Yoga for Migraine

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: April 2023

Many therapies exist to help treat, manage, and prevent migraine symptoms. Some people living with migraine use complementary (nonstandard) treatments to help manage the condition. For example, there is growing evidence that yoga may be a safe and effective tool to help manage migraine. One 2022 meta-analysis of 5 studies found that yoga therapy was linked to greatly reduced headache frequency.1,2

What is yoga?

Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline. It was developed in India. Stretching and sequenced movements are just a small part of the ancient and complex practice. Yoga includes using the mind and body together. It can include:3

  • Controlled movements
  • Breathing techniques
  • Postures (poses)
  • Guided thoughts

There are different yoga styles. Some focus on breathing or meditation. Others focus on more of a challenge through guided physical postures. Another style incorporates heat.3

What are some health benefits of yoga?

Around 31 million Americans have practiced yoga for health reasons at least once in their lifetime. Many people do yoga to help with pain and stress relief.4

Yoga may help:3,5

  • Promote wellness by relieving stress
  • Improve mental and emotional health
  • Improve sleep, strength, flexibility, and balance
  • Relieve some types of pain, including neck, low-back, and head pain
  • Improve heart health
  • Manage anxiety and depression

What do we know about yoga for migraine therapy?

Practicing yoga may be a safe and cost-effective tool to help manage migraine disease.1,5

Research shows that yoga may help:1,4

  • Reduce headache frequency
  • Reduce duration of a headache
  • Reduce pain intensity

Yoga, used along with traditional medical treatment, can help:1,4

  • Improve migraine symptoms
  • Reduce the amount of medicine you have to take
  • Improve quality of life

Yoga may also be helpful in battling migraine-related disability.6

Positive effects yoga can have on migraine

Migraine is a complex neurological (nerve-related) disorder. It can affect the entire nervous system. Migraine is linked with pain, disability, and impaired quality of life.6,8

Migraine disease has many symptoms that can include:6,8

  • Head pain
  • Balance issues
  • Poor sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Nausea

Research shows that yoga can help reduce headache risk factors like chronic pain, stress, anxiety, and obesity.4

Yoga can help calm the nervous system. It can also help suppress the way your body responds to stress. This may help migraine, as stress is a common trigger.1

For some people, tight or painful neck and shoulder muscles can lead to a migraine attack. Yoga may help relieve tension and stiff muscles in the head and neck.1

Can yoga trigger a migraine attack?

Intense exercises may trigger a migraine attack for some. Yoga may be a safe option when it includes:1

  • Gentle postures
  • Slow movements
  • Deep breathing
  • Focus on relaxation

Some intense yoga with difficult poses or heated yoga may trigger migraine.7

What type of yoga should people with migraine try?

Current studies show that yoga may help migraine when used along with standard treatments.1,6

Not all yoga methods are the same. People living with migraine should consider:1,7

  • Gentle yoga that focuses on breathing and meditation
  • Avoiding postures that add strain on the neck
  • Yoga that combines relaxing or supported poses with deep breathing

Are there any risks to practicing yoga?

Yoga is a safe form of exercise if done correctly. The most common injuries include strains or sprains. To reduce the chance of getting hurt, practice with a qualified instructor.3

Talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen or exercise program. Discussing yoga with your doctor before you begin practicing can help you:

  • Set expectations for how it will help you
  • Figure out ways to modify poses to avoid harm
  • Reduce the chance of injuring yourself

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