People do yoga for many reasons, from its mental health benefits to its impact on physical health. Research shows yoga can have measurable beneficial effects on stress, sleep quality, and weight loss.
Given the practical benefits, it's no wonder that people turn to yoga when they're feeling less than 100 percent. It's particularly useful for maladies caused by stress or tension, including headaches, and some yoga poses are more effective than others at relieving head pain. Those that focus specifically on stress relief and relaxation of the shoulder and neck muscles are the best for easing headache symptoms.
One of the simplest yoga poses is also good for people with headaches. Child's pose is a floor position focused on relaxing the upper back and neck, performed by draping the upper body over the thighs. Tension headaches are often related to or caused by pain in these areas. This pose can help release some of that tension and, in turn, lessen the severity of a headache.
Yoga can have a calming impact on the nervous system, helping to reduce the body’s heart rate and stress response. As anyone who’s had a stress headache knows, being able to release tension and calm the body can help to dissipate that headache.
Corpse pose, officially savasana, is one of the most relaxing of all the yoga poses. Allowing the body to be completely relaxed and still while focusing on breathing in a slow and steady pattern is a great stress reducer.
Some yoga practitioners suggest that inverted yoga poses, such as headstands, aid in headache relief by promoting blood flow to the brain. This claim has not been clinically proven, and it’s not always advisable to try standing on your head while experiencing a migraine or an acute headache.
Downward dog, however, is an easier pose that keeps all four points of contact on the ground while positioning the head below the heart, allowing oxygen to flow more freely to the brain and benefiting blood circulation.
Legs up the wall pose is another way to invert your body and encourage circulation without putting much strain on your upper body or head. This pose, which looks just like the name implies, is also good for reducing stress and relaxing the body.
It should be done gently, keeping the knees bent as much as necessary, if you’re using it with the intention of relieving headache symptoms.
This relatively simple pose will stretch the spine and open the chest for deeper breathing. Make sure to breathe deep and even if you’re taking this position for headache relief, and focus on pressing the shoulder blades down the back to keep the shoulders away from the ears. This will encourage both relaxation and the release of tension from the body.
In traditional yoga there is no single pose that incorporates these two movements; rather, they are cat pose and cow pose. Either way, the combination of these two poses is excellent for releasing tension in the spine, neck, and shoulders.
This pose does require some gentle lowering and raising of the head, so while it is a very good stress reliever, it might not be the best choice for someone with a pounding headache exacerbated by movement.
Both of these seated yoga poses are designed to encourage relaxation and calm, so you can choose whichever one works best for your body if you’re doing it for headache relief. The focus for these poses should be on the breath; breathing deeply and evenly is a simple and proven method for calming the nervous system. It also has positive impacts on blood and oxygen flow.
The standing version of the forward fold pose is another way to activate blood flow to the head. Standing forward fold is not a difficult pose, but it is not quite as easy as many others on this list. Use it with caution when experiencing a severe headache; it’s most likely to help with a mild tension headache or a headache caused by tightness in the neck, shoulders, or jaw.
Bend the knees as much as necessary to encourage the spine to straighten under the weight of the head.
A supine twist is another one that’s good for headaches caused by tension or stress. The movement of twisting your lower body away and opening the arms will activate and open up the shoulders. This stretching will help relieve tension in the upper back and neck and, in turn, can have a positive impact on a stress headache.
Happy baby pose is intended to bring relaxation and calm. It's a good one for people who get migraines or chronic headaches (just make sure to keep your neck relaxed; use a pillow under the head and upper shoulders if necessary).
The practice of yoga generally has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve subjective well-being in people with chronic conditions. This pose can help do both of those things, while also stretching the back a bit.
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