Increasingly, many of us urbanites find ourselves falling prey to our hectic lifestyles, succumbing to work and social pressures. The resulting stress and anxiety manifests itself in a various physiological ways in the body. Acute headaches and Migraines are reported to be one of the leading lifestyle related conditions affecting nearly a quarter of the urban population today. According to the NHS, nearly 37% of the US population, between ages of 15 to 60 suffers from clinically diagnosed chronic Migraines. Typically a migraine manifests as a dull, throbbing one-sided pain in the front temporal regions, gradually increasing in intensity, leading to nausea, vomiting, extreme sensitivity to light and sound, and in extreme cases even causing a blind-spots in vision, loss of co-ordination and inability to perform basic regular activities.
Different people might experience varying levels of intensity and frequency of the headaches. A migraine episode is usually induced or brought-on by certain specific conditions or “Migraine triggers”, most commonly – Stress (The number one culprit!); Erratic sleep patterns; Dehydration (ideally, a minimum of 8-10 glasses of water a day of water is a must); Weather (usually starts with a feeling of tensing and tightness in neck and shoulders on rainy days); Intense light (flickering lights or harsh sunlight); Hormonal imbalances ( menstruation, birth-control medication, hormone replacement therapies, IVF treatments etc.); and unfortunately and most commonly, even Diet (some of our favourite foods like Caffeine, Cheese, Fermented foods and pickles, Yogurt, citrus fruits and juices, Salty and processed foods, beans, nuts, crisps, chips, Red wine etc. ). Recent studies have also shown that certain genetic mutations and even physiological conditions such as obesity may be linked to increased suseptibity to migraines.
While migraines are more common in women of child-bearing and pre-menopausal age, it could just as easily affect men and even children, sometimes as young as 10 years of age. Migraines are caused by vaso-constriction ( constriction of the arteries and blood-vessels) leading to insufficient supply of blood to the brain, in turn leading to elevated heart rate, blood-pressure, imbalances in the neuro-chemical pathways and stiffening of muscles and spasms. Most suffers would also agree that it becomes increasingly difficult to carry out even the most mundane of daily activities, let physically exerting tasks or exercise. At the same, migraine medication is too strong, causing extreme drowsiness, again contributing to one’s feelings of helplessness and lack of control.
Thus, it is increasing being recognized that Migraine therapy requires an effective preventive regimen and a more pro-active approach that can be easily adapted into ones daily routine. With a combination of basic stretches, postures and breathing techniques, Yoga provides a holistic, side-effect free approach to effectively manage, and over time, alleviate the distress caused by migraines. The postures and asanas help regulate the arterial blood flow, stretch and open up muscles, regulating flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, thus relaxing and calming the brain and the nervous system, reducing blood-pressure and anxiety. As an added benefit, the relaxation techniques also help improve lung capacity, regulate breathing patterns and body temperatures, balancing the hormonal systems and stimulates metabolism. Given below is a series of basic yoga poses and stretches to start with…..
These poses can be practised whenever you feel the onset of a headache and even during a migraine episode.
1. Hastnaottanasana / Standing forward bend
Stand with the feet on the floor, slightly apart, parallel to each other. Inhale, raise the hands up, gently exhale and bend forward, touching the fingertips to the floor. Let the head hang loose, breathing slowly and stay for up-to a minute.
This posture helps direct the blood flow to the brain, calming and relaxing the neck, crown, hairline and facial muscles. It stretches the spine and lower back, back of the legs and knees, stimulating the spinal nerves and relaxing and calming the brain. It also gently stimulates the abdominal organs, speeds up metabolism and improving digestion and in detoxification.
2. Sharanagat mudra / Child’s pose
Sit with knees folded, ankles tucked under the buttocks resting on the heels; chest and stomach resting on the thighs, forehead to the floor, and stretch the hands out. Relax and stay for up-to 5 minutes. This posture gently relaxes the pelvic and lumbar region, stretches the thigh, ankles, back and relaxes and calms the mind by letting the blood flow towards the head.
