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Yoga Poses for Headache Relief

Ease stress, muscle tension and headache pain with these simple yoga moves.

Feel a headache coming on? It may be time to unroll your yoga mat.

Research consistently shows that yoga can help give headache and migraine sufferers some extra relief, making it a great supplement to their pain-fighting arsenal.1 For instance, in a recent study of migraine sufferers, those who added a five-day-a-week yoga practice to their migraine management plan felt more relief than those who stuck to conventional care. They also demonstrated decreased levels of physiological stress.1

After all, stress is a major contributor to both headache and migraine pain. According to the National Headache Foundation, tension-type headaches are the most common forms of headaches, typically associated with tightening of the muscles in the back of the neck and scalp.2 Meanwhile, migraine attacks often accompany times of stress.3 A single yoga session can sometimes be all it takes to reduce levels of stress.4

“For most of us, there is just too much going on at once and our system, our body, and our mind get overwhelmed. It puts our nervous system on alert,” says certified yoga instructor Kelly Moore, co-founder of Mindfuel Wellness, which brings health and wellness initiatives to companies throughout Chicago. “Yoga is a great practice to reduce stress and relieve tension in the body, thereby relieving headaches.”

Bend This Way: 5 Best Poses for Relief

Integrate these simple stress-busting yoga poses into your daily routine to prevent pain before it starts. Or, whenever you feel a headache creeping on, try taking a short yoga time out. If this is your first time practicing yoga, you may want to consult your doctor or healthcare professional.

When moving through these poses, it’s important to concentrate on continually taking full, deep diaphragmatic or “belly” breaths, according to Moore. With each breath, your stomach, rather than your chest and shoulders should move, indicating that you are getting the most oxygen with every breath as well as giving the too-tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, and upper back a needed break, she says. The result: Even more stress and headache relief.

Child’s Pose Yoga Illustration

1. Child’s Pose

Get onto your hands and knees and, keeping your feet together, widen your knees to the sides of your body. Reach your arms forward on the mat and simultaneously rest your forehead on the mat and extend your hips to the mat behind you. Keep the back of your neck long and your shoulders and upper back relaxed. Stay here for eight to 10 breaths.

Forward Fold Yoga Pose Illustration

2. Forward Fold

Stand tall with your feet hips-width apart and bend at the hips to extend the crown of your head straight down toward the floor. Soften your knees to increase the stretch, and keep your heels flat on the mat. Focus your eyes on one point toward the back edge of your mat. Your hands can rest on the mat or a block, or you can hold your elbows. Stay here for six to eight breaths.

Supine Twist Yoga Pose Illustration

3. Supine Twist

Lie on your back on a mat, and draw your knees to your chest and lower your legs to one side. Keeping your hips stacked, one side over the other, stretch your arms straight out to the sides of the mat with your palms facing up. Gaze up toward the ceiling or over to the hand opposite your knees. Stay here for six breaths, and repeat on the other side.

Legs Up The Wall Yoga Pose Illustration

4. Legs Up the Wall

Lie on your back with your buttocks against a wall. Extend your legs up against the side of the wall. Relax your upper body with your arms next to your torso, palms facing up. Stay here for at least 10 breaths.

Supine Chest and Shoulder Stretch Illustration

5. Supine Chest and Shoulder Stretch

Place a bolster or a rolled-up towel on the mat and lie down, face up, so that it supports the length of your spine. Open your arms out to the sides of your body to form a T shape and, with your palms facing up, let your hands and shoulders drop toward the floor. Stay here for at least 10 breaths.

Show References

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1. Kisan, Ravikiran, MU Sujan, Meghana Adoor, Raghavendra Rao, A. Nalini, Bindu M. Kutty, BT Chindanda Murthy, TR Raju, and TN Sathyaprabha. "Effect of Yoga on Migraine: A Comprehensive Study Using Clinical Profile and Cardiac Autonomic Functions." International Journal of Yoga. Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2014. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097897/.

2. "Tension-Type Headache | National Headache Foundation." National Headache Foundation. N.p., 25 Oct. 2007. Web. http://www.headaches.org/2007/10/25/tension-type-headache/.

3. "Common Triggers - The Migraine Trust." The Migraine Trust. N.p., n.d. Web. https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/trigger-factors/common-triggers/.

4. Huang, Fu-Jung, Ding-Kuo Chien, and Ue-Lin Chung. "Effects of Hatha Yoga on Stress in Middle-Aged Women : Journal of Nursing Research." LWW. N.p., n.d. Web. http://journals.lww.com/jnr-twna/Abstract/2013/03000/Effects_of_Hatha_Yoga_on_Stress_in_Middle_Aged.9.aspx.

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