Today's Daily Tip
Yoga Cure for Headaches
For years Carol woke up in the middle of the night with a shooting pain in her neck that soon became a throbbing headache. Most nights she was unable to go back to sleep, and in the morning she felt exhausted and depressed. Seeking relief, Carol consulted numerous medical doctors, including two neurologists. Though every specialist Carol saw concurred that her problem was muscle tension, no one offered an effective means to treat it. They prescribed muscle relaxants, antidepressants, prescription pain-killers, and even an oxygen tank, but these measures failed to bring Carol any lasting relief. They did, however, make her so drowsy she couldn't drive and push her further into depression.
Ultimately, Carol consulted Tomas Brofeldt, M.D., at the University of California's Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Brofeldt is a doctor of emergency medicine with a special interest in headaches. Trained in structural engineering as well as medicine, Brofeldt treats head pain using yoga to correct posture. He believes 75 percent of all headaches arise from muscle tension in the back of the neck, specifically the semispinalis capitis muscles, due to problems in posture.
The first problem Brofeldt noticed when he examined Carol was that her shoulders were rounded, and her thoracic spine and head were slumping forward, creating tension in her neck muscles. Because the muscles of the neck and upper back connect to the head, tension in the neck can be referred to the forehead and behind the eyes, causing headaches. Brofeldt prescribed simple exercises for Carol to do throughout the day. He also advised her to do aerobic exercise, such as walking uphill, lightweight resistance exercise to build strength in her upper body, and yoga for alignment awareness and stretching. He suggested that she meditate 10 minutes a day in an attempt to calm her busy mind. Brofeldt kept in touch with Carol in the following months to encourage her to stay with the program.
Even though Carol was not inclined to do yoga, she followed Brofeldt's advice and came to me for private yoga classes. I had just returned from the Iyengar Teacher's Exchange in Estes Park, Colorado, with a long list of therapeutic sequences developed by the Iyengars at their clinic in India, including some for headaches. I modified the sequences to suit Carol's particular needs, and she began to practice them before she went to bed.
Carol has come to understand that her headaches have a psychosomatic quality and has acknowledged the difficulty she has relaxing and letting go in both passive yoga poses and meditation. She is now able to observe herself with humor, and her headaches have diminished in frequency. Although she still gets headaches a couple of times a month, Carol now "has a handle on it" and knows that if she doesn't follow her daily physical routine, the headaches recur.
Muscle Tension and Headaches
Brofeldt believes that headaches are unique to the human race, originating from our need to constantly hold the head upright. We hold the mouth closed and the head upright by contracting the temporalis and the semispinalis capitis muscles. What we perceive as headaches are actually symptoms of muscle fatigue from these "headache muscles," according to Brofeldt. Often, pain from these stressed postural muscles is referred to other sites, for example, from the neck to behind the eyes. Stressed postural muscles may also cause nausea, generalized fatigue, lack of concentration, and visual disturbances.