Yoga Poses For Migraines: Your Science-Based Guide

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Migraines are considered to be the third most common disease in the world according to The Migraine Trust. With so many people affected, yoga therapy is now growing in popularity as a way to help. Indeed, more and more studies are examining whether yoga can help with migraines.

So can yoga help with migraines?

Yoga can be used as a therapy for migraines for 2 key reasons. First, because stress is a trigger for migraines and to date, many studies have shown that yoga can help reduce stress. Second, because yoga can help release built-up tension around the head and neck, which tends to trigger migraines.

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Later in this article I will show you a yoga sequence which was used in a study and had positive results among people with migraines. First, let have a look at what migraines are and what the science shows.

What is a migraine?

According to the NHS: “A migraine is usually a moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on 1 side of the head. Many people also have symptoms such as feeling sick, being sick and increased sensitivity to light or sound.”

Some interesting migraine statistics:

According to Harvard Health: “In typical cases, the pain is on one side of the head, often beginning around the eye and temple before spreading to the back of the head. The pain is frequently severe and is described as throbbing or pulsating. Nausea is common, and many migraine patients have a watering eye, a running nose, or congestion”.

How yoga therapy can help migraines

The main causes of migraines appear to be stress and muscle tension. And so studies are finding that yoga therapy could be used for migraines. this is because a growing number of studies are finding that yoga can indeed help relieve stress and also stretch out tight muscles.

Yoga and stress

Practicing yoga may reduce migraines by reducing people’s stress levels. A 2009 study examined the effects of yoga on anxiety and depression in women. The researchers found that yoga can effectively decrease anxiety, pointing out that these findings were in line with other studies that found similar results.

Additionally, the researchers also added that: “Yoga classes encourage individuals to become aware of their bodies, and thus tension through specific body postures (Asana). By raising awareness of body tension and in learning a method by which this can be reduced, may serve to increase self-confidence by promoting a personal sense of control.”

Another study examined whether yin yoga specifically can have a positive effect on stress, anxiety, and depression.

In this study, 105 participants took part, and they were split into three groups. One group practiced Yin yoga for 5 weeks. The second group practiced Yin yoga and mindfulness, while the third group was put on a waiting list and did not practice yoga.

Those who practiced yin yoga and mindfulness showed the best results of all the groups.

And if you were wondering whether a more physically demanding practice like Ashtanga yoga can help with anxiety, then have a look at this 2017 study which found that Ashtanga yoga could be used as an intervention to improve psychological well-being.

Nine weeks of Ashtanga yoga twice a week helped with: “significant improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms, affect, self-esteem, and interpersonal functioning dimensions related to assertiveness, attention to one’s needs, and capacity to connect”.

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Yoga and muscle tension

Yoga may be able to help relieve migraines by relieving tension in certain parts of our bodies. According to Tufts neurologist, Egilius Spierings, this is because “stress on the muscles in the neck, jaw, and shoulders may also play a role, especially in people who have frequent or long-lasting migraine headaches”.

A 2007 study examined the effectiveness of yoga therapy for migraine treatment. Seventy-two people were split into two groups; one control group who didn’t practice yoga and the yoga group. The yoga group practiced a 60-minute gentle form of yoga 5 days a week for 3 months.

The postures initially focused mainly on stretching the neck, shoulder, and back muscles. Then the rest of the class involved relaxation, strengthening, and flexibility.

After 3 months, the study found a significant reduction in frequency, intensity, duration of migraine for those in the yoga group.

Yoga poses for migraine (science-based)

A promising 2020 study examined the effect of yoga therapy on migraines and was reported soon after on CNN Health. And given the positive findings of this study, it is these yoga poses that will be presented for you to try at home.

A total of 114 people with episodic migraines took part in this study. Half were assigned to the yoga group and half were in the control group. All participants in the study were given a headache logbook and reported daily about headache duration, pain level, nausea, and any triggering activities.

The study took place over a 3 month period. hose in the yoga group practiced yoga 3 days per week for one month with a teacher. After that, participants practiced at home for 2 months, 5 days per week.

Each yoga session lasted 60 minutes, 15 of which involved finger, elbow, shoulder, and neck stretches, and also a 10-minute relaxation.

The results of this study found that the yoga group showed a significant reduction in headache frequency and headache intensity.

And so let’s now have a look at this science-based yoga sequence for migraine.

Breathing exercises

Each class started with prayer and breathing exercises.

Hands in and out breathing – this is a simple breathing exercise, where we synchronize breath with the movement of your hands. This type of breathing helps to increase the duration of our breath, and in turn, it helps to increase our lung capacity.

