Fitness Magazine

Preventing Migraines (and Other Headaches), Part 2

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina
Preventing Migraines (and Other Headaches), Part 2Yesterday I wrote about preventing migraines and other headaches through stress reduction (see Preventing Migraines (and Other Headaches), Part 1). Another way you may be able to prevent and/or reduce your headaches, is to practice yoga poses that release muscle tension in your back, shoulders, neck, and head. As Timothy says in the headache chapter of Yoga As Medicine:
“Yoga teaches that releasing the tight muscles improves blood flow to them, and can help relax the mind a well.”
But as Timothy also reminds us in all his writings about yoga therapy, everyone is different and yoga therapy, whether for migraines or any other condition, needs to be individualized. So with that in mind, I’m just going to toss out a lot of ideas for poses you can try to work with your back, shoulders, neck and head; you’ll have to figure out which works best for your body and your yoga experience level. In fact, I have so much to say on this topic, I’m going to—gasp!—use subtitles on this post.

Working with Your Neck
There are two basic ways to release tension in your neck: stretching your neck and relaxing your neck. To stretch your neck, you can do gentle neck stretches, either while standing or sitting. Baxter recommends not doing full head rolls. Instead, he recommends Owl Turns, which involves looking to the right or left as far as you can go with a bit of stretch, and Curious Dog Tips, which involves tipping your head ear to the shoulder to the right or left, as far as you can go with a bit of stretch, ear to shoulder on that side. Another way to stretch your neck (along with your back and chest) is to do seated twisting poses, such as Bharadvajasana, Marichyasana, and Arda Matseyendrasana. As you move into the twist, make sure to turn from your spine first, and then, moving mindfully, let your head follow your spine (so you don’t over-twist your neck).
Preventing Migraines (and Other Headaches), Part 2To relax your neck, try seated forward bends with your head resting on a support. Before bending forward, place a bolster or folded blankets on your straight leg (or a chair over your straight leg if your hamstrings are tight), and rest your head on the support as come into the pose. Prop yourself high enough so you can stay in the pose for three minutes or so. You can even do the pose seated in a chair, in front of your desk. You can also use gravity to release your neck in a Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) or Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottansana). Instead of having your hands on the floor in this pose, try clasping your elbows so you can just hang. To make the pose more relaxing, try practicing with your buttocks against a wall and your feet about six inches from the wall.
Working with Your Shoulders

Preventing Migraines (and Other Headaches), Part 2To release your shoulders, which helps release tension at the base of your neck, you can try any number of targeted shoulder stretches. See Standing Shoulder Stretches for a good, short sequence that stretches your shoulders within their full range of motion. In general, most of the standing poses also help release tension from your shoulders, because your arms are either overhead, out to sides, or behind your back. So all varied standing pose practice will help both strengthen and relax your shoulders.
Working with Your Back
To release tension from your back, you can practice the seated twisting poses I mentioned above for releasing your neck, or any reclined twist that you prefer. You can also try passive backbends or restorative backbends, such as lying over a bolster with your arms either out to the side or overhead. Just make sure to keep your head supported so that your neck and head is in line with your spine or only in a mild backbend (and not fully extended, that is, in a full backbend position). And, finally, you can try an easy forward bend, such as a Child's pose (Balasana) with your knees together or a Supported Restorative Child's pose, or a Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) with your knees bent to release back tension from the extensor muscles of spine.

Working with Your Head

Timothy mentions that poor posture, especially head forward syndrome, is a possible trigger for headaches. So working in Mountain pose, learn to keep your neck aligned with your spine and your spine aligned with your neck. You can also do passive backbends, holding for at least three minutes, to open your chest and active backbends to strengthen your back. These and the shoulder stretches mentioned above will compensate for all the forward bending of your upper body that you do at your desk, car, gardening, etc., and help improve the position of your neck and head relative to your spine.
As far as relaxing your head goes, wow, I have to say, I’ve never thought about how to relax my head before! The main thing that comes to my mind—which is actually very relaxing—is to lie in Savasana with enough support under your head so your neck is in a neutral position and your chin is pointing toward your chest. Then, using the power of your mind, consciously move from one part of your head to another (including, one by one, your sense organs) and intentionally relaxing that area. Be sure to include your forehead—lots of tension there—your scalp and the crown of your head.
About Backbends and Headaches
And, finally, a little warning about backbends: Extreme extension of the neck (the bending you do when you take your head back behind your shoulders) can actually trigger headaches! So if you are doing a backbend where you can control the back-bending in your neck, such as Cobra, Upward Facing Dog, Bow pose, try to work with your head in a more neutral position instead of automatically thrusting it back. If the backbend is one where you can’t really keep your head in a more neutral position (such as Urdva Dhanurasana, called Wheel or Upward Bow), try eliminating the pose from your practice to see if that helps your headaches.

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