5 Ways Yoga Can Help Migraine
Have you ever rolled your eyes when some well-meaning stranger suggested that you practice yoga to cure your migraine? Well, you're definitely not alone. But there might be a kernel of truth to that suggestion.
Yoga does not cure migraine. There is no cure for migraine, but it can absolutely help reduce your symptoms and build your migraine resilience. Yoga has been a huge part of my own recovery from chronic migraine, inspiring me to devote my career to developing my own special blend of Yoga for Migraine.
What is yoga?
Yoga has been around for thousands of years, originating in India. Yoga is much more than just a fitness regimen for stress management. At its heart, yoga is a method of self-inquiry that offers tools to bring the body, mind, and spirit into balance with physical, meditative, and ethical practices.
Here are 5 ways that yoga can help you live better with migraine:
First and foremost, yoga can help you better manage stress. Yoga is so effective at initiating your “rest and digest” parasympathetic relaxation response that it can help you recover from stressful events.
Nearly 70% of people living with migraine report stress to be one of their top triggers.1
When you're living with migraine, you're living with a hypersensitive nervous system that is on high alert for triggers in your internal and external environment. Yoga helps you practice relaxing and feeling safe. In turn, the safer your brain feels, the less pain you experience. In addition, when you feel calmer, you have a better capacity to deal with stress without feeling overwhelmed and triggering a migraine attack.
Second, yoga is a gateway form of physical activity that is accessible regardless of your fitness or pain level. It is a practice that someone with migraine can maintain on a daily basis in the comfort of their own home. The physical intensity can easily be dialed up or down, depending on your pain level. You can practice yoga anywhere, even in your bed or in a chair.
Migraine makes it super hard for many people to exercise regularly. One of the diagnostic criteria for migraine is “aggravation by or causing avoidance of routine physical activity,” so physical activity literally exacerbates your symptoms during a migraine attack. Yet at the same time, most people with migraine know that regular exercise can be an effective migraine preventative, on par with topiramate.2
So how’s a person with migraine supposed to exercise to prevent migraine symptoms if exercise also aggravates migraine symptoms?
Yoga. Yoga can be gentle enough on high-pain days to not aggravate migraine symptoms. Just like more vigorous exercise, there is growing evidence that yoga can also decrease migraine symptoms and medication use by nearly 50%.3
Third, yoga is uniquely suited to decrease the neck and upper body tension that so many of us with migraine carry. In fact, neck pain is one of the most common symptoms of migraine, even more than nausea.4 With regular stretching and strengthening of the neck and upper body, you can soothe your neck pain with yoga in a way that few other migraine treatments can.
Fourth, yoga can help people with migraine be more perceptive of any subtle changes that occur in your body and mind and intervene before they escalate into a full-blown migraine attack. With greater internal awareness, you can also make supportive choices to take better care of yourself on an ongoing basis to prevent common migraine triggers like exhaustion or stress.
Finally, yoga can have a profoundly positive impact on your mood and outlook on life. Anxiety and depression are among the top comorbid conditions that accompany migraine, so mental health is a huge issue for those of us living with migraine.5 There has been much more research on the effects of yoga on anxiety and depression than migraine specifically. Thankfully, the overall research as assessed by Mary Flaherty, PhD in her excellent book Does Yoga Work? Answers from Science suggest that yoga can be a helpful adjunct therapy for anxiety and that yoga is comparable to pharmacological treatment in alleviating depression.
How has yoga helped my migraine?
99% of the time, I leave my yoga practice feeling so much better than when I started. Yoga helps me feel calmer, more in tune with myself, and more resilient to the physical and emotional ups and downs of living with migraine. Yoga has helped me recover from the depression of living with migraine and has helped me decrease the frequency and intensity of my migraine symptoms over time.
How has yoga helped you live better with migraine?
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