Here is an example of hands in and out breathing:

Following that there was a straight leg raise breathing exercise. Again. this aims to synchronize breathing with movement.

Here is an example:

Relaxation techniques

Next on the list were instant relaxation techniques. According to Yoga Maze, Instant Relaxation Technique (IRT): “is typically done in Shavasana (corpse pose), lying down but it also can be done sitting on a chair. It involves voluntarily tightening all the parts of the body, starting from toes to head and releasing instantly (collapse the whole body), thus creating a burst of blood flow and energy throughout the entire body. This produces the effect of instant relaxation by quickly releasing energy blocks and revitalizing the entire body.”


Next, try warming up the body to introduce big movements for the joints.

Quick relaxation technique

Once the body is warmed up, we then do a quick relaxation technique before moving to the physical exercises.

Physical exercises to warm up the body

Sun salutations then follow, which helps to warm up the body and improve circulation. It is also a great way to synchronize breath with movement.

After the physical exercises it is now time for some yoga poses.

Forward fold

On an exhale fold forward.

  • Bend your knees slightly and fold over.
  • If you have lower back pain (such as a herniated disc) always keep your knees bent.
  • When in the pose, with time as your hamstrings start to lengthen, you can start straightening your legs by aiming to raise your hips up to the ceiling.
  • Allow your head and neck to relax.
  • Allow your fingers to touch the floor.

Ardha Chakrasana

Come to the front of your mat and place your feet together and your hands by your side. On an inhale raise your arms and gaze at your thumbs. See how far back you can bring your hands so as to open the chest. Just try not to arch from your lower back.

Seated forward fold

Seated forward fold is also a classic yoga pose, found in most yoga classes. Here are some instructions and modifications:

  • Sit upright with your legs straight ahead.
  • If you have tight hamstrings, place a rolled-up blanket under your sit bones and another one under your knees.
  • Fold forward and allow your head to drop.
  • If you have a herniated disc, keep your knees bent.
  • If your head doesn’t touch your legs, then place your forehead on a yoga block to relieve tension in the neck and also to help calm the mind.

Downward facing dog

  • Try to keep your hands shoulder-width and your feet hip-width apart.
  • If you have tight hamstrings and calves, this pose may be challenging.
  • If you feel most of your weight in your hands, try to slightly bend your knees and bring your weight towards your feet. This will help elongate the spine.
  • When in the pose as you are aiming to lengthen the hamstrings try to bring your hips to the ceiling and at the same time try to bring your heels to the floor.

Bridge pose

Bridge pose is a wonderful back-bending pose to help ease back pain. If you have never done this pose, here are a few instructions.

  • Lie on your back and place your feet on the floor.
  • On an inhale, press your feet into the floor and lift your pelvis (lifting your heels is optional).

Relaxation – Savasana

And now it’s time to rest in savasana, corpse, or resting pose. Savasana may not seem important, and yet, a study that took place in India found that savasana alone was able to help significantly reduce depression.

The study included 50 University students who were randomly assigned to the yoga group or the control group. The yoga group practiced savasana every day for 30 days, while the control group received no intervention.

After 30 days, those in the yoga group significantly reduced their depression levels when compared to those in the control group.

Here is a wonderful guided relaxation to try out:


The class then ended with some pranayama exercises. Here is the most commonly used practice, Naddi Shodhana, which means alternate nostril breathing.

Can yoga cure a migraine?

Yoga is there to offer techniques to help with the triggers of migraines. Migraines appear to be triggered by stress and tight muscles around the head and neck. And so yoga has been found to help people reduce their stress levels and also release built up tension in key muscles.

So yoga can’t cure migraines. It can help treat the triggers.

Can yoga trigger migraines?

Certain yoga poses and sequences may be physically demanding. And so this helps improve our circulation. If there are many inversions in our yoga practice (even downward-facing food g is an inversion) this may cause more blood to flow to the head, which in turn may make a migraine feel worse.

Why do I get headaches while doing yoga?

The main cause of headaches appears to be dehydration. If you get headaches when practicing yoga, then make sure you are drinking enough water. Alternatively, check your breathing during the yoga class. you may be holding your breath without realizing it, thus bringing extra tension to your body.

If you are wondering how much water you should be drinking, according to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine our daily fluid intake should be:

  • About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men
  • About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women

Are there any free ‘yoga for migraine’ videos on YouTube?

There are! In fact here is a good example of a calming yoga sequence for migraines which has been watched an incredible 870,000 times so far!

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