Today's Daily Tip
Yoga Cure for Headaches
Holiday concurs with Brofeldt that sleeping well is important. She suggests finding a pillow of a size and shape that supports the neck during the night. Do not sleep on your arm or hand as a pillow, and if possible, avoid lying on the stomach with the head turned.
Although the overwhelming majority of headaches are caused by muscular tension, Holiday feels it is important to get a diagnosis from a medical doctor to rule out serious medical conditions. Tumors, or more common conditions such as food allergies or sinus infections, may be the source of recurrent headaches. Headaches can also stem from trauma, such as whiplash or childhood falls, and resultant injury to the cervical spine.
In addition to postural and structural factors, Holiday believes that dysfunctional breathing patterns contribute to headaches. She teaches deep, diaphragmatic breathing to release contracted muscles in the upper body and belly. She notes that headache sufferers often "live in their heads; they don't breathe fully. They need time to be in the body and develop the balance between the mental and physical parts of themselves."
Breathe Away Head Pain
Richard Miller, Ph.D., a practicing clinical psychotherapist who has published widely on the subjects of yoga and pranayama, concurs with Dr. Holiday that headache sufferers often have upper respiratory, shallow breathing. They may also be unconsciously hyperventilating. He feels that pPranayama (breath control) can be very helpful in reducing headache.
"There are many pranayamas that are appropriate for people experiencing different headaches. Each pranayama is adapted to the individual headache sufferer. The first step is simply observing and noting the breath before any intervention takes place," says Miller. "Each pranayama is categorized according to its energetic impact on the body/mind. For instance, Sitali incorporates the components of long, left-nostril exhalation, a cooling inhalation through either curled tongue or open lips, and relaxing head movements."
Another pranayama that is often recommended for chronically tense people is Nadi Sodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. "Even the traditional practice of Nadi Sodhana is adapted for headache sufferers," notes Miller, "by practicing Nadi Sodhana in Savasana, with an elevation under the chest and the arms at the side." In this manner of practicing Nadi Sodhana, air is inhaled and exhaled alternately through the left and right nostrils without using the fingers to block off the air flow.
Resolve Emotional Issues
Although postural considerations and breathing patterns are a major part of the headache picture, there are other key elements, says Richard Blasband, M.D., director of research at the Center for Functional Research in Tiburon, California. He talks of headaches from a bioenergetic (energy flow) perspective: "Many, but not all headaches are the result of acute stress," he says. "One of the manifestations of this state is chronic muscular hypertension. While usually the entire body is affected to some degree, many people, because of negative conditioning in childhood or for genetic reasons, are vulnerable to developing muscular tension, particularly in the head, neck, back, and sometimes the eyes. Without sufficient deep and appropriate emotional release," he continues, "headaches will almost always return. To achieve a lasting cure, one must solve the problem at its deepest emotional core."