I was due to set off on my first backpacking adventure when I started experiencing daily tension headaches. I wasn’t practicing yoga at the time. I was oblivious to how my anxiety and nerves about this trip were manifesting in the body.
I continued to band aid the pain with pills. This did provide momentary relief, but once they wore off, my pain came back. It wasn’t until I got on the plane did the headaches subside all on their own, never to return.
In hindsight, I realised that I had spent the weeks leading up to this trip projecting myself into an unknown future, trying to make plans, book accomodation, find cheap travel options and all of this planning and uncertainty had created tension in my body and mind.
Yoga, meditation and pranayama are the trifecta of tools to take us out of the mind and transport us into the present moment. I been dabbling in any one of these practices, I would have been able to ease my head pain much earlier.
Yoga practices are an effective and natural means of releasing tension in the body and mind. It can help you treat not only the symptoms of tension, but yoga can actually eradicate the root cause, which is something that over the counter pain relief can’t do.
So, I invite you to roll out your mat, practice some yoga and find deep, conscious breaths to release seemingly unrelated tension in the body and the subsequent head pain it is creating.
Which yoga is best for Tension headaches?
Tension headaches can be much more debilitating than your run of the mill headache. They can have you reaching for pharmaceutical relief quickly just to get through the day. This article aims to provide you with an alternative means of therapeutic intervention by offering you simple, restorative, yet powerful poses to reduce tension in both the physical and mental body.
These postures are suitable even when the worst migraine or tension headache has you in its grips. Restorative yoga is a better option then over-the-counter pain relief. Spend as long as you have in each of these asanas and use your practice as an opportunity to connect with the breath.
Yoga Poses For Tension Headaches & Migraine Infographic
Extended Child’s Pose - Balasana Variation
Begin on the hands and knees and then open the legs wide. (taking the knees as wide as the mat.) Bring the big toes to connect behind and then start to reach the arms towards the front of the mat, really lengthening through the spine and the side bodies. Reaching as far as you can with the hands and then gently press them down into the mat and send the hips down towards the heels. Relax the head down to the floor.
With the knees wide here, you are allowing the belly an unrestricted space to expand into as you breathe. For the aim of reducing migraine pain, really focus on surrendering into this posture, actively releasing tension and stress.
With the forehead to mat connection there is an opportunity to massage into this area by taking the head left and right, whilst grounding yourself and coming out of the mind.
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana
Walk the hands forward and spread all ten fingers wide. Walk the feet back and then come into an inverted V shape with the body, sending the hips high. Press firmly into the mat to strengthen the shoulders and to send the tailbone high naturally. Melt the heels down towards the ground.
Use this posture to take deep breaths and open the chest and the back of the hamstrings. Drop the shoulders away from the ears and activate into the strength by firming down into the hands.
In this inverted position you are inviting blood flow into the head.
Standing Forward Bend Variation - Uttanasana
Start to walk the feet towards the hands to come into Standing Forward Bend. The knees can be bent slightly and keep the legs hip width distance apart. Release the hands down to the mat along with the head and the neck. Work to straighten the legs to open the hamstrings. Continue to send the tailbone up towards the sky, with the weight in the toes.
There is the option to move into a shoulder and chest opener by interlacing the hands behind the low back and then send the arms and hands up towards the front of our mat. Continue to release your head and your neck down towards the mat, sending the weight of the body forward, finding balance.
As you continue to drop the head down, enjoy the new oxygen that is flowing down into your brain. Inverting the body helps to reduce stress and anxiety, while calming the mind.
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana
Come down to find a seat and send the legs out long in front, removing extra flesh from underneath the sitting bones. Before moving into the full expression of this pose, take one hand to the heart and one to the belly and connect to the sensation of breathing inside of the body.
Release the hands and send them up towards the sky, flex the feet towards the face, engage the core by drawing the belly button back and then lengthen the spine and the side bodies. Inhale and extend the arms up and then exhale and reach forward, lengthening the spine, bringing the torso down leading with the the heart, releasing the head and neck down.
