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Standing on Your Headache
A Regular Yoga Practice Can Do Wonders for Your Aching Head

Chances are that if you had a headache, the last thing you'd want to do is stand on your head! But never fear - there are many other Yoga poses and techniques that can help ease your pain.

(Article continued below.)

Probably the most common type of headache is the tension headache. When you are suffering from a tension headache, the muscles in your shoulders, neck and scalp are contracting. Having stiff muscles in this area is a chronic problem for many people who work at a desk, and it's almost an invitation to a headache if you spend long periods of time hunched over without moving. There are a lot of Yoga poses which release the muscles in the neck, shoulders and upper back - Forward Bend (Uttanasana) and especially its supported variations are good, as is a properly executed Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Most any pose in which your head is hanging loosely is helpful. It's also a good idea to stretch the neck and upper shoulder muscles with poses such as Cobra (Bhujangasana), Bridge (Setu Bandasana) and Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana). These Asanas are best done as part of a regular practice to prevent the recurrence of headaches. They're all good even if you are in the midst of a tension headache, but not many headache sufferers are going to leap willingly into Bridge, Down Dog or Shoulderstand when their heads are throbbing! And, keep in mind, this certainly isn't the time to challenge yourself - if any of these poses are uncomfortable for you, then wait until you are feeling better to try them. There are far more relaxing postures for when you're in the throes of a headache (and the following poses should be part of a regular practice, too).

One of the absolute best poses for headaches is Viparita Karani - Supported Inverted or Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose. Child's Pose (Mudhasana), especially when you're laying over a bolster, is great, too, and it will help your neck to relax. Spend a few minutes in either of these poses (or both) and then when the tension has begun to ebb, treat yourself to Shavasana with your knees up, or legs supported on a few blankets. If you've taken any painkillers, they'll probably be kicking in about now and you can just let go. (Note: You don't have to wait for a headache to do this mini-Yoga vacation - it's delicious any time!) Remember during all these Asanas to relax your face muscles along with everything else, especially your jaw, behind your eyes and your forehead.

The poses are one aspect of Yogic headache relief. The other important part of the equation is Pranayama, or breathing techniques. The next time you have a headache, take note of your breathing - chances are it's very shallow and choppy. Take control of your breathing - breathe slow, controlled inhalations and exhalations. Once you've slowed down your breathing, it'll be easier for you to locate the tension in your neck and shoulders, and to relax those muscles. If you are practicing any of the above postures, be especially conscious of your breathing, and make sure that the breath is helping you relax into the pose. You don't have to practice any specific type of Yogic breathing, but if you want to, Nadi Sodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing, is known to be effective.

Yoga can also aid in relieving migraines and other more severe headaches, but in these cases, it might be wiser to talk with a Yoga instructor who specializes in therapeutic practices - he or she will assess your problem and prescribe a combination of Asanas and Pranayama that will help.

Yoga, of course, is not a cure-all, and you should always seek a doctor's advice if you suffer from anything more severe than a common tension headache. But a regular Yoga practice - three or more times a week - will go a long way in releasing muscular tension. You will also learn a lot about your body - its posture and the way it reacts to stress - and this will often help keep headaches at bay. And the bottom line is Yoga feels good. Especially if you suffer from headaches, you deserve a good, relaxing Yoga session. Namasté!

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