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Yoga for Migraine

Yoga for Migraine

The shooting pain from migraines seem like a never-ending torture. Migraine is a neurological disorder that causes recurring headaches ranging from moderate to high intensity. Typically, it affects only one-half of the head and can last from 2 hours up to more than 2 days. When under a migraine attack, one might be extremely sensitive towards light or noise. Other common symptoms include vomiting, nausea, and pain aggravation due to physical activity. 

Sometimes, no pills or medicines provide relief for a couple of days. Even falling asleep becomes difficult. The good news is there are exercises and yoga for migraine prevention to try that will provide relief and won’t worsen the pain. Yoga postures, deep breathing and meditation relieve stress, a common cause of migraines. A 2020 study published in the medical journal Neurology found that people with migraines who did yoga for 3 months reported fewer and less intense headaches than those who just took medications. They were even able to cut back to about half their usual dose of migraine medicine.

Treatment involves arterial surgery, muscle surgery, occipital nerve stimulation, Botox, beta-blockers, and antidepressants, etc. But all of these methods can come with side effects. They might invoke hypotension, heart attacks, sleeping disorders, etc. One natural way of managing migraines is by practicing yoga. 

Yoga for Migraine Prevention  

Opt for classes that focus more on the breath and provide some time for relaxation. A few examples of these classes are Hatha yoga, which includes gentle movements focused on the breath, along with deep stretches that release tension in migraine-causing areas like the upper body and neck. Restorative yoga classes which use blankets, mats and blocks are also helpful and relaxing. Attend yoga nidra sessions as these classes take you into a deep state of relaxation with awareness. This will calm your sympathetic nervous system, and activate the rest and digest response. Avoid classes that are too intense or dynamic in nature such as hot yoga, power yoga, Ashtanga yoga, etc. These types of classes might trigger a migraine or make the pain worse. 

During a migraine attack, the blood vessels dilate. This increases blood flow to the head. So in such cases poses in which the head is higher than the chest are helpful. Try adding a rolled towel or blanket under your head to modify poses in which you’d otherwise put your head below your heart.

For example, in child’s pose, you usually sit between your bent knees, then bend at the waist, putting your forehead on the ground and pushing your hips back toward your heels. If you want to try this pose during a migraine, put a rolled-up blanket or towel under your forehead so your head stays at the same height as your chest.

Also, consider using a head wrap when you do yoga during a migraine. Wrap a scarf or long piece of cloth around the head and eyes. Try to make it as tight as possible, since compression helps soothe the pain. 

Some people with migraines notice that their symptoms get worse if they do yoga poses that involve inversions, like downward-facing dog. But this may not be the case for you. So, do what works for you and preferably under the guidance of a teacher. 

Yoga Postures for Migraines 

Child’s pose

This posture is perfect for releasing tension from the upper body. It opens up the shoulders, back, and spine, improving blood flow to the head. Resting the forehead on the ground also activates pressure points on the forehead, relieving migraines and headaches. It also calms down the nervous system and effectively reduces pain. 

How to do child’s pose: 

  • From thunderbolt pose or Vajrasana, bend forward bringing your forehead onto the head. Stretch the hands out in front or place the hands at the base of your spine. 
  • If you can’t reach the mat, you can place your palms in a fist and place the forehead on the fist. 
  • Relax here for a few minutes and try to take deep breaths. 
  • Now to come out of the posture slowly lift up, come back to Vajrasana and then release the legs by straightening them out.
Child’s pose

Cat-cow pose

The movement between the cat and cow pose relieves tension in the upper body. It also boosts blood flow and circulation, and relaxes the mind. This improves oxygen to the brain, which eases headache pain. 

How to do cat-cow pose: 

  • Come onto all fours with the palms directly under the shoulders and knees underneath your hips. Ensure your weight is equally distributed on all fours. 
  • Inhale and fill your abdomen with air as you let your belly drop towards the mat. There will be an arch in your back as you do this. Look up towards the ceiling and lengthen your neck and throat.
  • As you exhale, pull the naval towards the spine, curve your back and tuck your chin into your chest as you lift up. 
  • Continue this movement for a few breaths. Let your breath guide you through the movements. 
  • After a few rounds, release and come into child’s pose.


Cat-cow pose

Seated forward bend

This pose stretches out your spine and opens up your shoulders, both of which relieve some of the tension often associated with headaches. Also, seated forward folds in particular help your upper body and neck fully relax. It relaxes the mind, releases stress and relieves headache. 