Use this pose to find compression in the body. Continue to lengthen the spine as you breathe in and then exhale fold deeper. If there is tension in the head, try to acknowledge it and surrender to it. Dropping the mental stories of suffering.
The more you are able to connect to the breath, the easier it is to let go, so try to stay calm, yet engaged and working with deep, conscious breaths.
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose Variation - Ardha Matsyendrasana
Keep the legs out long and bend the left knee up and step the left foot over the right. Reach both hands up towards the sky, lengthening through the spine and then drop the left hand towards the back of the mat, wrapping the right arm around the left leg. Press into the left hand to lengthen the spine and then with an exhale, twist deeper, turning the head, neck and gaze.
Come back through center, reaching both arms up and then switch out the legs. Send the left leg long and then step the right foot over the left. Inhale and reach up to lengthen and then drop the right hand towards the back of the mat, left arm wraps around the right knee, coming into a twist. Press the right hand into the mat to lengthen up and then exhale to twist deeper.
Supported Bridge Pose - Supported Setu Bandhasana
Lower down onto the back and have the arms extending down towards the feet. Bend both knees and walk the heels towards the glutes so that the fingertips can touch the back of the heels. Draw the lower belly down towards the spine and then press into the heels to lift the hips up.
Walk the shoulder blades underneath and then slide a block underneath the sacrum for Supported Bridge Pose. Ensure that the block is not too or too low, but directly in contact with the sacrum. The legs are parallel with one another and the arms are slightly away from the body, palms facing up.
Use this supported variation of Bridge Pose to surrender the body into the earth. With the hips lifted, fresh blood is circulating down towards the head and brain, which will relieve migraine pain. To come out of the pose, press into the feet to lift the hips up and then slide the block to the side.
Unwind the spine down to the mat vertebrae by vertebrae and the bring the knees in towards the chest here and give yourself a hug, massaging the lower spine and releasing tension.
Supported Reclined Bound Angle Pose - Supta Baddha Konasana
Make sure both blocks are available and close by for this supported variation. Lie down on the back and bring the soles of the feet together. Allow the knees to fall open, creating a diamond shape with the legs, opening the hips and use the blocks underneath the keens for support. Bring one hand to the heart and one to the belly then relax the gaze or close the eyes.
This supported Reclined Bound Angle Pose is extremely calming for the mind. Use this posture to really connect to the breath. Stay in this pose for as long as you have or as is comfortable and let gravity do the work of opening the hips.
Featured Video:7 Yoga Poses For Tension Headaches & Migraines
Yoga for Headaches and Neck Pain
Headaches are often caused by tension in the neck and you can use yoga to effectively release this area. Make sure to really listen to the body and it’s subtle cues, as the neck can be overly sensitive.
The research out is also backing my claims! A study on The Effects of Yoga on Migraine, concluded that headache frequency and intensity were reduced when yoga was incorporated as part of a pain management protocol. The following three poses are very simple, gentle ways to relieve stored tension and pain and this is going to help ease the pain in your head.
Eagle Arms Seated Variation
This posture is going to relieves tension in the upper body, all whilst in a restorative seat. Focus on pulling the shoulder blades apart and stretching the Rhomboid muscles. Bind the arms at the elbows and interlace them at the hands or the wrists, and then there is the option to drop the elbows down to the belly button and to drop the chin down to the chest to work deeper into the neck. Also see how it feels to take the elbows higher, arching the low back and taking the chin slightly up. Only work to your depth and current range of neck mobility.
A migraine can be caused by tension in seemingly unrelated areas of the body, so you want to work through a restorative practice that opens the whole body. Bringing the hips above the head, will also allow more blood to pump into the head and relieve pain.
These poses are going to provide you with a more natural means of pain intervention, as opposed to over-the-counter drugs which only act as a bandaid, providing temporary relief.