Woman in downward facing dog with pain trigger spirals around her torso and head

Am I Supposed To Exercise If It's a Migraine Trigger?

Back in the "before," when migraines weren’t part of my daily life, I could exercise. I danced and kick-boxed — but yoga was my favorite. I loved the combination of stillness, movement, and breath work that it combined. I found a confidence I didn’t know I had while working on my handstand and my downward dog poses. Then my migraines started, and my yoga practice stopped. Now, I can’t even bend down to pet my dog without triggering a migraine. Am I supposed to work out if it brings on my migraines?

Is it any type of physical activity?

Seriously, there’s no shortage of health reports, TV shows, or doctors who haven’t reminded me that getting in my steps is good for me and my migraines. The problem is, the more steps I take, the faster they lead me to a dark bedroom because of oncoming head pain. Any physical activity that gets my heart rate up or puts a strain on my body — this could be a hard walk around the block or lifting a hard block of cheese — triggers my migraines. I don’t know how many times I’ve disappointed my own doctor by telling him I haven’t worked out — even though we both know why.

What happened when I pushed through it?

When I noticed the direct correlation between my physical exertion and a migraine, I tried to push past it. I believed my body would adjust, and I’d find a balance. My head just needed to understand how important it was for me to keep my body moving. Working out meant I was taking care of my body, but it was more than that. This was my “me time” to recharge, and I always felt more optimistic and creative afterward.

Not any more. Mere hours after yoga-ing, I’d be in bed in severe migraine pain. This meant missing out on time with my family, not being able to parent my son, or having to push through the pain and nausea to be the mom my son needed. It was time for me to roll up my yoga mat. My workouts weren’t working out. It wasn’t worth it.

Why does exercise trigger my migraine?

For a long time, I tried to figure out why exercise triggered my migraines, but I never came up with a concrete answer. I know that for some people staying physically active keeps away a migraine. Clearly, I’m not one of those people. Everybody’s body is different, and there aren't always answers for those pesky migraine questions. I may never know why exercise starts my migraine chain.

Have I found ways to get active?

Over the years, I haven’t found anything to replace those happy endorphins that moving your body creates. But meditation and breathing exercises generate some nice “me time.” These activities keep me feeling fairly optimistic, and I do find them enjoyable. More recently, I’ve been able to add some slow walks on the days I’m feeling super good without consequences. So, maybe one day in the future, my migraines will once again let me bend downward to pet my dog without triggering a migraine.

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