Monday, January 3, 2011

Yoga for Headaches - Head Wraps & Restorative Poses

If you are one of the 70% of women who suffer with migraines, you know that the more than $4 billion the National Headache Foundation estimates is spent on over-the-counter pain relievers don't work for long term relief.

My own personal experience with migraines, and now the migraines suffered by my nine-year-old daughter, have proven to me that self awareness of what triggers my migraines is a crucial step to controlling these debilitating episodes.

As more and more people are turning to alternative therapies such as yoga for headache relief, scientists are finding proof that yoga does indeed decrease both headaches sufferers frequency and intensity.

Yoga can help relieve and prevent both headaches and migraines by:

  • Decreasing stress
  • Releasing muscular tension which improves blood flow
  • Improving skeletal structural alignment
  • Practicing asana and pranyama (poses and breath work) balance the endocrine and nervous systems
  • Practicing inversions regulates the blood flow in and around your head, preventing constriction and dilation of the blood vessels)

In The Woman's Book of  Yoga & Health, author Linda Sparrowe says that restorative yoga poses are an essential part of a yoga practice not only to relieve headaches, but also to prevent headaches. Restorative yoga poses offer the body a state of complete rest to restore balance, release tension in the shoulders and to ease estrogen and serotonin levels which regulates the size of blood vessels. 

Head wrap for headache relief
When in the throes of a migraine, the only thing I've found that truly helps is a head wrap. Any large Ace bandage will work for a wrap.

Begin at the back of the head, and wrap clockwise at the forehead. Be sure to wrap loosely yet with compression. Tuck the loose ends in to secure it (don't use pins) and pull down one layer gently over the eyes.

After wrapping my daughter's head, I'll prop her legs under a bolster and dim the lights in the room.

Some people find that either warm compresses or even an ice pack on the forehead is also helpful. I've found relief by placing the top half of a sandbag on the top of my forehead, allowing the rest to drape down over the back of my head. 

For the more common, yet still painful, tension headaches, try supported restorative poses.
  • Janu Sirsasana ( head to knee pose) - with legs in traditional janu sirsasan, place your arms and head on a chair with a bolster for extra support
  • Ardha Halasana (half plough pose) - with blankets for support under the shoulders, come into plough pose with the legs resting on a chair
  • Viparita Karani (Legs up the wall pose) - lay with a bolster supporting under your lower back and ribs with legs up the wall. Your shoulders and head are on the floor. A second bolster can be placed on the floor touching the crown of your head. Place a sandbag half on the second bolster and half on your forehead to apply steady pressure


  1. Many thanks for sharing this! I've suffered with migraines (to varying degrees and lengths) for almost the past 15 years. I always appreciate strategies for relief.

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