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Help for Migraines

I'm 47 and have been practicing daily for 10 years. In the past four years, I've started to suffer from migraines. Which poses help most with migraines and the accompanying nausea?
Nancy Lamb, Issaquah, Washington

By Dean Lerner

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Causes vary, but migraines—whose symptoms include head pain, nausea, dizziness, lethargy, weakness, and difficulty breathing—often result from tension. Yoga teaches us to develop and keep an inner balance. The Bhagavad Gita recommends that we "treat pleasure and pain, gain and loss, success and failure equally." Putting this philosophy into action is the best prescription for reducing mental strain.

Just as the mind affects the body, so the body affects the mind. Yoga asanas, or postures, can help alleviate migraine headaches. Most sufferers can't do much other than retreat to bed once a severe migraine hits, but a full-blown attack is often preceded by a prodrome, a warning symptom, such as dizziness, drowsiness, muscle stiffness, or mood swings. Developing a sensitivity to such signals, and using them as a call to action, can help you halt the migraine before it begins, or at least reduce its severity. When you get a warning, make it a priority to stop what you are doing.

Performing certain asanas before the migraine occurs, or just as it is making itself known, is most effective. There's no prescribed set of asanas guaranteed to conquer headaches, and each individual is different. However, the following poses are most beneficial. Forward bends like Janu Sirsasana and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) can slow the release of hormones from the pituitary and adrenal glands, and quiet excited nerves. Supported Ardha Halasana (Half Plow Pose) removes tension from the frontal brain. Jalandhara Bandha, the Chin Lock, regulates the circulation of energy and blood to the brain. Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) expands the chest muscles, which increases oxygen intake and distributes energy evenly. Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) helps relax the mind and nervous system and also increases oxygen intake. These poses can all be effective; you must determine which work best for you. Let intuition and experimentation be your guides.

Dean Lerner is codirector of the Center for Well Being in Lemont, Pennsylvania. A longtime student of B.K.S. Iyengar, he served a four-year term as president of the Iyengar National Association of the United States.
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