Yoga for Migraine - Axon Optics

Yoga for Migraine

If you’re a migraineur, you’ve likely heard of all types of migraine remedies and preventatives. Some seem perfectly plausible. Others, not so much. Still, with each new potential remedy that comes along and offers a glimmer of hope, we can’t help but think, “why not?”

And plunge in.

Disappointment is just part of the game and eventually, as one “great hope” after another fails, it’s easy to become worn down. Who wouldn’t? And the stress builds: stress of the migraine attacks, the isolation from family and friends, the cancelled plans, the missed work, just the way your body feels as you struggle through an attack, it all piles up, weighing you down.

Migraine is so much more than just a headache; It touches every single part of your life. For so many migraineurs, if they aren’t having an attack, they are worrying when the next attack will come.

The time between attacks is often spent catching up on what was missed. Do you ever feel like you’re in a constant state of response mode? You’re not alone.

As you probably already know, stress can not only trigger a migraine attack, it can make the pain worse.

Finding ways to cope with the stress and tension that just the simple act of living causes is a daunting task. This leaves many people to seek their own ways to find respite in the chaos that is life. Yoga has become a saving grace for many.

Where it once was associated with certain groups of people such as vegetarians and “tree huggers,” in recent years it has more than proven its worth and now is a mainstay for people of all walks of life for all types of conditions. But for the 10% of the migraineur population that is practicing yoga for migraine, it is having a big impact.

Yoga: A Primer

Yoga is an ancient practice that unites mind, body, and spirit. It is believed to have originated in Indus-Sarasvati, a civilization that existed in Northern India in 2700 B.C. (nearly 5,000 years ago). However, some accounts have it going back even farther. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin because the sacred texts were shared orally or on fragile palm leaves that were easily destroyed. The teaching itself was surrounded in secrecy, particularly early on.

The word “yoga” is comprised of the Sanskrit root “Yuj” which, when translated, means to yoke, to join, or to unite. At its core, yoga brings about the union of perfect harmony between individual consciousness and universal consciousness. It brings mind, body, and spirit into balance, to unite them. This brings about feelings of peace and calm. Currently, people all over the world over practice yoga for a variety of reasons with wellness as a common focus.

There are several types of yoga, but two that are most commonly practiced in the western world are Hatha Yoga and Asanas. Some forms of Kriya Yoga are also sometimes used, but it is not as well known or widely practiced. Hatha yoga is a process that takes the person through a series of movements that prepares the body for sustaining higher energy levels. It begins with a focus on the body then moves to the breath, mind, and the inner self. Asanas are the postures that are familiar to so many.

There is a common myth that yoga is a religion or is attached to a certain religion, but the truth is that it does not adhere to any particular belief system, religion, or community. In fact, people from all walks of life engage in the practice for a number of reasons including stress relief, pain management, immune support, and overall wellness both mentally and physically.

The Science Behind Yoga for Migraine

Today yoga is used in therapeutic environments to treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, arthritis, chronic pain, migraine, and more. The science behind these applications provides strong support for its effectiveness.

One study found that when compared to standard care, yoga was responsible for significantly decreasing pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbance. It also improved grip strength, cholesterol, urea, creatinine, and alkaline phosphatase levels as well as erythrocyte and hematocrit counts.

Another study found that migraine patients who combined yoga with conventional care experienced significant improvement in the frequency as well as intensity of attacks when yoga was included in the therapy. Patients also saw improved vagal tone and lowered sympathetic activity.

A 2012 report analyzed nine clinical trials that explored yoga’s efficacy for helping manage chronic and persistent pain. It concluded that the research suggests yoga may be a good treatment option for persistent pain conditions. Furthermore, they asserted that clinicians “should be aware that yoga could be used as a tool to help patients better address the biological, social, and psychological aspects of persistent pain.”

The results of a randomized controlled trial published in the May 2007 edition of HEADACHE identified yoga as a viable treatment for pain. Patients were taught specific postures and practices under the guidance of a professional yoga therapist and were given a set of prescribed techniques to begin as soon as possible during the prodrome of a migraine attack (but not during the headache, resolution, or postdrome stages). They used yoga postures, pranayama (yoga breathing), and jal neti kriya (cleansing process using a neti pot) as well as meditation and relaxation practices for 60 minutes a day, five days a week.

A second group in the study engaged in a set of self-care practices. However, the yoga group showed a significant reduction in pain and other symptoms associated with migraine. The researchers concluded that yoga can be an effective treatment for migraine.

