Changing The Way We Experience A Migraine Through Yoga

If you’ve ever had one, you know getting a migraine is the worst. On the outside, a person looks and seems perfectly fine, but on the inside, it can feel like a screw, slowly searing its way through your skull.

As graphic as that might sound, migraines are considered the world’s 7th most disabling illness in the world and sufferers usually describe pain so bad, it’s crippling.

They can last from 2 hours to 3 days, and are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Warning symptoms known as aura may occur before or with the headache, according to the Mayo Clinic.

I suffered from migraines with auras since I was 12-years-old. I have tried every onset medication, which is what you take when you start to feel a migraine coming on, but I still suffered from migraines multiple times a week, every month, for over a decade. Even as a competitive athlete who regularly weight trained and consistently ran, nothing truly worked.

It wasn’t until I turned 24-years-old that I was able to change the way I experience my migraines through yoga. I only started, routinely, a year ago, but I already feel the difference. My migraines don’t last as long and aren’t nearly as painful.

THE SCIENCE BEHIND YOGA AND MIGRAINES

Deep breathing techniques, like those used in Yoga, have been proven to regulate blood pressure and be effective at managing chronic headaches.

Also, a 2011 study conducted in Sweden found that 40 minutes of exercising, at least three times a week over just a three month period, can be a preventative treatment for migraines in patients who do not benefit from or do not want to take daily medication.

DOWNWARD DOGGING MY WAY THROUGH EXTREME HEAD PAIN

I started routinely attending Yoga classes after I graduated college and was no longer competing in a high impact sport. The more yoga I practiced, the less frequent and prolonged my head pain became.

Turns out, I’m not the only one to find Yoga to be good at helping me manage my migraines. A consistent yoga practice 5 days a week for six weeks has proven to be effective in decreasing the frequency and severity of migraines as well as dependency on medications.

I was always fighting the migraine. Trying to squeeze the pain right out of my pores. But then I stopped. My yoga practice taught me to breath into the spaces where I have pain.

YOGA POSES DURING A MIGRAINE

There are currently no studies mapping exact yoga poses that are beneficial while you are experiencing a migraine, only that routine yoga practice may have therapeutic benefits for neurological conditions like migraines. I do, however, have 5 favorite poses that help provide head pain relief while I’m having a migraine. They also help me focus on breathing.

  • Viparita Karani (aka legs-up-the-wall pose): Lay down flat on your back on the floor with your butt up against a wall. Allow the bottom of your legs to press flat against the wall, as if the wall was the floor and you are sitting in an L position.  
  • Balasana (aka child’s pose): Kneeling down, body bent over your knees, with hands on the ground in front of you. Palms down.
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (aka downward dog pose): Hands and balls of feet firmly planted on the ground with hips pressed up into the air. Hand and feet distance slightly closer than that of a plank position. With Arms fully extended, work on pressing shoulder blades and chest towards the floor. Your view should be between your feet.
  • Setu Bandha (aka bridge pose): Back on the ground with hips lifted and feet planted on ground with knees bent.
  • Savasana (aka corpse pose): Allow full body including your head to rest on the floor. Allow arms and legs to be comfortably extended into a relaxed x. If uncomfortable for lower back, try placing a pillow underneath knees.

Not familiar with these poses? Don’t worry. You can search all poses from A to Z on the Yoga journal’s website here.

MY VISUALIZING BREATHING TECHNIQUE DURING A MIGRAINE

When I’m experiencing a migraine, I use the 4-7-8 breathing technique, and focus on visualizing my breaths going into where my head pain is. When my mind wanders and focuses on the pain and then I lose count, I just start again. And again. And again.

Routine yoga practice is proven to improve cardiorespiratory performance, making the 4-7-8 technique easier to master.

I don’t necessarily always go into yoga poses or stick to the 4-7-8 technique during my migraines, but I am constantly focused on taking deep breaths and visualizing my breath moving and relaxing the crux of my head tension. This would be the spot where I used to imagine a screw moving through my head, but now I imagine just a tight ball of stringy tangled muscles.  

YOGA ESPECIALLY BENEFICIAL TO WOMEN WHO SUFFER FROM MIGRAINES

A study published earlier this year looked at more than 100,000 US women who reported suffering from migraine headaches. The study showed that 50% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and possibly dying from a heart attack or stroke.  

Yoga has been shown to have several beneficial effects on cardiovascular systems, making it especially good for women who are migraine sufferers.

YOUR MEDICATIONS MAY BE MAKING YOUR MIGRAINES WORSE

I’ve tried every medication under the sun, and most of them just made my migraines even worse and more frequent. Unfortunately there is currently no cure for migraines, and the medications we do have, are actually giving a lot more people even more headaches.

Research has shown that up to 50% of chronic migraine sufferers in the U.S. overuse headache medications, which means 2 million people are getting more frequent and severe head pain from their migraine medications.

The best part about a routine Yoga practice is that it is a side-effect free method for curbing migraine pains that has been shown to have countless benefits for body and mind, according to the NIH.

MIGRAINES AND MY PRACTICE HAVE MADE ME MORE GRATEFUL

There is no other way for me to say this, migraines are the worst. You never know how long they’ll last, when they’ll hit, and what exactly causes them, but I have found a silver lining.

It’s taken me over a decade of suffering through chronic migraines, but I now take some comfort in the humanizing effect they have on me. It makes me immensely grateful for my health outside of my now occasional episodes of vascular head pain.

YOU CAN FIND FREE YOGA ONLINE

Want to try yoga but you are intimidated by group workout classes or are trying to budget? There are websites that offer free streaming yoga videos that you can view on a smartphone, tablet, or computer. I personally love Do Yoga With Me’s  selection of classes.

It might seem simple, but give yoga a try. And remember to focus on the breath.

 

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