Migraine Headaches, Yoga and Me

A migraine headache attack


It began for me on a Monday evening. I finished dinner and prepared to relax for a few hours in front of the television. I noticed a pain in my forehead above the left eyebrow but tried to ignore it. A short time later I sneezed, and from that moment the ache in my head was increasingly severe. I took Tylenol to ease the pain, but it did nothing. Frustrated and miserable I went to bed, remembering that whenever I went to bed with a headache it was usually gone by morning. This time was different, however. More Tylenol offered no relief, and I applied a cold, wet washcloth to my forehead. The compress helped somewhat but not enough, and the headache limited me to less than two hours of actual sleep. Eventually my stomach became upset and I threw up twice in the night. By sunrise I felt dizzy and slightly disoriented. This was the worst headache I had ever experienced.

When morning came, a tingling sensation in my arms was added to my list of symptoms and I elected to visit my doctor. He was worried enough to have an ambulance transport me to the hospital for tests. After doctors were assured I wasn’t the victim of a heart attack or stroke, I was told I was suffering from a migraine headache. I felt better the following day, but the headache did not entirely subside for more than three days.

Although I suffered frequently from sinus headaches, I had no history of migraines and it was suggested that stress triggered this episode. Given the severity of my headache, I was certainly grateful that this wasn’t a regular occurrence for me. I have had migraines several times since I suffered my first headache. It is not a regular problem, but when they occur, the pain is overwhelming.


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The face of pain

17% of all people suffer from migraines
17% of all people suffer from migraines
Blurred vision can be a symptom of migraines
Blurred vision can be a symptom of migraines
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications are helpful
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications are helpful
Some migraine sufferers will resort to alternative remedies
Some migraine sufferers will resort to alternative remedies
Exercise, massage and other preventive treatments have been successful in combating migraines
Exercise, massage and other preventive treatments have been successful in combating migraines

What is a migraine and how is it treated?


Approximately 17% of the population gets a migraine headache sometime in their life (over one billion men and women worldwide)! It has been estimated that over 300 million people get migraines regularly and some don’t even know it, believing they are suffering from sinus headaches.

A migraine is a specific type of headache that is severe and is often accompanied by a variety of symptoms. It is commonly believed they are the result of the irritation and inflammation of nerve endings caused by a constriction of arteries to the brain which reduces blood flow, followed by dilation or widening of the arteries. A sudden shift from constricted to dilated arteries causes the pain. Scientists now suspect, however, that they are caused by inherited abnormalities in genes that control activities in some cell populations in the brain. Migraine headaches are often triggered by specific substances or causes including caffeine, red wine, chocolate and aged cheese. Emotional stress, physical exertion, bright or fluorescent lights, high altitude or changes in weather can also cause an attack. Symptoms can include severe headache, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, blurred vision and tingling in the face, arms or legs. The symptoms can vary widely between persons and episodes.


Migraine Treatments

There are a host of preventive and pain-relieving medications employed to combat the symptoms of migraine headaches, and they are used with varying degrees of effectiveness. Preventive treatments are typically considered when medications to relieve migraine symptoms are ineffective. In most instances preventive medications don’t eliminate headaches completely, and some can cause serious side-effects.

Treatments for migraines that don’t include medication include exercise, massage, aromatherapy, heat and/or cold, acupuncture and herbal remedies. Avoiding migraine triggers through controlling diet and avoiding stress are also important in managing headache pain. Each method for treating migraines has supporters, but nothing seems to be 100% effective.

In a search for relief from headache pain, a wealth of “home remedies” has also been shared. Magnesium pills, peppermint oil, ginger root, Gatorade, tea with honey, induced vomiting and even a towel or pillowcase wrapped tightly around one’s head are among the many solutions found in online searches. The sheer volume of ideas offers many possibilities for those seeking a respite from pain.

Prescription medication, alternative treatments or home remedies—no matter what our preferred treatment may be, we still seem to be in agony. Many people find satisfactory remedies, but others suffer alone in a darkened room until the pain subsides. I have yet to discover a treatment that entirely alleviates my pain and have resorted to preventive measures. I decided to fight back against migraine headaches at the first sign of an attack.


Yoga techniques as a remedy for migraine headaches

Controlled and focused breathing is a technique for fighting headache pain
Controlled and focused breathing is a technique for fighting headache pain
The Cat and cow pose help to release tension in the neck and shoulders
The Cat and cow pose help to release tension in the neck and shoulders
A savasana for meditation and relaxation
A savasana for meditation and relaxation
My "happy spot"
My "happy spot"

Migraine treatments and me


On recent occasions when I felt a migraine looming, I attempted to combat it proactively. My primary tool for minimizing my symptoms was gentle yoga. Focusing on my breath, posture and relaxation has been instrumental in reducing headache pain.