A recent study also adds more convincing data and helps deepen our understanding of yoga for migraine:

“The most common trigger for migraines is stress. Because yoga is a gentle exercise that influences both body and mind, it’s been found to be effective in managing symptoms of this often debilitating condition.”

“Migraine is one of the most common headache disorders, but only about half the people taking medication for it get real relief,” said study author Dr Rohit Bhatia. “The good news is that practicing something as simple and accessible as yoga may help much more than medications alone. And all you need is a mat.”

Our Survey

The scientific data seems pretty impressive, but we were also interested in hearing some anecdotal first-hand accounts, so we created a survey and have nearly 50 people’s experiences we’ve learned from. Sharron writes, “I’ve found the most relief with gentle movements, especially in the neck and shoulders, as well as learning to find peace in other more challenging postures. Learning to breathe with ease has helped me cope with migraines as well as decreased the frequency and intensity. It’s not a cure, but it’s really helped with quality of life.”

Ben shares “Two big triggers for my migraines are stress and poor sleep. Yoga, and especially the breathing techniques and meditation, have made an impact on both.”

We learn from Allyson, “Yoga has provided a sense of well being, calm and physical comfort that I can’t get from pill-based preventatives. In addition, it is scalable and on days when I am feeling good I can do more active sessions that assist with body pains and physical problems (flow and power yoga) and when I am in any phase of an attack I can scale back and do restorative and yin yoga routines.”

“Yoga is how I stop a migraine from coming on. It’s also the only preventative measure that consistently works for me. If my stress load is high and I’m not getting enough sleep, yoga helps me keep the migraines away,” says Brooke.

While we heard many positive responses like these, some people also gave feedback that yoga was not helpful for them. Remember, what helps one person’s migraine will not necessarily provide you with relief, but it may be worth giving it a shot.

Why is Yoga Effective for Migraine?

Looking at the science, it seems that yoga for migraine works for at least some people. The big question, though, is why?

The answer is in the practice of yoga which includes all the elements beyond the physical process of stretching muscles and improving flexibility. The poses are designed to open the channels within the body so that energy can flow freely. They facilitate better blood flow throughout the body. When combined with pranayama and sometimes jal neti kriya, there is a whole body benefit that improves breathing and blood flow, which encourage relaxation and relieve stress.

It is commonly recognized that stress, tension, and anxiety are marked by shallower breathing. These are both symptoms of the conditions as well as causes. Incorrect, shallow breathing exacerbates stress and anxiety. It can also lower the pain threshold and cause pain to feel more intense. Deep, controlled breathing can help lower stress levels and reduce the body’s response to stress.

By reviewing clinical studies on yoga for migraine and pain, we can see that there are, in fact, many benefits.

Yoga may actually change a person’s physiology, altering the pain experience. When practiced regularly, yoga may decrease activity in the sympathetic nervous system. This is where the involuntary fight or flight stress response originates which is marked by rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing. A 2004 study found that after a month of practicing yoga, participants were able to consciously reduce their heart rate by a group average of almost 11 beats per minute.

Another study found that subjects who participated in 1 hour yoga classes twice a week for five weeks experienced reductions in stress markers such as more balanced cortisol levels, improved mood, and decreased fatigue.

Another study examined the effects of yoga on hemodialysis patients. Over the course of 12 weeks, participants performed yoga exercises in 30 minute sessions, twice a week for three months. At the end of the study, the participants experienced significant improvements in a number of areas including decrease in pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbance, as well as lower cholesterol, lower creatinine, and an increased hematocrit count. They were also stronger and more flexible.

Yoga can combat social pain. Social pain is caused by situations that make a person feel excluded or isolated from social connections. This can be due to bullying, social rejection, ostracization, the death of a loved one, illness, relationship problems or a breakup, anything that removes the person from others, making them feel alone or isolated. It can cause physical pain to be felt more acutely and lower the threshold for pain. Yoga can fortify social connectivity, thereby reducing social isolation by providing a social network and regular physical activity.

Yoga may reduce the levels in inflammatory markers. Studies show that practicing yoga on a regular basis may lower pro-inflammatory cytokine levels (TNF-a and IL-6). This can help prevent inflammatory diseases. It can also lower inflammatory activity in the body that can cause or exacerbate pain.

Yoga can improve quality of life. In addition to decreased pain and the other benefits of yoga, it can also improve quality of life in other areas. Many people who engage in yoga report that they sleep better, have less anxiety, function better socially, and notice improved mood. The connection between migraine and mental health is well documented. It seems that yoga can help with that as well.

Yoga can cause psychological changes that may stabilize mental health. One study found that after 12 weeks of yoga, the subjects’ thalamic GABA levels increased and by the end of the study there was little difference between them and healthy controls. Yoga may also help stabilize certain neurotransmitters that affect depression, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

How does Yoga Help with Migraine?

