Top Yoga Poses for Headaches
Yoga can be a beneficial therapeutic tool for relieving headaches brought on by muscle tension and stress. The majority of headaches originate from muscle stiffness and imbalances emanating from the neck and upper back. When headaches set in, using a series of restorative yoga exercises can greatly relieve both the cause and symptoms. Here are our top yoga poses and exercises that naturally treat headaches.
1. Cat Pose: The flowing motion of breath and spine helps release tension from the neck and upper back while also pouring refreshing energy through the body and mind.
2. Seated Twists like Half Twist: Besides increasing circulation throughout the entire length of the spine, the twisting motion in the upper spine (cervical region) often alleviates tension coming from the scalene muscles of the neck (anterior aspect).
3. Chest Openers like Yoga Mudra Arms: Much of the tension in the back body is a result of muscle dominance from the front body (called Upper Cross Syndrome). Expanding the chest and front shoulder muscles helps break down muscular imbalances and frees the tension coming from the neck.
4. Eagle Arms: This simple crossed arm pose can be done in Mountain Pose or any natural seated posture. This back expander can reach well into the mid and upper back targeting problematic muscles around the shoulder blades and the base of the neck. Take time in this arm pose to breath slow and full into the upper back and insure that you perform this arm pose on both sides.
5. Simple Neck Stretches: Gently move through the various muscle fiber lines by allowing your head to float down to one shoulder with gravity, down across the chest and into the other side – repeat with a natural, unforced motion. Avoid letting the head fall back-keep the motion in a half circle from one shoulder to the other. Pause where you find extra areas of resistance.
6. Childs Pose: A perfect restorative yoga pose that slightly inverts the body. A gentle flow of extra blood circulates into the head helping relieve tension. With the legs slightly separated, you can easily settle into deep core and back breathing to encourage a flood of circulation to reach deep into the body. Note that the head and neck should be absolutely comfortable. If needed, keep you arms forward or bend the elbows and rest the forearms by your chest/under your shoulders so the palms face up-this will greatly unload any pressure from the neck.
7. Two Knee Reclining Twist: Unlike our seated twists, this reclining twist can be far more restorative and held longer to bring deeper focus into relaxing the nervous system while the chest expands and rejuvenates the spine. Give extra attention to releasing the shoulders into the mat to again release dominance of the shoulder and chest muscles.
8. Legs Up The Wall Pose: This highly beneficial inverted pose is great for developing hamstring flexibility and for improving circulation in the lower limbs. For headaches, the extra flow of blood to the brain and the restorative support can be deeply relaxing and nourishing.
9. Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing): The aim of alternate nostril breathing is to restore balance to the energy systems. With balance, we find release and calm. This yoga breathing exercise is easy to do for all levels and targets the nervous system by slowing brain waves, calming the mind and purging stress.
10. Relaxation Pose: After doing a series of restorative yoga poses, take some time to simply relax and release in Savasana. Turn the focus away from the symptoms of your headache and settle into the sensation of mental and physical release. You may find a light eye pillow helpful in moving tension/pressure out of the eyes and forehead. Increase your comfort by placing a bolster under the knees and a thin pillow under the head. To complement the chest openers and reclining twists, lay with the arms open to the sides/palms facing the ceiling.
Take advantage of restorative yoga exercises to treat your headache. Before jumping for a chemical medication that usually just masks the symptoms, see how these key yoga poses can first work to naturally eliminate the cause of the headache and free you from the discomfort arising from imbalances and stress.
How Yoga Can Help You Recover from Adrenal Fatigue
“Adrenal Fatigue” is a term that pops up more and more frequently these days. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you?
- You feel tired for no reason.
- You are overwhelmed by moderate tasks and more impatient and irritable than usual.
- You have trouble getting up in the morning.
- You feel rundown.
- You frequently get sick and have trouble recovering.
- You crave salty snacks.
- You feel more awake after 6pm.
- You gain weight around the abdomen.
- You suffer from PMS.
If this is the story of your life, you might have a fatigued adrenal system most likely caused by stress.
The adrenals are glands just above your kidneys and their function is to regulate hormones. One part (cortex) secretes hormones vital to life called corticosteroids. There are two corticosteroids: cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol is responsible for responding to stress and is also involved in carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism. Aldosterone is responsible for the regulation of the salt/water balance in the body.
The other part (adrenal medulla) secretes non-essential hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones are involved in a response called the “fight or flight” mechanism and help the body deal with stressful situations.
Now, usually these glands are meant to deal with short bursts of stress so they can recover quickly. For example, way back when we were hunted down by wild animals, adrenaline and noradrenaline would kick in to get us away from the dangerous animal and a life-threatening situation. This would usually take a few minutes followed by some recovery time in a safe shelter. However, the body cannot distinguish between the stress of fearing for our life from back then and the stress we encounter in our lives today. Unfortunately, stress these days is more constant and taxing on our adrenals because there is no natural outlet (e.g. running away to put the hormones to use). Most of the time we encounter stress that we can not run away from such as a bad work situation, financial problems, family or health problems. Our adrenals constantly secrete hormones because they think we are in life-threatening situations. These hormones have other functions though, like regulating metabolism and keeping your weight in check, regulating blood pressure so you won’t feel dizzy, and secreting and regulating other hormones that influence PMS. Unfortunately, once the adrenals are fatigued and depleted, they can no longer fulfill these functions and we start feeling tired, rundown and get sick. They simply cannot keep up the supply that is demanded.
In order to restore the adrenals, we need to actively deal with stress. Yoga is a great solution in many ways. Not only is the physical aspect of yoga helpful to cycle out all the excess hormones but the mental aspect is beneficial as well. Meditation and slow movements are great ways to slow down the heart rate and shift the body from the sympathetic “fight or flight” mode to the parasympathetic “rest and digest” mode. To calm the body and mind, restorative yoga poses can work wonders. Check out My Yoga’s library for restorative yoga practices.