Melting Your Migraine Pain with Yoga
by Jana Beeman, CHHP, CHT, CYI
For those of us who suffer with migraine pain, exercise can often make the pain even more intense, rather than helping it go away. But… yoga, done specifically for migraines, can be different.
I have been a migraine sufferer for 45 years, with bad pain at least 20 days a month. I have also been a professional dancer, and as such, exercise is an essential part of every day for me. On those migraine days, I would load up on drugs and suffer through the pain, often being so bad by the end of the day, I would have to get a shot or take an even stronger drug to make me sleep. Back in the early days, I didn’t know there were other things that would help. My doctors did their best with drugs, but no one ever talked to me about migraine triggers or any of those things chronic migraine sufferers know about now. So… I experimented.
One of the most obvious places to start was exercise. I was teaching yoga several nights a week in addition to rehearsals and performance, so I started paying attention to what moves created what response in my body, especially with yoga, which I could more easily change to work with my energy in the moment.
Inversions were excruciating, causing my blood to rush to my head – not something you want with a migraine, and would take way too long to recover from, so those were the first to eliminate.
Down dog is always a favorite stretch, so I took it to the wall in order to keep it in the practice. Over the years I have modified other moves to keep them in and have come up with a basic migraine-releasing yoga practice. Not only does it allow you to work out when you have a migraine or bad headache, but it can actually ease the pain or let it go altogether.
Here are a few tips for creating your own migraine melting practice:
- First, make yourself a fragrant, caffeinated cup of tea and sip on it throughout your practice. The caffeine will actually help the headache and the fragrance can be very soothing. I personally like a Vanilla Chai or something spicy. If you need drugs to get by then take them, but you’ll find you can do without the drugs more and more with this practice, and the caffeinated tea helps them work better and faster.
- Lower the lights in your yoga space. If you want to use candles, that’s fine, but use either large candles with sunken wicks or move them out of your direct line of vision and have other soft light in addition. Remember bright lights, even candle flames, can spike a headache, so gentle or diffused light is perfect.
- If you can tolerate fragrances, add a drop of essential oil to your candles but avoid overdoing.
- Use your favorite zen yoga music – the mellower the better. You want it loud enough to immerse yourself in, but not so loud it disturbs you.
- Start cross-legged on your mat, eyes closed, focusing on deep breathing. Don’t try for tricky or fast breaths, just slow, deep belly breaths. You want to keep the blood pressure and heart rate down.
- Throughout your practice, focus on elongating the spine on inhale, releasing the muscles on exhale. Relax deeply into the stretch and move slowly between poses.
- Do all the neck releases at least twice on each side very slowly: Head drop front, lift chin and reach up, ear to the shoulder on each side, head rolls from side to side slowly (do a bunch of these – they really help).
- Shoulder rolls back, really pulling back so that the shoulder blades pick up from the ribcage, moving very slow, the rolling to the front – do at least 8 – 12 in each direction. This also activates trigger point therapy through your shoulders by releasing the tension of the scapula (shoulder blades) against the ribs. This move alone can help a headache.
Choose mat stretches that are not intense, but expand and breathe deeply into the ones you do. Some of the ones I like best include:
- Seated chest openers
- Side stretches
- Cross-leg forward fold
- Seated twists
- Extended forward fold
- Spinal balance (as long as it’s not too challenging for your headache)
- Kneeling camel
- Extended side angle (kneeling)
- Pigeon with the upper body lifted
- Kneeling lunge
Again, moving slowly, taking 3 – 4 big breaths through each movement, repeating anything that feels good, moving past anything that doesn’t. You’ll find the moves that work best for you as you work through it. Make it more about stretching and breathing than hard work – hard work will almost always spike your migraine.
Avoid any lying down stretches with legs over the heart level, as this will also spike your blood pressure unless you are moving out of the migraine phase. You can experiment with Legs Up the Wall – sometimes it’s fine because it’s passive, but other times it may be too much increased circulation. Instead, do more seated butterflies, balancing half lotus, etc. and do savasana in a seated position or elevate the head slightly using a wedge bolster. Never prop the head up alone – this stress on the neck can make a migraine worse.
For me, a good, restorative yoga routine that is slow, stretchy, breath-centric and takes into consideration the moves that can make migraine worse is the best way to get rid of a headache. I used to dread teaching on migraine nights, but now, I actually enjoy it, and my students get that extra-meditative class as well. I usually close with a guided meditation through savasana. I let my students know I suffer from migraines and that if they have one, come to class anyway and let me know, and we’ll go super gentle and stretchy. I give them permission to opt out of anything too challenging and give them some options to go back to, and also mention if something feels especially good, they can stay there as long as they’d like or go back to that pose at any time. Everyone enjoys it – they may not get as much work, but their body gets an intense release of tension and stress, and we all need that.
Twenty million people experience a migraine on any given day. Knowing what to do to reduce that pain can make a huge difference in their quality of life – I know it has with mine. Please forward this article to your friends who get migraines and let’s help as many people as possible get closer to a pain-free life.
|Jana Beeman is a Board Certified Health, Nutrition and Fitness Counselor, Certified Yoga and Modified Yoga Instructor, certified in Hypnosis, meditation and stress relief trainer and a specialist in chronic migraine pain relief, food allergies and inflammation. AADP Certified. She is a national speaker and is regularly featured on radio programs such as Spirit Radio, Women’s Radio and SQR-fm as well as her own podcasts, newsletters and blog. Her website, www.balancedlifetoday.com gives information on her programs. Visit www.balancedlifetoday.com/migraines.htm for information on her migraine programs and to sign up for her free Migraine Management Newsletter with more informative articles and great tips on migraine control. She offers frequent teleseminars, podcasts and presentations at your location are available. Free 30-minute consultations about her program and how it might help you with your migraines or other health issues are available on a limited basis. Call (360) 263-5800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more of her articles her experts page on SelfGrowth.com at http://www.selfgrowth.com/experts/jana_beeman.
Permission is granted to reprint this article in its entirety including all contact information. All rights reserved. May 2011.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Health care decisions should be made in partnership with a qualified health care professional. The contents of this article are based upon the opinions of Jana Beeman unless otherwise noted. The information provided is for entertainment purposes only and Jana Beeman will not diagnose, treat or cure in any manner whatsoever any disease, condition or other physical or mental ailment of the human body.