We’ve seen that yoga is greatly beneficial to the entire body and mind, but what about migraine? How does it specifically help with migraine attacks, pain, and associated symptoms? There’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest it is greatly beneficial for migraineurs on several different levels.

Yoga can reduce the need for symptomatic medication use. Yoga has not only been shown to help reduce migraine frequency and headache intensity, it may also help with anxiety and depression as well as other associated clinical features. One study found that migraine patients who practiced yoga for three months experienced a significant reduction in symptomatic medication use.

Yoga can decrease the sympathetic drive. The fight or flight stress response originates in the sympathetic nervous system. When the body perceives a threat, this response is marked with certain actions within the body that prepare it for violent or intense muscular action. This includes an increased heart rate, shallow, rapid breathing, goose bumps, dilation of blood vessels, dilation of pupils, and shaking. It is the sympathetic nervous system that activates these physiological changes. These responses, particularly the increased heart rate, can be a migraine trigger. Yoga may decrease the sympathetic drive which, in turn, improves the cardiac autonomic balance.

Yoga may stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, when stimulated, may decrease the pain response. Researchers looked into vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for migraineurs and found that patients interviewed reported a decrease in headache intensity and one reported that they experienced complete headache pain relief. This indicates that VNS may be a viable treatment option for migraine. Yoga may provide stimulation to the vagus nerve making it a natural way to relieve migraine pain.

Yoga may improve endothelial function. Some researchers believe that there is a link between endothelial function, vascular disease, and migraine. It is well documented that people who have migraine with aura have an increased risk of ischemic stroke. Some researchers believe that endothelial dysfunction plays a large part in that. Yoga is believed to improve vascular function, endothelial function, thus reducing the risk of migraine.

Yoga with meditation may shorten migraine duration. Meditation commonly accompanies yoga and at least one study has found that it can help with migraine. A study found that meditation may shorten migraine duration, decrease disability, improve self-efficacy, and increase mindfulness.

Yoga for Migraine: How to get started

Yoga is an activity that you can do at home on your own, but you may want to take at least a few classes if you’re a beginner. The poses are precise and in order to reap all the benefits you want to make sure that your form is correct. Additionally, if you are unable to do some of the poses, having an instructor available can be a tremendous help because they can provide you with alternative poses or simplified versions of the pose.

You may want to try several different types of yoga before settling on one. Visit some classes, talk to the instructors, and do a little research to find something that is right for you. Hatha yoga is often recommended to beginners because the movements are slower and gentler.

Be very aware of your breathing, this is a main part of yoga. The technique is important, but the awareness is what makes it unique to yoga. You can start doing this before you even take a class, Just pay attention to how you breathe. Be mindful of how you inhale and exhale, taking deep breaths. In fact, you can start doing this today, right now, and you will probably start seeing benefits right away.

Most yoga studios have equipment like blocks, bolsters, and blankets, but you will probably have to bring your own mat. If you will be doing yoga at home you will probably want to get a few things like a mat, bolster, and perhaps a block at least to start.

A big part of yoga is stillness and calm. Get used to just being in that stillness, embrace the calm. Turn off the ringer on your phone before class begins and avoid disruptive activities like leaving before class is over, arriving late, or talking during class.

Yoga is a relatively easy practice to begin and it is appropriate for just about any age and any mobility. The most important thing to remember as you embark on this journey is that each person experiences yoga differently. Do not compare yourself to others and do not set unrealistic expectations. Just allow yourself to participate in this calming, healing practice, enjoy it, and see where it takes you.

Many migraineurs are looking for natural treatments that work. While Yoga does indeed have some serious science supporting its effectiveness against migraine pain and attack frequency, you may also want to consider another natural option. Axon Optics migraine glasses also have good science behind them and 90% of users who have tried them reported that their migraine attacks decreased. Only Axon has migraine glasses with SpectraShield, the most effective tint for photophobia developed using the latest research. Don’t let migraine hold you prisoner. Our migraine glasses let you step into the light – without the pain.

Best Yoga Poses for Migraine

When you are practicing yoga for migraine, there are specific poses that are more beneficial for your condition. While you can begin doing these poses when you feel a migraine coming on, it is best to do them daily and establish a wellness routine that may help you lower your risk of migraine.

