Heads-Up About Headaches


By Yoga Journal  |  

Conventional medicine treats headaches with aspirin or ibuprofen, but this only deals with the symptoms, not the causes. Tension headaches can be brought on by any number of problems, including bad posture, muscle fatigue, sinus infections, emotional turmoil, high blood pressure, and more. Some migraines, however, can be brought on by food allergies and chemical sensitivities, among other things.

Headaches can be a sign of an underlying health condition, so if it is not a tension-type headache, seek professional medical help. If the headaches are of the tension variety, yoga surely can help. Body awareness can help predict the onset of a headache and stop it early in its course. The most common cause of headaches is the forward head position, with rounded shoulders, a curved upper back, and accompanying muscular tension. The first sign of a headache is often a tightening of the shoulders and neck. This contraction causes a reduction in blood flow to the vessels of the head, resulting in a headache.

Yoga poses that can be done at the desk or at home to relieve tension include Garudasana (Eagle Pose) arms to open the space between the shoulder blades, and Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) arms to stretch the shoulders. Other poses to experiment with include Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose), Supported Balasana (Child’s Pose), Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall Pose), and of course, Savasana (Corpse Pose), for total relaxation. In addition, Tomas Brofeldt, M.D., a doctor of emergency medicine with a special interest in headaches at the University of California’s Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, recommends repeating the following simple exercises several times a day to prevent headaches:

Extend the arms out, parallel to the floor, palms down. Rotate the palms up. Pull the elbows in toward the torso as you bring the palms to the belly. This aligns the clavicles and scapulae, straightening the upper back.

Stand tall, extending the top of the head up. Pull the chin in with the eyes on the horizon, then bend the head forward. This stretches the back of the neck, adjusting the forward head position.

Sit tall on a chair, with the chin pulled in, and reach the right arm behind, taking the seat back with your hand. Lean the body away diagonally to the left, and with the chin tucked in and dropped, tilt the head left. Place the left hand on the right side of the head and pull gently to stretch. Repeat on the opposite side. A pulling sensation (sometimes uncomfortable in the beginning) should extend from the base of the skull down to the shoulder.