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Yoga For Migraine: A Natural, Science-Backed Solution

Written by Holly Hazen


Health Benefits  |  How it Works for Migraines  |  Research  |  Poses

Yoga for Migraine: What Poses to Try for Relief @migrainesavvyYoga for Migraine: What Poses to Try for Relief @migrainesavvy


For thousands of years, yoga has been practiced, using breathing techniques, postures, movement and meditations to focus on controlling both the body and mind. While many individuals practice yoga to improve overall fitness and flexibility, some recent studies show that yoga may help migraine sufferers by naturally controlling migraines and reducing the number of migraines experienced.

If you are considering yoga for migraines, take the time to learn more about the health benefits, how it works for migraines, important research and poses to try for migraine relief.


General Health Benefits of Yoga

Practicing yoga has been shown to offer a number of excellent general health benefits. One of the main benefits of yoga is its ability to reduce stress, since it does not just focus on poses, but also focuses on meditation and deep breathing techniques. Yoga also aids in weight loss and is used by many individuals pursuing better fitness and well being. 

Getting involved in yoga also provides benefits like blood pressure reduction, heart rate reduction and may help to manage medical problems like diabetes, insomnia, epilepsy, asthma and depression.

Yoga and How it Works for Migraines  @migrainesavvy #migrainerelief #stopmigraines #migrainesareafulltimejob

Yoga and How it Works for Migraines

Before trying yoga for migraines, you may want to know how yoga helps to treat migraines. Researchers believe that the nervous system of the body is calmed by the relaxation techniques used with yoga. Calming the nervous system is thought to help reduce brain activities that may cause migraines to occur. 

Yoga may also help to increase levels of serotonin within the body, reducing the tightening of blood vessels in the brain, reducing the chance of getting a migraine. [1]

While it appears that yoga may help to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines, since yoga has been shown to offer pain reduction, it may provide relief for migraine pain as well.

Studies on Yoga for Migraine

Several studies have been conducted on yoga for migraines. One study conducted in India (2014) found that regular yoga instruction led to a reduction in migraine frequency, duration and severity.

It also improved the "cardiac autonomic balance. Disturbances in the autonomic nervous system and in the regulation of the circulatory system are associated with migraines. If balance is restored, the likelihood of a migraine is reduced." [2]

Of course, this is only one study, so more studies should be done to find out if yoga offers significant relief for migraine sufferers. However, anecdotal evidence and this single study does show that some individuals may enjoy results when using yoga as a method of preventing migraines.

Two migraine experts interviewed in the Migraine World Summit over the last few years - Richard B. Lipton, MD, director of the Montefiore Headache Center in New York City and Dawn Buse, Migraine psychologist - both agree that doing yoga for migraine reduction is beneficial.

If stress is a trigger for you, yoga is a great way to help your body reduce that stress response so that you don’t get stuck in fight or flight for too long. 



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Poses to Try

Although scientists have studied no specific poses, yoga instructors do recommend certain poses to migraine sufferers. The following are a couple yoga poses you may want to try to see if they help prevent migraines.

A good yoga pose for migraine prevention is downward dog @migrainesavvy #migrainerelief #stopmigraines #migrainesareafulltimejobDownward-Facing Dog

  • Downward-Facing Dog – Begin the pose on your knees and hands. Hands should be beneath the shoulders. Start to lift hips up, placing feet and palms on the floor, creating an inverted “V.” Try to hold the pose for 15-20 seconds. Bring awareness to your breath, allow yourself some nice deep slow breaths and then go back to the beginning position.
  • Cat Pose – This is a good pose for beginners and it helps to relieve tension around the spine while boosting upper body circulation. Begin with your knees and hands on the floor, keeping the back straight. Gradually begin lifting the back, rounding out the spine while exhaling. Bring awareness to your breath and allow yourself some nice deep slow breaths. Return to the original position.

    The breath is so important, that in fact, you normally do the poses or movements on inhale or exhale. 

Another good yoga pose for migraine prevention is child's pose @migrainesavvy #migrainerelief #stopmigraines #migrainesareafulltimejobChild’s pose - arms can be by your sides, towards your feet, resting on the floor as well.

  • Child’s Pose – This pose is wonderful for reducing stress and releases tension in the shoulders, neck and back. Start on the knees, then bend forward, placing arms flat on the floor from the elbows down. Hold for 15-20 seconds and always bring awareness to your breath, allow yourself some nice deep slow breaths and return to the starting position.

  • Legs Up the Wall Pose (or Viparita Karani) is a restorative yoga posture that allows the mind and the body to relax, relieving stress and tension. It's one of the most nourishing, calming and grounding poses. There's a bit of preparation for this pose to get it right.

    Find a clear wall and floor space and get your hips as close to the wall as possible, lie on your side and draw your knees to your chest. Then roll around onto your back. It’s best to have a yoga mat and towel to roll onto. Then start walking your feet up the wall until your body is in a somewhat L-shaped position.

    You can make a number of adjustments to facilitate a more relaxing pose - maybe place a pillow under your head or let your arms rest on your belly or out to the sides. 

    At this point, focus on taking some nice deep, slow inhales and exhales through your nose. Try to stay in the pose for at least 5 minutes for optimal benefits... 15 minutes would be even better.

    ***Try not to bring the body to a full 90-degree angle as this can impede circulation at the hips. Instead slide your hips a few inches from the wall and/or elevate your hips by placing a cushion or folded towel under your sacrum. *** [3]

You can use one or two towels, cushions, bolsters or blankets for support. Here are some quick instructions for towels to use as support in this yoga for migraine pose: 

Fold one towel in half to form a large square. Then fold that in thirds, creating a firm, supportive cushion. Place your towel cushion about 12 inches away from the wall. Fold the other towel in half and place it three feet from the wall. You can use this to support your head and to fill in the space between your neck and the floor. [3]

When you put your legs up the wall with your pelvis elevated on a folded blanket, lymph and other fluids that can lead to swollen ankles, tired knees, and congested pelvic organs flow into the lower belly; this refreshes the legs and the reproductive area. This is healthy at any point in your reproductive life cycle. [3]

Although more studies need to be done to establish how well yoga relieves or prevents migraines, yoga has many benefits and may offer some relief from migraines for some individuals. 

Of course, while it is generally considered to be safe, be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning yoga and make sure this is suitable with all your health conditions considered. If you decide to start yoga, be sure to take classes from a certified instructor. And don’t push into the poses too hard; you can actually hurt yourself if you are not careful.


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Yoga for Migraine Resources:

1. Migraine.com. Yoga for migraine relief. Available [online] at: https://migraine.com/complimentary-and-alternative-therapies/yoga/
2. Kisan R, Sujan M, Adoor M, et al. (2014). Effect of Yoga on migraine: A comprehensive study using clinical profile and cardiac autonomic functions. International journal of yoga, 7(2), 126-32. Available [online] at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097897/  Accessed Mar. 5, 2019
3. Yoga Journal (2010). Do Less, Relax More: Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose. Available [online] at: https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/legs-up-the-wall-pose  Accessed Mar. 6, 2019



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