Yoga: My Constant Habit
At a recent neurologist appointment, my provider asked me a simple question.
“How long have you had migraines?”
We are new in our provider/patient relationship. I hadn’t been asked this question in years. It gave me pause.
“21 years,” I responded. I was in awe – I just turned 33 years old, and I had been diagnosed at 12 years old. I had been lucky to be diagnosed with migraines very shortly after getting headaches.
Failed treatments for 20 plus years
Over the past 21 years, I’ve treated my migraines with just about every treatment option on the market. I’ve got a sad list of failures in my chart, many of which I failed right away – and then failed again in my twenties (because why not try them again, just to be sure?)
I’m currently on a regimen of Topamax, Botox, and will be starting Emgality shortly. I carry several abortive options in my purse, along with essential oils and various homeopathic remedies that might work (it can’t hurt to try, right?)
My yoga habit
My fellow migraineurs, here is one habit that has remained constant throughout the better part of the past 20 years… a yoga habit.
Around the time I was 14 years old, I was clearly suffering. My mom dragged me to her weekly yoga class. “This will help you so much.”
I didn’t know what to expect. At that time, I had no knowledge of yoga. I pictured a Buddha in the corner and a lady saying “Ohm” repeatedly. Actually, there was a statue of Buddha in the corner, and we did say “Ohm” but it was nothing like I expected.
I was the youngest in the room by far, but it didn’t matter. Although I was self-conscious, no one else was paying attention to what I was doing – they were paying attention to the instructor, or even had their eyes closed! I followed along closely, or rather stumbled along, but by the end, I had a sense of peace.
How yoga has helped me but not "cured" my migraines
Over my high school years, I attended yoga with my mom periodically, but my practice was sporadic. It became more consistent in college, where I developed a consistent “gym” routine. Unfortunately, the yoga classes I attended had many people, making it difficult to focus on my breath and form like I could in the studio classes I attended with my mother.
Fortunately, my migraines were episodic in college – a miracle as I subsisted on a diet of beer and frozen food, had little sleep, attended nursing school full time, and worked as a cocktail waitress in a busy bar.
Worsening migraines turned chronic
Over the next ten years, working as a nurse, my yoga practice waxed and waned, but never completely died. However, in 2016, I received shocking news. My then-neurologist had discovered a meningioma – a benign brain tumor. The tumor was small and not likely related to my migraines. It was going to be “observed” – serial MRIs were going to be performed to ensure that it wasn’t growing and causing problems.
Over the next year, my anxiety worsened. My migraines had already become chronic, but they also worsened.
I had to find a way to deal with my emotions. I enrolled in yoga teaching training.
Yoga teacher training and feeling more grounded
Yoga teacher training (YTT) broadened my understanding of many aspects of yoga. Prior to YTT, the yoga practices I gravitated towards were power yoga and vinyasa yoga. I found that these types of yoga invigorated me, gave me a great workout, made me feel grounded, and was something I could do with a tension headache.
I learned about many other practices that I never tried because I was intimidated. A couple of these practices would benefit someone like me – yin, which involves holding poses for three to five minutes and aims to “work” the fascia of the muscles, and restorative yoga, which heavily relies on props like blocks, bolsters, and straps to help you rest into restorative postures.
A vinyasa class is ok when I have a tension headache, but when I am in the midst of a migraine, there is not a chance you’ll find me in a downward dog. However, a restorative or yin practice may actually improve my migraine.
When I was almost done with YTT, I learned that my meningioma had grown. This meant that I required resection of the tumor. I was scheduled for a brain surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. After a successful surgery and an overnight stay in their neuro ICU, I was on my way home.
I graduated from YTT less than one month later.
A year and a half later, my migraines are still chronic, but I’m still teaching yoga. I encourage you to try a class or check out a video on YouTube and see how it may help.
A little bit about Krysti:
Krysti is a 30-something RN, diabetes educator, wife, and mother. In her free time, she also works as freelance writer, spending most of her time writing about migraines and anxiety, two conditions that she suffers from.
When Krysti isn't working, she is spending time with her husband and son, likely spending time outside skiing, biking, walking, or hiking. You may also find her traveling, spending time with friends, reading, or practicing and teaching yoga.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?