Yoga For Migraines (as first published on Migraine Buddy)
I have been battling migraine since I was 8 years old (I just turned 35). I remember the first time I experienced searing pain behind my eyes – it made me feel different than everyone around me. I battled migraine throughout my teens, not really understanding what was happening. It wasn’t until I met Melissa Aul, my senior year adviser that I began to understand what the pain was – she was the first to offer any sort of solutions, including acupressure and yoga. As a certified yoga teacher, Melissa offered classes to teachers after school to help them de-stress and relax. She invited me one day and that was the start of my yoga journey.
For the next 10-years I went to various yoga classes and continued living with chronic migraine. It wasn’t until I met a Certified Yoga Therapist that I realized yoga could be helpful in managing migraine. For the last 4-years, I have been a practitioner of healing yoga in the tradition of Surya Chandra Healing Yoga. I am a certified yoga teacher and am studying to become a Certified Yoga Therapist. I have found that while yoga alone can offer some relief for my migraines, working with a Certified Yoga Therapist has had much more of a profound impact on my migraine life. Yoga Therapy is a holistic health modality focused on healing an individual using the innate capacities of our body, mind, and spirit to optimize well-being. It uses the tools of movement, breath, meditations/visualization, chanting, and lifestyle changes to help bring about health.
In seeking health, I have discovered that there is no magical cure to migraine – even yoga. The best thing that yoga has given me is the ability to manage life in a better way. Through physical movement, breath practices, and meditation/visualization I have come to learn that I am not my migraines – they do not define me. This is a battle I fight every day, and there are many days when I feel that it I am in a losing battle. But I live in hope instead of despair, because of yoga.
Yoga Poses for Migraine
It is important to note that every migraine is different, and so not every pose will work for every migraine you may have. There is no right or wrong way to do any of these poses – find what makes you comfortable and relaxed and enjoy! These poses are useful for when you are in the middle of a migraine and to help maintain a calm nervous system between migraines.
Supta Baddha Konasana
One of the best yoga poses for migraine is supported supta baddha konasana (bound angle pose). This restorative pose is great for calming the nervous system – I think every migraneur can use a calmer nervous system! To start, gather all of your props – this can include bolsters, pillows, blankets, blocks, and eyebags – the more props the better! I recommend that my students use at least two bolsters, one crossed over the other on the floor with a blanket to support your head. Sitting in front of your bolster lie back. Work to find the best position for your back and spine, you want to feel fully supported by the bolsters. If comfortable you can bring the soles of your feet together and drop your hips toward the ground – place a block under the knees if this position is too much for your hips or knees. If you’re still uncomfortable then straighten your legs. Support your arms with blankets or blocks and place an eye bag over your eyes. Take your time getting comfortable and finding your breath in the pose. Don’t overstay your welcome though, even 1-3 minutes can be very restorative, especially if you’re in the midst of a migraine. When you are ready, gently come out of the pose by rolling to one side and opening your eyes. You don’t want to rush out of this pose or else you’ll undo all of the work you just did to relax!
Image from Yoga Journal (https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/reclining-bound-angle-pose)
If you’re in the throws of a migraine and don’t feel up to settling into supta baddha konasana you can get the same or similar effects in sivasana. For this pose, simply lay on the ground in a comfortable position and close your eyes. I recommend using an eye bag to close out the outside world and bring your attention to your inner world.
Image from Yoga Journal (https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/corpse-pose)
When you are ready, gently roll over to one side and open your eyes to the world around you.
Palming is a super helpful technique that helps me calm my brain of whirlwind of thoughts and feelings associated with chronic migraine. It allows me to slow down, pay attention to my body, and feel my breath. To begin, find a comfortable seated position and take a moment to come into your body. Take a deep breath. On your next exhale bring your palms to your eyes, cupping your eyes with the palm of your hand. Work to exclude as much light as possible with your hands. On your next inhale remove the palms from your eyes. Repeat this as many times as comfortable – exhale bring your palms to your eyes, inhale remove your palms from your eyes.
Image from Seeing.org (http://www.seeing.org/techniques/palming.htm)
Yoga for when you don’t have a migraine
As migraineurs we’re all told that exercise is one of the best cures for our migraines – but as a chronic migraineur, I find this so much easier said that done. While I won’t be running a marathon any time soon, I can do down dogs and sun salutes with the best of them. I highly recommend regular yoga for people with migraine. Some tips for new practitioners:
- Be gentle with yourself, especially if you are new to yoga.
- Listen to your body when following a teacher (either live or recorded) and follow what it’s telling you it needs. As I listen to my body I have discovered that some poses trigger migraines and so if the class is doing those poses I find a comfortable rest position for the duration. Your yoga practice is just that, yours.
- Discuss your migraine with your teacher so they know and understand why you may need to rest during class.
- Start slow and build your practice. You are starting something new so there is always the possibility that you might trigger a migraine.
My final piece of advice is to take your time and enjoy exploring what your body can do for you. I have found it so easy to focus on what it can’t do as a result of migraine, yoga offers a real opportunity to learn what it can do.
Yoga can help you create space to see who you are other than your migraine. It can create a calmer nervous system, which may reduce the severity or frequency of your migraines, and it offers you a chance to learn more about yourself. Yoga may not be the cure, but it is an excellent tool to include in your migraine toolbox.