Yoga not only provides relief for the pain and cause of headaches, but can also prevent headaches from occurring in the future.
Most headaches are due to stress and tension held in the head, neck, shoulders and upper back. When these muscles are continuously contracted, they constrict the flow of blood, oxygen and prana (energy) to the head. Since the brain is the first part of the body that will die if denied this blood and oxygen, it gets cranky really fast and usually lets you know via a pain in your head.
When you feel a headache coming on, the first thing to do is stop what you are doing and take a break. Close your eyes, relax and take a few deep breaths through the nose into the belly. Scan your upper body for tension and tightness and consciously allow it to release and relax. Adjust your posture: reach the crown of the head up to lengthen the spine, let the shoulders drop down and back to open the chest. If you cannot consciously release the tension, you may want to give yourself a shoulder, neck and face massage. Gently press and lightly circle on the tops of the shoulders, the back of the neck, the third eye and temples.
During a headache, yoga postures and pranayama can help alleviate pain and release tension and stress. Practice in a calming environment with low lights and soft music. Focus on calming and restorative postures like child, puppy dog, seated forward fold, supine bound angle, bridge, plow and knee down twist. Finish your yoga practice with shavasana using an eye pillow or a small, folded towel placed over the eyes. Start your shavasana with Dirga pranayama – slow deep breathing in the belly and chest.
A general yoga practice is the best preventative medicine for headaches. Focus on postures that will release tension in neck and shoulders, increase circulation to head and stimulate the nervous system. A general practice will reduce stress and tension in the whole body while increasing circulation and absorption of oxygen. Dirga, Ujjayi and Nadi Sodhana pranayama will calm the mind, release tension, and increase circulation of blood and oxygen.
Talk to your doctor if you are having more than two or three headaches per week, or if a bad headache lasts for several days. Migraines and cluster headaches can be helped with yoga, but you must have the supervision and approval of your doctor.
Yoga Therapy resource page for Headaches