How Yoga May Help Me Pull the Knife Out of My Head

yogaman.jpg Sorry I am so late to post today. I had a horrible migraine this morning, and really could not bring myself to stare at the glow of my computer screen until now.

I seem to more often than not get a strange reaction from people when I talk about the debilitating affects of a migraine headache. They look at me like, “Oh, come on, it’s just a headache!”

But it’s not. And anyone who has ever had a migraine knows the difference between a headache and feeling as though your head is in a vice.

It sucks.

I have been getting migraines since I was a first-grader and, by now, have learned all of the ways to try and ease the symptoms: No light, no loud noises, no smells, ice, Diet Coke in a can NOT bottle, and so on.

However, I am always looking for new ways to quell the beginning signs of a migraine before it becomes full-blown.

I have been reading a lot about meditation and yoga, and how the two can help to ease migraine symptoms. I actually just purchased the book Yoga As Medicine, in an effort to learn more about how this exercise form can help this painful ailment.

The book talks about not only certain poses that help calm head pain, but also a number of conditions, including panic attacks, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, infertility and cancer.

But since patience has never been a virtue of mine, I looked up on the Internet a few exercises that will help with my migraines in the interim of waiting for my book to arrive.

According to Yoga Journal, the following Viparita Karani pose will help when you feel as though you are on the brink of a migraine or headache:

Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose
(vip-par-ee-tah car-AHN-ee)
viparita = turned around, reversed, inverted
karani = doing, making, action


Step by Step

The pose described here is a passive, supported variation of the Shoulderstand-like Viparita Karani. For your support you’ll need one or two thickly folded blankets or a firm round bolster. You’ll also need to rest your legs vertically (or nearly so) on a wall or other upright support.

Before performing the pose, determine two things about your support: its height and its distance from the wall. If you’re stiffer, the support should be lower and placed farther from the wall; if you’re more flexible, use a higher support that is closer to the wall. Your distance from the wall also depends on your height: if you’re shorter move closer to the wall, if taller move farther from the wall. Experiment with the position of your support until you find the placement that works for you.

Start with your support about 5 to 6 inches away from the wall. Sit sideways on right end of the support, with your right side against the wall (left-handers can substitute “left” for “right” in these instructions). Exhale and, with one smooth movement, swing your legs up onto the wall and your shoulders and head lightly down onto the floor. The first few times you do this, you may ignominiously slide off the support and plop down with your buttocks on the floor. Don’t get discouraged. Try lowering the support and/or moving it slightly further off the wall until you gain some facility with this movement, then move back closer to the wall.

Your sitting bones don’t need to be right against the wall, but they should be “dripping” down into the space between the support and the wall. Check that the front of your torso gently arches from the pubis to the top of the shoulders. If the front of your torso seems flat, then you’ve probably slipped a bit off the support. Bend your knees, press your feet into the wall and lift your pelvis off the support a few inches, tuck the support a little higher up under your pelvis, then lower your pelvis onto the support again.

Lift and release the base of your skull away from the back of your neck and soften your throat. Don’t push your chin against your sternum; instead let your sternum lift toward the chin. Take a small roll (made from a towel for example) under your neck if the cervical spine feels flat. Open your shoulder blades away from the spine and release your hands and arms out to your sides, palms up.

Keep your legs relatively firm, just enough to hold them vertically in place. Release the heads of the thigh bones and the weight of your belly deeply into your torso, toward the back of the pelvis. Soften your eyes and turn them down to look into your heart.

Stay in this pose anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Be sure not to twist off the support when coming out. Instead, slide off the support onto the floor before turning to the side. You can also bend your knees and push your feet against the wall to lift your pelvis off the support. Then slide the support to one side, lower your pelvis to the floor, and turn to the side. Stay on your side for a few breaths, and come up to sitting with an exhalation.

To learn how to recover from a recent migraine, or for information about more poses, click here. Yoga Journal has a wealth of articles and research available about yoga for every type of person, pain and problem.

Pretty cool, huh?




Filed under February 2008, Pray, Run

4 responses to “How Yoga May Help Me Pull the Knife Out of My Head

  1. chaiyoga

    I’m interested in reading more about what kind of yoga poses or meditations have helped you and where they lead you. I started yoga because of unbearable lower back pain, it got so severe that one morning I woke up and found, I couldn’t get up go to work. My back still aches once in awhile, but over all the journey that started with pain, has actually become a path to freedom.

    I hope you’ll find some equally fulfilling.


  2. Chaiyoga — I, too, am looking so forward to exploring yoga and what it has to offer. I will keep each one of you updated. Thanks for reading!

  3. shawna &uncle tim

    with a little perseverance we found it. Yeah me! I’m not sure if you know this but I get migraines too. Not as much as you and your mom, but I know your pain. The hardest thing is trying to deal with the kids when all you want to do is throw up (which luckily I have never done). Anyway, great article, you’re going to have to come over and show me the yoga position, I am a visual learner. Say hi to Dan. Oh, since I have no patience for reading through a new recipe, while you’re showing me the yoga move, Dan can make the Mahi Mahi with Uncle Tim.

  4. Hello,

    I was just reading your post in regards to yoga for migraines. I noticed that you mentioned that you drink Diet Coke which contains aspartame; one of the leading causes of migraines. Probably best to leave that one out of the diet, or just drink the real thing if you must.
    How funny I found your posts, I was only told yesterday by somebody to grab a copy of the book!
    Will keep checking in.


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