Sweat Often

From Head-Cracking Pain to Silence: How Yoga Helped Me Beat Migraines and Thrive

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Migraine and me. Sounds like a movie.

Except that it’s not.

Let’s start at the beginning–with head-cracking pain. I’m talking about that intense and pulsating blood flow to the temples aggravated by any form of movement, noise or bright light. The kind of pain that feels like your skull is being split in half, accompanied by nausea and sometimes vomiting. If you’ve experienced migraines, you know the terror this word brings.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, migraines can usually be caused by a couple of factors: Medical and lifestyle. In my case, I suffered from severe migraine attacks for more than a decade; not because of an existing medical condition but because of my lifestyle. From frequent alcohol consumption to sugar addiction, from sleep deprivation to inactivity—you name it. It was the perfect recipe for a debilitating condition.

During all those years of pain and suffering, acetaminophen and mefenamic acid were my go-to-pills to alleviate the head-pounding pain. However, the relief was temporary and not the healthiest form of relief (who wants to be dependent on drugs to relieve their pain?!). I progressively changed my lifestyle habits (thanks to the encouragement of my kind bosses at Mindful Health where I worked for 4 years), but there were still days of major discomfort caused by the severity of pain … that is, until my yoga journey began.

Read on to find out how I transformed my life from experiencing migraines with a pain scale of 7 to a 0. Yes, zero!

An Overview of my Yoga Journey

When the pandemic hit, I was inspired by a couple of former colleagues and their deep health transformation through yoga. This led me to explore virtual yoga classes and free online videos. The YouTube sensation Adriene Mishler of Yoga With Adriene captivated me with her wit, soothing voice and overall approach to practicing Asana. It started with one of her beginner’s videos, which led to 30-day challenges. Through her, I stumbled upon Practice Yoga Austin (shoutout to its amazing faculty and community!) where I shakingly left my comfort zone and began my journey toward becoming a certified yoga teacher. The 200 hours of online training were a goldmine of knowledge and practical skills that took my relationship with yoga to a whole new level. It was definitely one of the best life-changing decisions I made this year.

Movement is Medicine

My healing from yoga was unconscious. By that, I mean I didn’t research yoga and its correlation to migraine relief. It wasn’t so much that I was getting on the mat to sweat it out, aiming to hack the recurrence of my migraines. But, rather, that I was stepping into an act of self-love where I found peace and serenity for me. Alone. This was the greatest gift that yoga gave me. It empowered me to care for myself. Yoga taught me to honor my body and it gave me a sense of body awareness. And so, after several months of committing myself to consistent practice, it released me from the hold of my headaches.

Aside from what I learned from the teacher training, I also discovered that this phenomenon was actually backed up by science. In this randomized clinical trial, yoga as an adjuvant to medical therapy was found to “improve headache frequency, intensity, impact, and disability.” Another study published in the International Journal of Yoga shows the therapeutic effects of consistent Asana practice and its ability to improve the quality of life of those who suffer from migraines, anxiety, insomnia, depression and a range of health problems and ailments.

Of course, I now knew this. I was living proof of it!

Yoga’s Benefits Beyond Migraine Relief

The other benefits I got along the way weren’t too shabby either. I found myself getting stronger and more attuned with my body’s needs.

 
(GIF: Tenor)

Because yoga has been such a transformative lifeline for me, I want to share with you a few healthy habits that can improve your headaches and well-being. While stepping on the mat can be a good way to kick your migraines to the curb and help you start enjoying a pain-free life, everybody is different and it is always recommended to seek medical advice if migraines negatively impact your well-being and quality of life.

2 Tips To Help Ease Your Way to a Migraine-Free Life

Pay attention to your body’s signals

If you’re wondering whether to roll out the yoga mat the next time a migraine starts hammering away at your head, the answer is, “No.”

The rule of thumb is to always listen to your body. Even subtle movements in times of intense migraine episodes could take the pain up a notch. When I’m experiencing a migraine, I stick with the basics: Lights off, head elevated on a pillow that supports the natural curve of my neck, and complete rest or sleep (if possible).

When my body finally regains equilibrium, I then try to practice a gentle yoga flow coupled with meditation to calm the mind and alleviate the stress brought on by the migraine.

There are several yoga poses you can practice for a few minutes every day or incorporate into your flow to help you fend off migraine attacks. Here are my top 3 that you can pair with slow and mindful breathing:

  • Child’s Pose. Aside from the many benefits of this pose—from back pain relief to a gentle stretch on your spine—Balasana, or child’s pose, relieves stress (a known migraine trigger.)
  • Standing Wide-Legged Forward Fold or Prasarita Padottanasana in Sanskrit. In this pose, while both legs are standing wide and strong, the crown of the head aims to touch the earth, positioning it lower than the heart. This, in turn, relaxes the mind and brings freshly oxygenated blood to the brain. Coincidentally, it is a headache remedy pose, along with Forward Fold, Downward-Facing Dog, and Seated Forward Bend, among others.
  • Corpse Pose. Called the hardest Asana pose. I used to skip this part of the practice because I didn’t understand the benefits it offers. Not anymore!
    Corpse pose or Savasana rejuvenates the body and calms the nervous system. It is also known to reduce headaches and fatigue. Give yourself a break by savoring at least two minutes of silence while lying on your back before you end your practice. I guarantee you, it’s worth every second of your time.

Just remember: If you plan to explore these poses, practice them with caution.

Set Healthy Non-Negotiables to Avoid Migraine Triggers

Beyond yoga, there are lots of small, healthy habits you can practice each day to avoid headache triggers. Do these every day and you’ll feel the difference.

  • Move your body: It could be 10-20 minutes of light to intense yoga practice (or Pilates if that’s your jam), or a walk outside to connect with nature. Moving your body regularly releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.
  • Hydrate: Proper hydration is really important to avoid migraines. (At Nutritious Life, this is part of the Drink Up pillar we preach!) According to the American Migraine Foundation, even the slightest hint of dehydration can quickly lead to debilitating head pain. I can definitely vouch for that, so don’t be surprised to see me walking everywhere with a 40-oz Hydro flask filled with water.
  • Refrain from refined sugars: As I mentioned, I used to be a sugar addict and, somehow along my journey, I connected the dots between migraine attacks and overindulging in sweet, sugary foods. Whether sugar is a trigger, or craving sugar is a warning sign of an impending migraine attack, choosing whole, nutrient-dense foods is always a win-win. Need help with this? Read this blog to help you ditch the sugar in your diet.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene: According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation can trigger migraines. Need a guide for better sleep? Here’s Keri Glassman’s take for creating an evening routine for better, deeper sleep.

There’s Power in Consistency

If you can relate to my story and migraines have been hindering your quality of life, it’s never too late to start down the path to less pain and more vitality. You can begin with the yoga basics here and then let Nutritious Life guide you further toward a happier, healthier and yummier lifestyle. Just remember to take baby steps, one at a time, and then keep going. Creating healthier habits will push out the not-so-healthy ones.

Lastly, let me end this with a cliche´. It’s an overused phrase, but it helped me throughout my journey battling migraines and a sedentary lifestyle. It’s a phrase I never get tired of sharing … and that is: Consistency yields results. Namaste.

(Image: Shutterstock)

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