These ten poses are recommended for migraine relief:

  1. Shavasana or corpse pose – This pose brings the body to a deep, rejuvenating, meditative rest.
  •         Lie flat on your back with your eyes closed. If possible, do not use any pillows or cushions.
  •         Allow your knees and feet to relax completely so that your toes fall to the sides. There should be a little space between your legs so that you are relaxed and comfortable.
  •         Rest your arms at your sides, palms open and facing up. Leave a little space between your arms and your body so that you can fully relax.
  •         Starting with the right foot, focus your attention on each body part, one at a time, to slowly and systematically relax. From your right foot, move to your right knee, right hip, left foot, and so on until you reach your head.
  •         Breathe deeply throughout this exercise, letting yourself feel the air going in and out of your lungs, energizing with each breath you draw in and relaxing with each breath you blow out.
  •         Let yourself sink into the floor, fully relaxed for several minutes (about 10 to 20 minutes).
  •         Slowly roll onto your right side and rest. Laying that that position for a few minutes.
  •         Allowing your right arm to support you, slowly, gently rise to a seated position.
  •         With your eyes still closed, draw in a few deep breaths, letting them out fully as you allow yourself to return to awareness of your body and your environment.
  •         When you are fully aware, slowly, gently open your eyes.

2. Setu Bandhasana or bridge pose – This pose reduces anxiety, relieves stress, and promotes calm for the brain.

  • Lie on your back, arms resting beside you, palms up. Breathe deeply.
  • Draw your knees up so they are pointing at the ceiling and your ankles and knees are in a straight line. Keep your feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart.
  • While inhaling, press with your feet and lift your pelvis, lower back, mid back, then upper back off of the floor. Your shoulders and head should remain on the floor.
  • Roll your shoulders forward gently, touching your chest to your chin but do not lower your chin to touch your chest.
  • Allow your feet, arms, and shoulders to support your weight. You should feel the muscles in your bottom tense.
  • Keep your thighs parallel to the floor and to each other.
  • To gain better height, you can bring your hands underneath you until the meet. Lace your fingers together and push them into the floor so that you are get more lift in your torso.
  • If you need to support your back, you may use your palms.
  • Maintain steady, relaxed, deep breathing throughout the pose.
  • Hold the pose for one to two minutes then exhale as you slowly roll down from upper s

3. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana or bridge pose with bolsters – This pose stretches the lower back, relieving tension and stretching the spine.

  • Place a yoga bolster (a rectangular cushion for yoga) at your side. Lie flat on your back, arms resting at your sides, palms facing up. Breathe regularly and deeply.
  • Bend your knees with your feet hips width apart, resting flat on the floor. Your heels and toes should be in a straight line with your body. Your heels should be directly under your knees.
  • Inhale as you press your feet into the floor and raise your hips. Slide the bolster under your lower back and gently lower your hips. Your loser back should be resting on the bolster and you should feel supported. Many any adjustments you need.
  • If the bolster provides too much stretch, you can fold a blanked and use it instead.
  • Stretch your shoulders so that the shoulder blades meet, then relax, and let them rest naturally.
  • You can rest your arms at your sides or perpendicular to your body like wings. To achieve a deeper stretch through the lymph glands and shoulders, you can rest your arms over your head.
  • Breathe deeply and rest in the pose for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Press your feet into the floor to lift your hips. Slide the bolster out.
  • Lower your back to the floor and bring your knees to your chest in a reclined knee hug to release the back and spine.

4. Paschimottanasana or two-legged forward bend – This pose relieves stress and calms the brain. It is often used for headache relief.

  • Sit on the floor, back straight, legs extended out in front of you, toes flexed up toward your body. Rest your arms at your sides, palms up.
  • As you breathe in, raise your arms over your head and stretch upward.
  • As you release the breath, bend forward from the hips, stretching your chin toward your toes. The spine should remain straight. Avoid bending down toward knees but bend forward towards toes.
  • Without forcing or straining, allow your hands to rest on your legs, wherever they fall.
  • If you can reach your feet, grab your toes, and use them to pull yourself forward more.
  • Breathe in as you lift your head, causing the spine to lengthen.
  • Breathe out as you gently stretch, moving your navel to your knees.
  • Repeat these movements 2 to 3 times.
  • Let your head drop down as you breathe deeply for 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Stretch your arms in front of you and while breathing in, use your arms to gently return to a seated position.
  • Lower your arms as you breathe out.

5. Hastapadasana  or standing forward bend – This pose increases the blood supply while invigorating the nervous system. It also calms the mind.

