Headaches are all too common. While there are many reasons for headaches including dehydration, sinus congestions, and viruses, many times headaches are the result of unconscious tension in your neck and shoulders.
Here are 3 yoga poses that will help alleviate the tension in neck and shoulders when done regularly.
If you're feeling a headache, before you start any yoga posture, close your eyes and check in with yourself. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Bring your focus to your head and try to acutely feel into your headache. Where exactly do you feel it? What is the quality of your headache, is it hot, dull, sharp, or heavy? If your headache were trying to tell you something, what might that be?
Once you've checked in, respond to that information with sustained, deep ujjayi breaths. Often, this alone will remedy a headache by calming the nervous system, oxygenating the brain, and curbing unconscious tension.
Remember that with every yoga pose, we are looking for quality over quantity. You don't get more results by doing a pose that is more intense. We are always looking for the quality of a pose I call “comfortably intense.” Or, if you're a numbers person, think of holding a level 7 or less, if you were to quantify a stretch as 1 being the least intense and 10 being the most intense. And with each stretch maintain your ujjayi breaths.
Eagle Arms: to stretch upper-trapezius.
This posture addresses some of the muscles that contribute most often to tension headaches, the upper-trapezius. These muscles connect your shoulders to your neck and head and often build tension when doing repetitive actions with your arms, such as typing on a keyboard. [I'm taking a 30 second break from typing this to do this pose . . . ahhh].
Try wrapping your arms and then lifting your elbows slightly above your shoulders. As you continue your deep ujjayi breaths, slowly turn your head side to side. Make sure you're not clenching your jaw.
Try this for 10 breaths on each side.
Other muscles that sometimes cause headaches are the scalenes and (CLM). These muscles run along the sides of your neck.
Place one of your hands on the top of your head and tilt your head in that direction while reaching your opposite arm away from you. Breathe deeply and visualize your breath traveling all the way down into your fingertips and tension from your neck and head dripping like water off of your fingers onto the floor. Again, make sure that you don't clench your jaw in this pose.
Sometimes the tension you feel in a headache actually originates in other muscles along your back and even your hips. This pose is excellent to wring out your nervous system and stretch some of those muscles that sometimes radiate tension up into your head.
Sit down and cross one leg, bent at the knee, over the other leg, also bent at the knee. Bring opposite elbow across opposite leg. Sit up tall with your spine erect and buttocks grounded firmly on the floor. If one of your buttocks lifts, try extending your bottom leg straight. As you initiate the posture, breath in deeply and sit tall. As you exhale, gently twist to a comfortable level. Hold each side for 10-15 long breaths.
Headaches are never fun, however with a few yoga poses in your headache-toolbox, hopefully you can remedy headaches as they come and prevent them from coming as often.
Scott Moore is a senior teacher of yoga and mindfulness in New York City and when he's not teaching or conducting retreats, he writes for Conscious Life News, Elephant Journal, Mantra Magazine, and his own blog at scottmooreyoga.com. Scott also loves to trail run, play the saxophone, and travel with his wife and son. Check out his yoga retreats to places like Hawaii and Amalfi Coast and his Yoga Teacher Mentor Program