At the onset of a migraine headache, I sit on the floor with my back straight and eyes shut, focusing on my breathing. I inhale through my nose slowly but without holding my breath. Long, extended breaths release endorphins that naturally relieve stress, headache and back pain. Deep breathing increases oxygen to my brain and calm my thoughts. If my headache has not yet reached a stage where the movement of my head increases the pain, I will lift my head up and back as I inhale, and lower it toward my chest when exhaling. I also practice Anuloma Viloma Pranayam, wherein I systematically breathe in through one nostril and exhale through the other, using my thumb and index finger to regulate my breathing.

Neck and shoulder stretches relieve tension that often contributes to headache pain. Slowly circling my head in rhythm with deep breaths releases stress in both my neck and shoulders and helps me to focus on breathing. Alternating the cat (down on hands and knees with back arched) and cow (down on hands and knees with back swayed) poses achieves similar results. With seated poses, I am careful to keep my back straight and shoulders down. I am simultaneously cautious to avoid postures which raise my heart above my head. Simply bending over often worsens a headache for me, and it was clear from the outset that yoga postures that cause blood to rush to my head are counterproductive.

I hold each position only for as long as it is comfortable to do so when warding off a headache. When I am finished, I meditate in a savasana. In this position I lower myself to the floor onto my back. My arms are at rest at my sides, my palms are up and my shoulders are pulled away from my ears. My legs are extended in a relaxed position and my feet fall to their sides. My focus is entirely on relaxation, and I will often imagine a “happy spot” to fix my attention. This visualization is a place where I feel calm and at peace; the outside world does not intrude here. I imagine myself alone in the mountains, feeling the sunshine on my face and a cool, autumn-like breeze. The happy spot will be different for everyone, of course.

Will yoga work for you in combating migraine headaches? It is difficult to predict results, but with a basic knowledge of its practice, you can fight the debilitating pain in a safe and inexpensive way. Alone or in conjunction with other remedies, yoga might be exactly what is needed to help conquer the pain you’re suffering.

Good luck and good health.

Note: I am not an expert in the instruction or practice of yoga. The procedures described here are not recommended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment; nor are they intended as instruction for those beginning the practice of yoga. For reasons of safety and health, consult a doctor and a certified yoga instructor before attempting these or any yoga techniques.


Take the poll that makes your head hurt

Have you ever suffered from a migraine headache?

  • Never
  • Once in a while
  • Yes, with some regularity
  • I often suffer from migraines
See results without voting

How do you treat your migraine headaches

  • Go to bed in a dark room until the headache is gone
  • Over the counter pain relief and/or medication from a doctor
  • Alternative remedies
  • A combination of the above
See results without voting

Have you ever used yoga to aid in the treatment of migraine headaches?

  • No, it never occurred to me.
  • I tried it but it didn't help.
  • Yes, yoga has frequently helped me deal with migraine headaches.
See results without voting

Comments 30 comments

Teddletonmr profile image

Teddletonmr 6 years ago from Midwest USA

Mike your hub Migraine Headaches, Yoga and Me is great. One of my friends suffers often from Migraines, I will share your hub with her and all my other friends, thanks for the useful information...


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

Thanks for this info and advice. I’m definitely going to try this! Therefore bookmarked and voted up.


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

I had migraine headaches when my daughter was sixteen, and just walking hurt my head worse with each step which I only took if I had to get up to answer the door. I went to the doctor and he gave me medicine that said death was a side effect so I tossed that and decided to just let go of the sixteen year old that legally I could do nothing about. I don't imagine it was that very day but soon after I never had a migraine since. Stress is responsible for much I think and even problems I have today that are not migraines. If we could all just learn to not worry what a wonderful world this would be.

Great hub and advice, I will save it too, just in case.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

Once in a long while, I get a migraine. I never thought to try yoga at the onset. (I do a few yoga exercises every morning). Thanks, Mike.


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Yes for sure, I will bookmark this as well and share it. I to suffered with a migraine once in my life. I was 13 yrs old on a school bus, it was so severe, I had to ask the bus driver to stop so I could get off and vomit and walk home.

I was in bed for two days until it eventually went away. Never had one since, although I get headaches now on the side of my head, feels like a stinging sensation and very sharp pain.

