As a teenager, I found myself frequently predisposed to developing headaches – awful, uncomfortable, sometimes blinding (literally) migraine headaches. Occasionally, they would become so severe that they would cripple me for entire afternoons, relegating me to bed rest when I needed to be studying or working.
Then I began practicing Yoga. Within a few months of beginning a bi-weekly practice, it dawned on me that I had not suffered a single headache since attending my first class.
I never suffered from another migraine again.
Yoga and Ayurveda – the traditional Indian system of healing – hold that migraines and most other headaches are examples of pitta – in short, the qualities of heat and/or sharpness – trapped in the supraclavicular region of the body. The “trapping” occurs when subtle, low-grade inflammation of the soft tissues and nerves arises, owing to a number of possible causes. Some causes include overuse of the musculature flanking the spine and the shoulders (as in repetitive motion), lifting of heavy objects or weights, sustained poor posture, unusual sleeping habits (i.e. not sleeping face-up), and general distress.
In this installment, we will focus on Yoga asana as a tool to combat headaches. So, how might one go about self-treatment for a chronic or acute headache problem using the principles of Yoga asana?
First and foremost – eliminate the root causes of the problem, to the best of your ability. It goes without saying that we cannot eliminate distress from our lives at the splitting of an atom. We can, however, relieve stress in the body by adjusting our posture, moderating physical strain and work, stretching more, and treating ourselves to some occasional bodywork.
- I personally work with clients privately using the Thai Yoga bodywork modality, and see very many headache cases. The headaches are relieved to a great extent through the bodywork, though of course one session alone will not ward-off headaches forever. Shiatsu is wonderful. Thui Na is great. Acupuncture is also fantastic. Try a few varieties that are available to you and within your budget, and see what works for you.
- If you enjoy working out – and especially if you like to lift weights – make sure that you stretch the tissues you’ll be using both before and after the weight bearing. This is actually part of the virtue of the physical Yoga practice: weight bearing activity is always complemented and supplemented by maneuvers and movements that stretch the body parts which bear the weight.
- Slouch less when you sit. A light engagement of the natural girdle muscles in the core can help keep the spine erect, and take the stress out of the back body. This requires a bit of awareness on your part. It can be helpful to ask friends and family to point out to you when you’re slouching to help cultivate self-awareness of your own posture.
- Sleep with lumbar support. A long pillow or bolster placed strategically beneath the gluteals can release the entire spine and keep tension from building up around the upper back and head in the first place.
- Take a few moments throughout the day to rest the body in Savasana. This posture is akin to anatomical position on the floor. Prop yourself with a bolster or pillow as per the sleep suggestion above.
There are many simple ways to offer yourself freedom from the suffering of headaches without needing pharmaceuticals or excessive bed rest – begin with some of these, and see how they treat you.
I wish you all lots of light, and great success in achieving headache relief and psychic ease.
(Matthew Van Auken, RYT500, CAWC, TYT, MD/MPH Candidate 2014)