How to do seated forward bend: 

  • Sit up with the legs stretched out straight in front of you (Dandasana). Keep the spine straight and toes pointing upwards. 
  • Inhale, raise both arms above your head and stretch up. As you exhale, bend forward from the hip, chin moving toward the toes. Keep the spine erect. Focus on moving forwards towards the toes, rather than down towards the knees.
  • Place your hands on your legs, wherever they reach. Do not try to force yourself closer to the thighs if it is difficult. If you can, grab hold of your toes and pull on them to help you inch forward a little. You can also grab your calves if that’s where you’re comfortable. 
  • Breathe in, keep your head straight and lengthen the spine. As you exhale, gently try to take your naval closer to the knees. Try to use your breath to go deeper into the posture.


Seated forward bend

Downward facing dog pose

In this posture the heart is above the head. That means in this inversion oxygenated blood flows to the brain in a rejuvenating effect. It improves blood circulation and relieves headaches. 

How to do downward facing dog pose: 

  • First come into the starting position of cat-cow pose (on your palms and knees). From here, push back through your hands and lift your hips. Straighten your legs. 
  • Keep the palms firmly on the mat with the fingers spread. The feet will be on the mat. If you find this difficult, you can also only place your toes on the mat. 
  • Keep the shoulders away from the ears. Look towards your abdomen. 
  • Engage your thighs and core to hold the posture. Keep taking slow deep breaths. 
  • To release the posture, exhale and bend your knees. Come down to the child's pose.


Downward facing dog pose

Legs up on the wall pose

A restorative posture, legs up the wall pose is incredibly relaxing. In this posture, too, the blood flows in the opposite direction—towards the brain. And the more blood and oxygen in your brain, the less painful your headache might be.

How to do legs up on the wall pose: 

  • Lie down with your buttocks close to a wall and legs falling to one side. Now slowly lift the legs up along the wall. Adjust your position to make sure you are as close to the wall as possible. Make sure you are comfortable.  
  • Now relax the throat and head. Keep the arms on the side of the body or above your head - whichever is comfortable for you. 
  • Stay here for a couple of minutes. Try to take slow, deep breaths. 
  • To come out of the posture, slowly drop the legs to one side and push yourself away from the wall.
Legs up on the wall pose

Bridge pose

Headaches and migraines are often caused due to tension in the shoulders and neck. The bridge pose is effective in relaxing the upper body and improving blood flow to the brain. In this posture the heart is above the head. It also calms the brain and reduces stress and anxiety. 

How to do bridge pose: 

  • Lie on the back, bend the knees and bring the heels closer to the buttocks. Keep the heels firmly on the mat. The feet should be hip width apart on the floor with the knees and ankles in a straight line. 
  • Hold the ankles with your hands.
  • Inhale and slowly lift the buttocks and hips up. Now lift the back and arch the back upward as you raise the lower, middle and upper back off the floor. 
  • Now lift the chest as high as possible towards the chin without straining. Ensure that the feet and shoulders lie firmly on the ground. Keep the inner thighs and glutes active and engaged. The thighs should be parallel to each other. 
  • Gently roll the shoulders and support your weight with the shoulders, arms and feet. 
  • Stay here for a few deep breaths. 
Bridge pose

Corpse pose

Lying down in the corpse pose relaxes and rejuvenates the entire body. This releases migraine pain. When accompanied with deep breathing, there is better oxygen flow to the brain. 

How to do corpse pose: 

  • Lie down on your back and keep your legs slightly apart 
  • Bring your arms alongside your body, but slightly away 
  • Tuck your shoulder blades onto your back for support
  • Now release and completely let go onto your mat 
  • Breathe naturally and relax here 
Corpse pose

Apart from these postures, practice shoulder rotations, neck bends and wrist rotations. These movements will release blockages and tension from different parts of the body. 

Other yogic practices for migraines

Breathing exercises

Pranayama can be extremely relaxing and effective. Practices like alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana), humming bee breath (Brahmari), and ocean breath (Ujjayi) calm and relax the mind, release tension and toxins, and improve blood circulation throughout the body. 

Yoga Nidra

The practice of guided relaxation, known as yoga nidra, is one of the best to release stress and relax. This practice works on the subconscious mind, helping you let go of stressors from the day and relax. It is also effective in managing pain, and balancing the nervous system. 


Practice meditation regularly to keep your mind and body in a state of peace and balance. Over a period of time you will notice the frequency of migraines reducing and even the intensity of pain going down. It will take time, but try joining a guided meditation class and let the practice do its magic. 

Concluding thoughts

Migraine headaches can put a dent in one’s day by causing unbearable pain and discomfort. Managing these headaches, and working on effectively reducing their frequency will be helpful in your day-to-day life. Yoga will help you improve your resistance against migraines and reduce dependency on medication. However, consult your doctor before stopping or starting any medicines.

Yoga for Migraine
Shvasa Editorial Team

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