  • Stand with your back straight, feet together with your weight balanced equally over them, and your arms falling naturally at your sides.
  • Breathe in as you slowly extend your arms over your head.
  • Exhale as you bend forward and down towards your feet. Keep your legs straight but knees soft, your spine erect and rest your hands on the floor beside your feet or rest them on your legs.
  • Hold this pose for 20 to 30 seconds as you breathe deeply.
  • Breathe in and exhale. As you breathe out, move your chest closer to your knees, raising your hips and tailbone higher. Press your heels into the floor as you allow your head to relax and gently, naturally move towards your feet.
  • Continue deep breathing.
  • Breathe in as you slowly begin to rise, stretching your arms in a forward and upward motion, allowing your body to move evenly with them as you return to a standing position.
  • Breathe out as you lower your arms to your sides and relax.

6. Viparita Karani or legs up the wall pose – This pose helps with headache and is good for releasing tension in the back. It is an inversion, so this pose is not recommended during menstruation.

  • Place your yoga bolster on the floor a few inches from a wall so that it is parallel to the wall.
  • Sit on the floor, facing the wall with your bolster to your left.
  • Turn on your right side, using your hands to steady you and hold you up.
  • Gently move over the bolster so that your lower back rests on it comfortably.
  • Lift your legs so they rest on the wall and slowly move closer until the backs of your legs are touching the wall.
  • Adjust your body over the bolster. Your lower back should feel supported and lifted.
  • For added comfort you may put a folded blanket under your head and neck.

7. Padmasana or lotus pose – This pose is good for alleviating headache and relaxing the mind.

  •         Sit on the floor (you can also sit on a mat), spine erect, with your legs straight out in front of you.
  •         Bend your right knee and place your right foot on your left thigh, sole facing up.
  •         Bend your left knee and place your left foot on your right thigh, sole facing up.
  •         If you are not able to cross your legs and put both feet on opposite thighs, you can do a half lotus with one foot on the opposite thigh.
  •         Place your right hand on your right knee and your left hand on your left knee, keeping your legs crossed and your feet resting on the opposite thigh. Your hands should be in mudra position.
  •         Keep your spine erect and your head straight.
  •         Hold this pose while you take long, deep breaths.

8. Shishuasana or child pose – This pose reduces pain and has a calming effect on the nervous system.

  •         Sit on the floor with your legs tucked under you so that your hips are resting on your heels. Let your arms fall at your sides.
  •         Gently begin lowering your body so that your forehead rests on the floor.
  •         Keep your arms resting at your sides, palms up. Alternatively, you may make fists with your hands, place one on top of the other, and rest your forehead on them.
  •         Gently press your abdomen and chest into your thighs, breathing deeply and regularly.
  •         Hold for several seconds to a few minutes, whatever is comfortable.
  •         Slowly roll up to a sitting position, one vertebra at a time until you have

9. Adho Mukha Svanasana or downward facing dog pose – This pose helps relieve headache and migraine by increasing blood flow to the head.

  •         Sit with your legs tucked under you so that your hips rest on your heels.
  •         Place your hands flat in front of you, shoulder width apart, palms to the floor.
  •         Raise your hips so that you are on your hands and knees.
  •         Keep your spine straight so that is forms a table top with your legs and arms acting as the table legs.
  •         Breathe out as you lift your hips toward the ceiling, straightening your elbows and knees so that your body forms an inverted V shape. Hands should be shoulder width apart and feet should be hip width apart.
  •         Press your hands into the floor as you widen your shoulder blades. Lengthen your neck as you keep your head between your arms so that your ears touch your arms.
  •         Take deep, long breaths as you hold this pose, keeping your head between your arms so that you are looking towards your abdomen.
  •         As you exhale, bend your knees slowly returning to the table pose, then to the sitting position.

10. Marjariasana or cat stretch – This pose relaxes your mind as it improves blood flow throughout your body.

  •         Begin in a sitting position with your feet tucked under you, hips resting on your heels.
  •         Place your palms on the floor in front of you, shoulder width apart and raise your hips so that you are on all fours.
  •         Keep your spine straight so that it resembles a table with your arms and legs as the table legs.
  •         Your hands should be directly under your shoulders, palms flat on the floor and your knees should be hip width apart.
  •         Raise your head to look directly in front of you.
  •         Inhale as you raise your chin to tilt your head back while pushing your navel towards the floor and raising your tailbone. Tighten the muscles in the buttocks.
  •         Hold this pose for several deep, long breaths.
  •         Exhale, dropping your chin so that it touches your chest. At the same time, raise your spine toward the ceiling and roll your pelvis forward while relaxing the buttocks.
  •         Hold this pose for several deep, long breaths.
  •         Return to the tabletop pose.
  •         This should be done slowly and smoothly while practicing deep breathing.

 

Have you ever tried yoga for migraine? We’d love hear about your experience in a comment below. 

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