One day I awoke with the fifth migraine that week. I was taking the four daily prescription medications intended to prevent migraines and, I was still struggling with recurrent debilitation. Exasperated, I said, “There has got to be another way!” Later that week, I went into a local store and a book titled Learn Yoga in a Weekend, jumped off the shelf and into my life. I joke, 18 years later, that I’m still learning yoga in a weekend. But, it was only three months of practicing those simple poses 2-3 times a week that I went off ALL the medications because I was feeling so great! Now, migraines are rare occurrences that invite me to check in on living more in balance.
Prevention is the best medicine. Stress is one of the main headache triggers. Yoga helps reduce and manage stress.
I have found that a regular and consistent yoga practice, along with cardiovascular activity several times a week, is the best prevention. I sleep better at night and feel more joyful throughout the day. Yoga is my best friend when it comes to managing stress!
Supine Shoulder Opener with a Blanket
Place a rolled blanket horizontally on the mat, leaving room for your head and shoulders. Sit in front of the blanket. Keeping your knees bent, lie back and place the bottom tips of your shoulder blades over the roll. Place another blanket under your head for support if needed.
Drape your arms open, forearms above the roll in cactus shape. Fill in your back ribs with breath. Stay here for 2-5 minutes. Then, take slow windshield wiper actions with your knees as your feet stay as wide as the mat.
Lie on your back. Bend your knees, feet hip width apart. Inhaling, lengthen your rib cage upward toward your ears. Open your palms to the sky. Snug your shoulder blades in toward your heart. Gently lift your chin and press the back of your head into the floor.
Fill into your back ribs with breath. Gently tone the lower gluts. Reach your inner thighs and pubic bone toward the back body. This will cause your lumbar spine to find its natural curve, arching away from the floor.
Pressing into the back of your head, elbows, and feet, inhale and lift your outer hips off the floor. Extend from the back of your head toward your knees as your heels root into the floor and energetically draw toward your buttocks.
Stay here for 5 breaths and repeat.
Seated Forward Fold - One Leg Bent
Sit on the floor with both legs extended. Lift up out of your pelvis and move the lumbar spine toward your navel. If this is challenging, sit on a blanket. Be mindful not to press the backs of your knees toward the floor. Root into your heels instead.
Activate your feet. Turn your right foot away from mid-line, bend the knee, and use your hand to pull the foot up into your right inner thigh. The shoelace side of your foot is pointing down.
Exhale and bow forward as you keep your feet active and the inner knee of the straight leg rolling in toward the floor. Place your right hand on the outer left shin/ankle/foot and bring the right low belly over toward the straight left leg. Repeat other side. Watch Janu Sirsasana demo!
Standing Wide Leg Forward Fold - Hands Clasped
Stand on your mat with your feet wide apart and parallel to short edge of mat. Open your arms and see that your ankles are as wide apart as your wrists. Interlace your hands behind your back. Keep the triceps lifting and elbows bent.
Hug your feet toward the mid-line. Exhale and fold forward, reaching your clasped knuckles toward the sky. Maintain a bend in the elbows, inhale and lengthen from your waistline thru your crown. Each exhalation extends your clasped hands upward and over your head. Draw your shoulder blades down your back toward your hips. Stay here 5-10 breaths.
Release your hands while still in the forward fold. Bring your finger tips to the floor. Move to Downward Facing Dog, Child’s Pose, or to the floor in a way that works for you.
Headstand or Legs Up the Wall
Headstand is one of the best postures for decreasing stress and preventing migraines. It’s even a great pose to do if you get a migraine, but, only if you are in good alignment. There are some contraindications to this pose, such as menstruation and detached retina. Precautions for headstand include high and low blood pressure, neck injuries and glaucoma. Seek out a qualified teacher for a private and master this gem!
Legs Up the Wall
Place a bolster or folded blankets, horizontally, against the wall. Sit on the floor and turn onto your right side, supporting yourself up with your hands. Scoot your pelvis up on the bolster. Lift your legs up and inch up closer to the wall so the back of your legs rest on the wall. Adjust your position on the bolster so that the lower back feels supported. Cushion your head with a blanket.
Relax here for 5-10 minutes. Consciously allow your pelvis to release. Receive slow breaths.
Lay on your back. Expand your feet fall a little wider than your hips. Open your arms away from your sides with the palms facing upward. Eyes closed. Feel all the parts of your body resting on the earth and invite them to get heavy. Take a journey inward and rest for 7 minutes.
Responding with loving care at the first sign of a headache facilitates faster recovery and reduced symptoms.
Take a Break
I have found that acknowledging the first the signs of a headache by taking a break from work or obligations, most always gets the migraine under control and I don’t need any medication. I create time and space to practice soothing yoga postures. It can be as simple as taking 3 minutes to get grounded with some pranayama (breathing) or getting up from the computer and doing a few postures.
Attention, Slow Transitions & Breath
Each person is different and some postures will help, others may aggravate the migraine. Pay attention and honor the sensations each pose creates. It’s important that transitions from one pose to the next is very slow and that the breath always leads the way. Stay quiet as you move into and out of the poses.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Place a bolster, vertically over two blocks so it’s at an incline. Sit in front of the bolster, placing your sacrum up against the bolster. Lie back and put a blanket under your head if needed. Place a blanket roll under your knees. Support your arms with pillows or blankets.
Attune to your breath. Exhale through your mouth by creating a slow rhythm that is like gently fogging a mirror. Every 15 breath cycles, abide in your natural breath for several rounds and then repeat the long exhale through the mouth. Some may find that breathing in with the mouth slightly open is helpful rather than through the nose only.
Child’s Pose Shoulder Opener
Kneel on the floor with a blanket roll placed horizontally before you. Bow forward, placing forehead on the blanket. Extend one arm over the roll. Rest your arm on the roll just above the elbow. Keep the hand soft and active. Make the opposite arm comfortable and useful as gentle support.
Knit the front ribs into the back ribs and the armpit of the extended arm lifting away from the floor. Breathe allow the expansion to create space around your neck and shoulders. Enjoy for 1-2 minutes each side.
Bridge Pose with Block
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place a block under your sacrum. Make your arms comfortable. Gently lift your chin and press the back of your head to the floor. Fill in your back ribs with breath. Focus breathing down below your navel, between the sacrum and pubic bone. Once that flow of energy feels natural, slowly allow the whole body to fill from the pelvis upward to the neck with inhalation. Open your mouth and slowly exhale. Repeat 15 breaths.
Seated Wide Leg Forward Fold with Chair or Block
Sit on a folded blanket with your legs a comfortable distance apart. Activate your feet and widen your pelvic floor by moving the inner legs and sits bones in, wide and toward back body. Keep the waistline full and gently pull your tailbone toward the floor. Fold forward and place your forehead on a block. Stay here for up to 5 minutes.
If the block and your forehead are not in the same zip code, sit in front of a chair that is padded with blankets. Fold forward and place your forehead on the chair with your arms resting in a comfortable position
Corpse Pose with Chair
Place a blanket on a chair, and two folded blankets vertically in front of it. Lie on the blankets, bend your knees and place your lower legs on the seat of the chair. Rest here for 5–10 minutes.
Consistency, Honor & Transition
Three things will foster greater success in how yoga can help migraines. One, consistency of practice doesn’t have to mean a full hour of yoga. Start or end your day with the preventative postures and give it 2-3 months to work its magic. Two, honor your body’s signals. Take a time out at the first sign of a migraine to practice one or all of the relief postures. Three, allow your yoga practice to transition with you into the rest of your day or night. Hold its sweetness in your awareness and invite that wisdom to guide you from there.
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