Yoga

Yoga for migraines

Yoga is a spiritual, physical, and mental discipline developed over 5,000 years ago in India which involves mind and body control through a series of movements, breathing techniques, meditations, and postures. It is based on ancient Indian principles and philosophies that center on discipline and spiritual enlightenment through integrating the mind, body, and spirit.1

A few studies have shown that yoga may also help people who suffer from persistent migraines have fewer, less painful attacks. More research has been conducted on yoga’s benefits for stress relief and pain conditions, like low back pain.

There are numerous types of yoga, and it may take some experimentation to find what works best for you. Some forms of yoga involve heat or are more rigorous, which may trigger migraine for certain people. Restorative or gentle yoga is generally more calming and focuses on supportive poses, breathing, and meditation.2

Some of the health benefits associated with a regular yoga practice include:3

  • Reducing stress
  • Weight loss
  • Managing depression, disability, and pain
  • Reducing heart rate and blood pressure

How yoga works for migraine

Yoga’s relaxation techniques are thought to calm the body’s nervous system. This action on the nervous system is believed to reduce the activities in the brain that lead to migraines. Yoga also has a positive impact on certain chemicals in the body and in the brain, which may also help migraine sufferers. Researchers also believe yoga increases the chemical serotonin, which relays signals from one area of the brain to another. Serotonin also eases the tightening of the brain’s blood vessels, so migraines and serotonin levels are believed to be closely related.

Studies of yoga and migraine

In one study published in 2014, 60 migraine sufferers were randomly assigned to either receive conventional care or conventional care plus yoga. Those who were in the yoga group received yoga practice sessions for 5 days a week for 6 weeks. At the end of the trial, the patients who had been in the yoga group showed a greater reduction in the frequency and intensity of their migraine attacks. Yoga therapy also enhanced the vagal tone – the activity of the vagus nerve, which is one of the cranial nerves and is directly associated with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).4 (The PNS calms the nervous system from “fight-or-flight” responses.)

While this study was small, the findings are promising. More research is needed before yoga can be officially recommended as a proven approach for migraine treatment. However, there has been significantly more research that shows yoga’s benefits on stress reduction, which may also help those with migraine.2

Getting started in yoga for migraine

Yoga is considered safe for most people. Before beginning any new exercise program, talk to your doctor about your health conditions and if yoga is safe for you. Some conditions may make yoga more dangerous.

While there are many videos available, it is best to find a qualified teacher when you are beginning yoga. Tell your teacher about your health conditions, including migraine.

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As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your physician.

Written by: Otesa Miles and Emily Downward | Last review date: June 2018
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