If you suffer from severe headaches accompanied by disturbances in vision, nausea and vomiting, tingling in your extremities, pain in your temples, or sensitivity to light, you might be experiencing migraine headaches. These severe symptoms can be debilitating and negatively affect your quality of life.

The Migraine Research Foundation indicates that migraine headaches are common. In fact, approximately 18% of American women and 6% of men suffer from migraine headaches. Thus, if you suffer from migraines, you won’t be surprised that they are the 8th most disabling illness in the world.

According to researchers, there is hope for migraine sufferers. This study published in the International Journal of Yoga, indicates that when yoga is combined with conventional care, migraine headaches can be reduced in intensity and frequency. In this study, patients practiced yoga 5 days a week for 6 weeks and they kept a yoga diary. The practice included loosening and breathing exercises, postures done with awareness and Shavasana (corpse pose).

If you’re a migraine headache sufferer, you will discover that the findings below are astonishing and could improve your quality of life.

Yoga Improves Quality of Life of Migraine Sufferers

Doctors measure the impact of migraine headaches on their patients’ lives by using the Headache Impact Test (HIT). It assesses the level of disability in a patient’s life, from little or no impact to severe or disabling impact. In the study mentioned above, the patients had a HIT score of more than 60. Consider that 78 is the highest number possible; therefore, migraine headaches were severely impacting their lives. The study concluded that those who combined yoga with conventional care had significantly lowered HIT scores. Thus, their quality of life was significantly improved due to combining a yoga practice with conventional migraine headache therapies.

Yoga Increases Vagal Tone in Migraine Headache Patients

The study also found that yoga, which was combined with conventional care, resulted in reduction in sympathetic tone as well as increased vagal tone. It is hypothesized that those with improved vagal tone have fewer and less severe migraine headaches. Many researchers theorize that yoga improves vagal tone by regulating the nervous system. Vagal tone refers to the activity of our vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in our bodies, and it controls many functions, but particularly heart rate. For example, those who have strong vagal tone, such as athletes, have a slower resting heart rate.

Yoga Reduces Stress in Migraine Headache Patients

In addition, the study indicates that slow, mindful exercises such as yoga are beneficial to migraine sufferers due to the stress reduction that this type of exercise provides. Stress can play a big part in triggering episodes of both migraine headaches and tension headaches. Numerous research studies indicate that yoga reduces stress and anxiety and increases feelings of well being. In fact, this study which examined the effects of exercise on stress, found that those who practiced yoga were much less anxious, tense, depressed, angry and fatigued.

How Do You Get Started with Yoga?

Before beginning a new exercise program, you should always consult a doctor. After you’ve been given clearance to begin, you might find that yoga can be confusing because of the many different styles and levels.

If your goal is to reduce migraine headaches and you’re a beginner, look for classes such as stress-reduction yoga, integrative yoga therapy, restorative yoga, gentle yoga, Hatha or Kundalini. There are many other suitable styles as well. It’s best to discuss your goals with a yogi at your chosen studio or health center of choice.

You can find many gentle yoga classes at local health clubs, hospitals and yoga studios. And, some instructors will teach you yoga at home. Sometimes it takes time to find a studio and instructor that’s right for you, but don’t give up because the instructor can greatly influence the quality of your experience.

The gear is fairly simple. It’s imperative that you have a yoga mat. Many studios provide them for you, but sometimes at a rental fee so it’s a good idea to purchase one. Generally, you will use yoga props such as blankets, blocks and bolsters, and the yoga studio typically provides them.

Yoga isn’t meant to be a fashion show so focus on comfort when choosing your attire. Ensure your clothing allows for easy movement. Pants that are specifically designed for yoga are helpful because they typically don’t slip down or slide up while performing poses. Avoid zippers, buttons and drawstrings, as they can feel uncomfortable during certain poses.

The most important thing to remember is that yoga is not a competition and you shouldn’t feel as though you’re being judged. Relaxation, mindfulness and your well being are important aspects. The focus is on you, your breath and your energy.

Namaste.

Featured photo credit: Syda Productions via shutterstock.com

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