I must make a visit to my doctor to see what they may be, I hope not strokes? Great hub Mike I am glad that the yoga exercises are helping relieve those migraines, they are definitely nasty. Peace


Allan Douglas profile image

Allan Douglas 6 years ago from Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

I count myself as blessed for not having migraines. I have a friend who suffers from them regularly and I am sendeing him a link to your hub. I do, however, get sinus headaches and infections from breathing sawdust. Those are quite painful enough for me! Hopefully I'll continue to be spared from migraines. Thanks for another very informative hub.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Teddletonmr, thanks for reading. I would eagerly recommend yoga for anyone suffering from headaches. There are certainly no side effects, and the ordinary benefits of practicing yoga will still be felt. I hope that it works for your friends as much as it has helped me. Thanks for stopping by.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

MartieCoetser, thanks for stopping by. I definitely recommend yoga to combat headaches. It's free, it has helped me a lot and there are no side-effects or risks. There is definitely nothing to lose. Thanks very much for bookmarking and voting up--it is always appreciated.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Polly, thanks for your comments. Death as a side-effect? I would throw that one out the door, also. I agree completely that the world would be a better place if we could minimize the stress in our lives. I know my migraines and probably some other physical ailments are stress-induced. For me, that was why yoga was a logical option. I hope that whatever means you have found to deal with the stress in your life works well for you. Thanks again for stopping by and reading. I am always appreciative.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Paradise, if you practice yoga in the mornings you might be dealing with migraine triggers automatically, regardless of whether they are caused by stress or physical issues. I commend you for practicing it--the benefits are many. Thanks for reading this, and I hope your evening is a good one.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Saddlerider, thanks for stopping by. Always a pleasure to find your comments here. I would certainly recommend seeing a doctor at some point if the headaches you describe are frequent. I would suspect they are not caused by a stroke, but whatever they turn out to be, it's best to have their cause accounted for.

I have always suffered from headaches but never dealt with migraines until the last few years. Admittedly, the stresses have worsened for me in that time. Yoga has helped.

Take care, and I hope you do get to a doctor at some point to ask about your headaches. Again--take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Allan, thanks for stopping by. Sinus headaches can be awful, as well. I frequently get sinus headaches from dust and other things I'm allergic to. I also suffer from them during the storm season. For awhile it was so bad that I had a headache if there was a thunderstorm in Omaha, Nebraska--four hours away! I don't get them quite as often now, but I know how much they can hurt.

Thanks so much for reading, and I'm glad you're able to count yourself among those who do not get migraines. Take care.

Mike


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

Oh Mike can I relate, I've suffered migraine headaches for years and Yoga is my most treasured medicine and therapy for life in general. Although simple I find savasana for meditation and relaxation the cure to my migraines as you learn to feel them coming on and know how to prevent them. Sometimes however there is no stopping them and this is when your other tips offer help. I have allergies and suffer sinus headaches as well, dust, mold, pollen and those sudden weather changes... oh the pain of headaches and migraines. Good to know I'm not alone and I really appreciate this information. Peace and Good Health :)


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Katie, it sounds like we are alike in our propensity for headaches and what triggers them. It also appears we have found some of the same solutions, which does a lot to validate them. Yoga has been so helpful for me, although there are times when that doesn't help, either. I am pleased you found something of use for you here, and I hope yoga continues to help you when you are suffering from headaches. Thanks and take care.

Mike


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

I've had several migraines through the years but fortunately have not had one in a great while. Sinus headaches...that's another story! Thanks to a fellow hubpage writer I have discovered a great (cure?) treatment for sinus headaches. Go to the drug store and buy a Neti Pot ASAP. They come with little packets of basically salt and baking soda which is mixed with body temperature water. Hanging over a sink, you insert this Neti Pot with the salt solution into one nostril, breathing with your mouth open, and it circulates through the sinuses coming out the other nostril into the sink.

This can be done to prevent ever getting sinus headaches again also instead of just using this to treat sinus headaches once they occur. IT IS LIKE A MIRACLE! At least it has been for me.

I have told others about it who have even had sinus surgery and they report GREAT RESULTS.

It is a natural approach. Hope you and your readers benefit from this as I and my friends have. Headaches...no matter the reason...are no fun! Rating this hub useful and tweeting it as well. Thanks Mike!


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 6 years ago from London, UK

Very useful Article, Mike and I'm glad to know it's not a regular occurrence with you.

It's a long time since I've suffered a Migraine but when I do, they are so bad. I've made note of the gentle Yoga exercise and if it happens again, I have an extra way to deal with it. I can also share with friends too as everyone tends to just swallow tablets and sleep in a dark room when affected.

