Headaches – the ultimate rain on your parade of plans for the day! They can start full on, or gradually build from a dull ache to high intensity stop-you-in-your-tracks pain. Intense headaches can be triggered by stress, certain foods, or other personal triggers and the effect begins in the various nerve pathways. These triggers affect the blood flow to the brain and surrounding tissues. A regular yoga practice can help reduce the number of headaches you experience and help keep them from occurring in the first place by easing stress, balancing your nervous system, and increase your feeling of calm.
Anatomy of Pain
Alignment of the shoulders, head, and neck may play a role in developing headaches. Especially headaches from tension, TMJ, and neck pain. The most common misalignment is forward head posture. To see your computer, phone, or tablet screen better, you might bring your head in front of your shoulders and your chin toward your chest. Your head and neck can get ‘stuck’ in that position. The back of the neck is supposed to curve inward slightly, and often people stuck in forward head position have a flattened curve. Looking at yourself from the side, you may see that the head is in front of the shoulders—or stand with our back against a wall and notice that the back of the head does not touch the wall.
Fortunately, yoga may help ease headaches caused by muscular tension and also impact their cause. In fact, neck exercises have been able to successfully decrease the angle of forward-head posture.
Try These Poses
Here are some poses that are helpful for opening the chest and stretching and relaxing the upper back and neck. Try them out and include them in a daily movement break if you are prone to headaches and see if they help bring some relief. As always, breathe deeply and slowly during these poses. Focus on relaxing the forehead, eyes, jaw, and tongue.
1. Mountain Pose at the wall
Stand with your back to the wall, with your feet together or three or four inches apart if that feels more comfortable. Feel into the ground with the soles of your feet. Check the distribution of weight between the right foot and the left. Move front, back, and side-to-side on your feet to find the most balanced stance. Take some time to notice and discover how you are actually standing. Lift up through the abs and ribs and relax the shoulders down the back. Dip the chin slightly and let the crown of the head reach up toward the ceiling. The shoulders and back of the head touch the wall. Hold for a few breaths, noticing and feeling how it feels to have your head and shoulders in proper alignment.
2. Locust Pose Variation
This backbend stretches the chest and strengthens the upper back.
Come to a tabletop position on all fours then lower yourself onto your belly with your arms straight out to the sides, hands in line with your shoulders. With your chin tucked and nose hovering just above the floor, make fists and point your thumbs up toward the ceiling. Draw your shoulder blades down your back and toward each other. Inhale and lift only your hands and arms up toward the ceiling. Exhale, lower then back down. Repeat 10 times.
3. Child’s Pose
This posture relaxes the low back after the previous backbend and allows for the release of any facial tension. Press back up to all fours, widen your knees and bring your big toes together, shift your hips back and down toward your heels, and then relax your forehead on the mat. (If your forehead does not touch the mat easily, place a block or folded blanket underneath it.)
Stay here for several deep breaths, using the pressure against your forehead to help you to release any tension there. Check in with your jaw and try to unclench there and work to relax the muscles around your eyes and between your eyebrows.
4. Bridge Pose
This pose helps actively open the chest, making it easier to stand up straighter, decreasing the forward leaning head posture. Laying down on your back with your knees bent, bring your feet hip-width apart with your heels toward your glutes. Roll the shoulders under and reach the hands towards the feet. On your exhale, raise the hips, lifting the chest towards the chin. Lengthen through the back of the neck without pushing it into the floor; you want the neck to stretch, not flatten. Experiment with interlacing the fingers under the back to help to roll the shoulder blades outward if this is comfortable. Relax the face and jaw, breathe deeply, and come down on an exhale. Do not do this one if you are pregnant.
5. Downward Facing Dog
This pose deeply stretches the back, shoulders and legs, releases stiffness and lengthens the spine. It sends additional blood flow to the brain, which can often relieve headaches, and leaves you feeling energized. Begin by returning to tabletop position on your hands and knees. As you exhale, curl the toes under and lift the hips up high, straightening the legs and arms. Press your hands into the ground as you rotate the arms outward, so your elbow creases point forward. The weight of the head will create a stretch in the neck. Lift the ribs to create a widening between the shoulder blades. Take deep breaths and let your head hang between your shoulders. On an exhale, come back down to Child’s Pose.
6. Temple massage
Very helpful for headaches. From Child’s Pose sit up on heels. Place index fingers in the center of eyebrows, trace an arch up your forehead and out to the sides of your temples, pressing evenly as you go. Repeat 3 times.
Try doing these poses with a bit of lavender oil in a diffuser or as a spray mist for extra benefit. If neck and shoulder pain are a persistent part of your life, try this series of additional poses to help further open the shoulders and release the neck: https://www.saraaddingtonyoga.com/post/yoga-for-neck-and-shoulder-relief .
Strength, flexibility and reducing pain can be accomplished at any point in your life. We are never past the point of being able to move better and feel better. This short sequence is great for anyone experiencing head, neck, and jaw pain – try doing these poses two or three times a week. They are quick to do while on a break during the course of your day. Try them out today and let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
If you are looking for someone to guide you along your wellness journey – to be your coach and champion – I would love to schedule a free online private yoga intro session. We’d discuss your specific needs and set up a regular program designed just for you with personalized yoga sessions scheduled at a time that is convenient for you. And you never have to leave home!
Of course, this article is intended to provide general information about headaches. It’s not a replacement for the personal advice of a health professional. If none of these suggestions provide relief, please seek support from a doctor.