests either on or between your heels, whichever is more comfortable. As you sit back, allow your arms to lengthen and your forehead to come to rest on the floor. Rest in this pose for several long, deep breaths, and feel the muscles in your back and neck release.
3. Standing Forward Bend
Benefits: Opens and elongates the spine, stretches the backs of the legs, takes a load off the back and the neck.
Contradictions: As with downward-facing dog, avoid this pose if you've recently suffered a head or brain injury.
Begin this pose from a standing position with your feet hip’s width apart. Reach up towards the ceiling, then sweep your arms down along your sides and gently swan dive down, keeping your legs straight and strong, until the crown of your head is dangling towards the floor. Either release your hands towards the floor or clasp your elbows and let your arms and head dangle, allowing the weight of your torso to draw the tension down and out of your spine.
Pointers for standing forward bend: If you can’t touch the floor with your fingers and feel that you would like to have your hands on something for added stability, put a yoga block, a thick cushion, or a small stool in front of you and rest your hands on that while doing your forward bend.
4. Happy Baby Pose
Benefits: Relaxes and supports the low back, opens the hips, relaxes the shoulders and neck.
Begin this pose reclining on your back with your knees bent and your feet placed near your buttocks. Gently hug your knees in towards your chest, feeling your lower back press into the floor. Then, just as gently, raise your feet so that the soles of your feet face the ceiling, reach up between your feet with the palms of your hands facing out towards your sides, and grasp your feet. Allow your shoulders to relax and let the weight of your arms gently pull your knees down towards your sides and open up your low back.
5. Simple Seated Twist
Benefits: Stretches and lengthens the entire spine, loosens the neck.
Contraindications: This pose is slightly more challenging than the others. If you suffer from chronic back pain, especially if your back pain is related to a traumatic injury, this pose can be beneficial but needs to be approached gently. Don’t push it!
Begin this pose seated on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Pull your knees in to your chest, keeping your feet on the floor. Lower your left knee and slide your left foot back so that it touches your right hip. Your left knee should now be pointing away from you and the sole of your left foot should be touching your right hip.
Now place your right foot on the outside of your left leg, just above your knee, keeping your right knee upright. Raise both hands to the ceiling, keeping your abdominals tight, your shoulders relaxed, and your back straight. Then lower both arms, and as you do so, bring your left elbow to rest against your right knee. Drop your right hand behind you with your palm flat on the floor.
From this position, begin to gently twist, turning your head to look over your right shoulder. With every deep inhalation, lift up a little through the sternum. With every deep exhalation, push just a little more into the twist. You can push your elbow against your knee to help you twist, but always remember not to push to the point of pain or discomfort! Listen to your own body and only go as far as it wants to go.
What is a Migraine Headache?
A migraine is a neurovascular disorder that is characterized by severe headaches. Migraine headaches are often preceded or accompanied by visual disturbances, increased sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and diarrhea. They aren’t fatal, but they sure feel like it.
What Causes Migraines?
It’s uncertain what exactly causes some people to get migraines and others not, but there are common triggers such as:
- Allergic reactions
- Physical or emotional stress
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Alcohol consumption
- Skipping meals
- Hormonal changes
- Tension headaches
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
M on March 31, 2016:
Those poses created worse headaches. I felt pretty sick.
Christopher on December 19, 2014:
Thanks for posting these Tara! I love that you can see Caleb's liltte fat rolls.He always wants to see the picture of the kitty. He points to it and than smiles at himself
Gaarf Rosewell on June 12, 2014:
Thanks, I'm just about to start a yoga session and was looking for a little motivation.