Yogamama: On Yoga and Tension Headaches

Yogamama: On Yoga and Tension Headaches
How to om your way out of a killer headache

By Karri Jinkins
Thankfully, my last tension headache was a few years ago. When it hit, my son was only a few months old, and I wasn’t sleeping or practicing yoga regularly, which likely contributed to the headaches, though it is hard to be sure.

Historically, doctors suspected that muscle tightness in the jaw, neck, and scalp triggered tension headaches, but new theories suggest that they may be triggered by stress and changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. In either case, yoga can be extremely beneficial, since it is recognized as an effective stress reducer, and can have a positive effect on brain chemistry. Here are three simple poses than can be helpful in easing your tension headache. Be sure to practice for at least ten minutes several times a week to prevent the headache from coming back.

1. Balasana (child’s pose). Begin on the floor with your knees apart and feet together. Stretch your arms forward, and rest your forehead on the floor as you gently push your hips back toward your heels. When you arrive at your point of resistance, stay there and breathe for ten to twenty slow, steady breaths in and out through the nose. If your forehead doesn’t reach the floor completely, stack pillows, blankets, or blocks on the floor until your forehead is supported.

2. Marjaryasana (cat pose): From child’s pose, slowly inhale and lift your head, and move forward with straight arms until your shoulders are above your wrists and your hips are above your knees. Exhale, round your spine, and tuck your chin in gently toward your chest as you draw your tailbone toward the ground. Carefully draw your navel up and in. Stay here and breathe for ten to twenty breaths in and out through the nose.

3. Adho Mukha Svanasana (down dog). From Bitilasana, or cow pose, exhale and slowly lift your knees off the floor and your hips toward the ceiling. Try not to move your hands or feet. Keep your knees bent at first, and get your hips as high as you can. If your hamstrings are very tight, keep the knees bent. If not, begin to straighten your legs, pressing your heels toward the floor, and use your arms to press your hips up and back. Let your head and neck relax and breathe in and out through the nose for ten to twenty breaths. If you would like a bit of movement in this position, lift your head slightly and arch your back as you inhale, and as you exhale round your spine and tuck your chin in slightly. After twenty breaths, lower your knees back to the floor with a slow exhale and return to Balasana.

Repeat the series of three poses.