Have a great weekend. :)


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Peggy, thanks for the information. I will check out your headache remedies because my sinus headaches have been killing me my entire adult life. I appreciate your stopping by and offering something new for me to try. Thanks again, and I hope your weekend is a great one.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Hi, Elena. Thanks for reading, and I am glad you found some of this to possibly be useful for you or your friends. As I indicated, I (fortunately) don't get migraines a lot, but when I did I also tried to sleep in a dark room until the headache let up. Yoga has helped a great deal, and hopefully it can for other folks, as well.

Thanks again, and I hope your weekend is a good one, as well.

Mike


coffeesnob 6 years ago

Mike,

As always you have produced a quality article. For years my daughter has suffered with migraines. I always wondered about them being inherited, because neither her father nor I had them. then one day I began getting these crazy eye disturbances. And after testing for all other kinds of disorders the conclusion was - migraines. It seems I get the eye disturbances but not the pain... go figure.

CS


H.C Porter profile image

H.C Porter 6 years ago from Lone Star State

Mike

I suffer from migraines as well and they can really disable your ability to do anything. For some reason, I will usually wake up with a migraine or a headache in the morning and it quickly becomes so severe that it is hard to function. Most of the time it hurts to even try to focus on an object, sometimes sleep will help-but not always. I believe the longest migraine headache I have ever suffered through has lasted 3 days... I tried showers, massage, meditation and finally codeine...which was strong enough to knock me out and allow me to wake up headache free.

This is a great Hub-with great information and tips for anyone who has ever had a migraine. Rated Up/Awesome and Useful sir. Thanks for sharing!


SilentReed profile image

SilentReed 6 years ago from Philippines

In our pill-popping instant cure all attitude society we tend to neglect the preventive aspect. Preferring to treat the symptoms and not the cause. the ancient art of Yoga is like the saying "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" and they were correct. Thanks for this informative hub.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

CS, thanks for stopping by. Migraines evincing themselves through eye disturbances without the pain is interesting--I had never heard of that before. Are there any other symptoms for you that are related? That is fascinating to me.

As always, I am appreciative of your stopping by to read and leave a comment. Thanks so much, and I hope you have a good Sunday.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

HC, thanks for reading. In describing all the things you've done to get relief from migraine headaches, you raise an interesting point--what helps everyone suffering from a migraine can be different. Meditation will help someone, massage or yoga will help someone else, and medication will help yet another person. I think that part of the difficulty in treating migraines is that there isn't much that is helpful to most of those suffering from headaches, and it seems as if we all have to discover what works best for us. I am pleased that you found something that will help you, because suffering from these headaches is pure misery. Thanks again for stopping by, and take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

SilentReed, thanks for your comments. I am definitely persuaded to treat migraines proactively, in large part because so little has managed to help me after I get the headache. You are correct that so may people look for medication as a response when other avenues are available to them. Yoga is definitely the first tool used in my toolbox, however.

I appreciate your stopping by and thanks for your insights--they are greatly appreciated. Take care.

Mike


coffeesnob 6 years ago

Mike

From what I was told some people get both the pain and the eye disturbances. They ususally come in the way of metallic lightning bolt shapes or flashes of waved light. OK you can go ahead and ask what I am on LOL..my husband did when they began...the eye disturbances have something to do with the blood vessells beginning to open up again..same thing that causes the pain, I guess..any way I am not complaing about the no pain part...blessing, Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

CS, thanks for coming back. What you experience sounds pretty weird. I guess I would certainly settle for a lack of pain, given a choice. It does sound fascinating, although I'm sure you would rather not have to deal with it, fascinating or not. Thanks for the explanation, it is an interesting aspect of migraines.

Thanks again and take care.

Mike


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

I have really never been able to do yoga and I have tried, I cannot sit still but I can lay down, I can daydream though but I have to really relax to do that, really for years any chance I could get I made up dream worlds, I would even lay on clouds, feel cool breezes, just take myself away. If I had to get up I was into the story far enough it stayed with me and I built on it. It worked. This world had no problems and made me very light. Sometimes I stayed on the same daydream for weeks at a time.I am glad yoga works for you, but try a cloud one day and a soft breeze you can feel across your face.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Polly, thanks for your comments. In yoga we are sometimes asked to imagine a "happy place" where we can find peace and feel at ease. It sounds as if you have done this, and I will try what you're suggesting. You have found an ideal meditation, and I will try this myself. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Take care.

Mike


Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

Great website Mike, and some very useful info

Happy to see you again


Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

I meant to say Great hub Mike, and some very useful info

Happy to see you again

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