Migraine causes severe headaches, sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. People commonly use medication to treat their symptoms. However, other methods such as yoga may be an effective way to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches.

Yoga helps lower blood pressure and slow heart rate, allowing the body to recover from stressful events such as migraine episodes.

Migraine is a common condition, affecting 15.3% of Americans aged 18 years or older. People may find that their migraine headaches are debilitating, and experts consider them one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Migraine headaches often begin in early adulthood, with some people experiencing them several times a week and others only occasionally.

This article looks at the evidence supporting yoga for migraine, which yoga poses are most beneficial, the outlook for migraine, and general tips to avoid migraine episodes.

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Yoga can help lessen the severity and frequency of migraine.

Yoga is a mind and body therapy that began in ancient India. People worldwide now practice it. It involves poses, meditation, and breathing exercises. Studies have found it can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

Stress is a significant and common trigger for migraine. By loosening tight areas like the neck, head, and shoulders, which hold stress, yoga can help prevent a migraine from occurring or improve a person’s symptoms.

Research suggests that yoga can be a complementary practice that helps treat migraine and disability associated with migraine. However, someone who experiences migraine should avoid yoga classes that are vigorous or involve heat, like Bikram yoga, as well as poses that stress the neck.

Recent research agrees that yoga can improve migraine symptoms, usually alongside standard medical treatment.

A 2021 study of 61 participants concluded that yoga therapy combined with standard medical treatment could further improve peoples’ quality of life and reduce migraine headaches.

Previous 2020 research agreed with this conclusion. Researchers found that in 161 participants, yoga as an added therapy is superior to medical treatment alone and could offer a cost-effective and safe way to help treat migraine.

A small study published in 2018 found that yoga paired with Ayurveda, a holistic form of medicine originating in India, reduces migraine symptoms and pain intensity and improves quality of life.

Earlier 2014 research with 60 participants concluded that a yoga intervention significantly improved headache frequency and pain intensity. It also found that yoga therapy improved cardiac autonomic balance, referring to the interaction between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.

A study on the effect of yoga on migraine found that these yoga poses helped reduced headache frequency and intensity:

Sukshma Vyayama

This type of yoga includes exercises that loosen and relax the neck, face, and head. Try the following:

  • Move the first, middle, and ring finger from the jawline to the chin and massage the cheeks. The mouth can remain open. Concentrate on gently kneading out knots.
  • Open and close the jaw 8 to 10 times. Open the mouth and move the jaw side to side 8 to 10 times.
  • Rotate the neck. Breathing in, move the head back. Breathing out, touch the chin to the chest. Repeat these 5 to 6 times.
  • Rotate the head clockwise, then counterclockwise. Breathe in as the head goes up and out as the head returns to the starting position. Repeat 5 to 6 times clockwise, then again counterclockwise.

Pada Sanchalanasana or cycling yoga pose

  1. Begin lying flat on the back with legs straight and together. Arms should be at the sides with palms facing down. The head, neck, and spine should align.
  2. Raise the right leg and bend the knee, bringing it closer to the chest. The thigh should be touching the chest.
  3. Raise and straighten the right leg entirely while in this position, then lower the right leg forward. Inhale while raising the leg.
  4. Bend the knee again in this forward position to complete a cycling movement when the knee comes back to the chest. Exhale when drawing the knee towards the chest.
  5. Ensure that the heel of the right leg does not touch the floor while performing the cycling action.
  6. Complete the cycling movement 10 times in a forward direction and 10 times in a backward direction.
  7. Repeat the actions for the left leg.

Hand stretch breathing

  1. Start by standing straight with feet together and hands relaxed at the side of the body.
  2. Bring the hands in front of the chest, interlace the fingers and place the palms on the chest.
  3. Relax the shoulders.
  4. Stretch the arms straight out in front of the body, keeping the fingers interlaced. Keep arms at shoulder level. Breathe in.
  5. At the same time, twist the hands so that the palms are facing outwards.
  6. Do not strain the arms, but stretch them.
  7. While exhaling, reverse the movement and return the palms to the chest.
  8. Relax the shoulders.
  9. Repeat 5 times.
  10. Repeat and stretch the arms above the forehead. Repeat 5 times.
  11. Repeat the same movements, now stretching the arms straight up towards the ceiling. Repeat 5 times.

Shashankasana or rabbit pose

  1. Begin by sitting on the floor.
  2. Stretch the legs out in front, keeping the spine straight.
  3. Bend the right leg at the knee. Bring it gently backward until the right buttock is on the right foot.
  4. Do the same with the left leg.
  5. Adjust the position to be comfortable and rest the palms on the thighs.
  6. Breathing in, raise the hands straight up and stretch.
  7. Breathing out, bend forwards. Stretch the arms out in front, and touch the palms to the ground.
  8. Try to touch the nose or chin to the ground.
  9. Keep the arms stretched out in front.
  10. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

Savasana with yoga Nidra or deep relaxation technique

Yoga Nidra is a deep relaxation-guided mediation that a person can listen to during a class or via a recording online. It can help with relaxation.

  1. Begin by lying flat on the back, legs relaxed and straight, and arms relaxed at the sides.
  2. Gradually relax the muscles individually, one thought at a time.

Doctors currently have no cure for migraine, but treatments can help ease the symptoms. A person may have to try various treatments and medications to find one or a combination that works for them.

If someone cannot manage their migraine with over-the-counter medication, they should speak to a doctor about prescription medications.

Regular yoga practice can improve the severity and frequency of migraine headaches when combined with standard medical treatments including:

  • General pain releivers such as ibuprofen. People should take these medications at the first signs of a migraine episode.
  • Specific migraine pain relief medications such as Triptan which contract the blood vessels around the brain. The widening of these blood vessels may contribute to migraine.
  • Antiemetics to help with nausea and vomiting.
  • Acupuncture. Research suggests that 10 sessions over 5–8 weeks may help with migraine symptoms.
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) involves using a small electronic device to deliver magnetic pulses through the skin and into the head.

If someone needs help managing their migraine, they can consult a specialist, such as at a migraine clinic, for further investigation and treatment.

Certain foods, dehydration, and lack of sleep can all trigger migraine. People should identify their migraine triggers, and keep a diary to help remember what set off previous episodes.

Doctors may prescribe certain medications to manage migraine, such as the anti-seizure medication topiramate. They may also prescribe other medications, such as the high blood pressure medication propranolol and the antidepressant amitriptyline, to help prevent migraine.

Other migraine management options include botulinum toxin type A (Botox), a nerve toxin that paralyzes muscles, and acupuncture.

There is no cure for migraine. However, someone may prevent migraine by avoiding triggers and using treatments that may help improve the symptoms. These include over-the-counter medications, prescribed medications, acupuncture, botulinum toxin type A, specialist treatments, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Research has found that yoga can also help lessen the frequency and pain level of migraine headaches, when a person uses it as an additional therapy to other medical treatments.

Gentle yoga poses that encourage relaxation are best, along with poses that gently relax and stretch the neck, head, and shoulder area.

If an individual needs help with managing their migraine, they should seek medical advice.