3. Parvat asana / Downward facing Dog
Sit on all fours, palms flat, just below the shoulder. Tuck the toes in and gently exhale and push the hips up, head in looking between the knees. Keep pressing the heels and palms down, and stay for a minute. This is a relaxing inverted posture, which causes a sudden blood rush to the brain, calming and relaxing the brain and nervous system, thus alleviating headache. It stretches the hamstring, calves, relaxes the neck, lower back, pelvic, abdominal and lumbar regions, straightening and strengthening the spine and shoulders.
4. Paschimottanasana ( Seated forward bend)
Sit with the feet stretched straight out, two curled in towards you. Inhale, raise your hands up and gently exhale and bend forward from the lower back getting the forehead/nose/chin towards the knees. This posture helps relax and stretch the spine, back , base of the neck and calms the brain and gently restores the bood flow to the head, rrelieving stress and headache.
5. Setu bandh asana / Bridge pose
Lying on the back, fold the knees bringing the heels close to the butt, feet hip width apart. Inhale and gently lift the butt and raise the chest till the chin rests on the chest. This posture stretches and massages and tones the abdominal and uterine organs, stimulates the thyroid gland and in turn balances the secretions of thyroxine. Stretches and relaxes the neck, shoulder, lower and spine, at the same time it reverses the flow of blood to the head, relieving headache, reduces blood pressure, thereby relaxing the mind and reduces anxiety.
6. Viparit karni/ (Inversion) Legs up the wall
Sit on the floor, with the side towards the wall. Slowly lie back, lift your feet up and rest them straight up against the wall, slowly turn your feet and torso towards the wall until the back of the legs are resting against the wall. You can place a folded blanket or a pillow under the lower back so the hips are gently raised up. Relax and stay in position for 10 to 15 minutes. The inversion helps reverse the blow and results in a rich supply of blood to the brain, thereby relieving pain and headaches, regulates breathing and reduces anxiety. It stimulates thyroid gland, and relaxes and tones the muscles of the legs, abdomen, spine, neck. Also helps regulate body temperature.
7. Supta baddha konasana/ Reclined bound angle
Lie on the back, fold the knees towards the hips and gently let the knees fall to either side. Relax and lie for 10 to 15 minutes. Tis postures helps relax the lower back, spine, shoulders, neck and abdomen and pelvic region. It helps regulate breathing and relaxes the brain helps relieve stress.
8. Shavasana / Corpse pose
Lie on the back, with the feet slightly apart so the tail bone and lower back is relaxed and neck is relaxed. Close the eyes and lie for 10 to 15 minutes. This restorative posture helps relax the entire body and calms and rejuvenates the mind and body by bringing about a state of meditation. It helps alleviate stress and fatigue, regulates breathing and sleeping patterns.
For visual explanation of these asanas please visit http://total-yoga.org/asana-directory/
9. Yoga-nidra / Meditative sleep
The practice of yoga-nidra or meditative sleep, involves sequential relaxation of all the 16 vital points/joints in the body. This restorative technique is used to consciously relax the body and the brain by regulating the breath and stimulating the mind by inducing a deep meditative state. Yoga-nidra helps reduce stress, fatigue, regulates sleeping patterns and invigorates and rejuvenates the entire system. It can be adopted as a meditation and relaxation technique. A guided Yoga-nidra audio-clip can be found here – http://total-yoga.org/guided-meditations/
A consistent yoga practice, supplemented with healthy diet, active and balanced lifestyle and regular sleep has shown to effectively help better manage the distress and discomfort caused by the Migraines.
Slavica Gokul is a certified Vinyasa, Hatha and Power yoga teacher through Total Yoga in Bangalore, India. She has been an aspiring yogi for more than 20 years. She dedicated herself to consistent practice 9 years ago and while residing in India from 2012-14 underwent teacher training.