7 Yoga Poses That Help Stop Headaches Before They Start

If you regularly get bad headaches, or even migraines, yoga can help. Like most yoga therapies, there is not one magic yoga pose that is going to make your headaches disappear forever. Yoga is most effective when practiced consistently over a long period of time as part of a holistic treatment plan. Since many headaches are linked to stress and tension, the following poses and breathing exercise are intended to promote gentle stretching and relaxation, particularly of the neck, shoulders, and back. A 2007 study, published in the journal Headaches, showed that people with migraines benefitted from three months of yoga that focused on these areas of the body. If you have severe headaches, it is important to see a doctor since headaches can be symptomatic of other serious conditions. It should also be noted that the following poses are not intended to be used as treatment during a headache, but rather to be done regularly to promote a healthier lifestyle. Whenever possible, chair variations are offered. Look at our chair yoga poses for photos of these variations. 

1
Neck Rolls

Neck rolls stretch the neck to prevent headaches
Neck Rolls. John Freeman/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Start by finding a comfortable seated position. It could be cross-legged on the floor or sitting upright in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Take a few breaths to bring your attention to the present moment. Then tilt your head to the right. Roll your head forward, to the left, and then back. Keep rolling continuously about five times, then switch directions and do five rotations that way. If you find a tight area, try not to rush through it. 

2
Cat-Cow Stretch - Chakravakasana

Cat-Cow stretch helps prevent headaches
Cat - Cow Stretch. Ben Goldstein

Come onto all fours for cat-cow stretches, which will get your spine moving. You can also do a version of this in a chair if that is more comfortable. Alternate between inhaling into the arched back position and exhaling into the rounded spine position for 5 - 10 rounds. 

3
Hands and Knees Balance

Hands and Knees Balance helps prevent headaches
Hands and Knees Balance. Ben Goldstein

Staying on all fours, extend your right leg back and lift it parallel to the floor, keeping the hips squared. When you feel stable, lift the left arm parallel to the floor for a hands and knees balance. Stay here 3 - 5 breaths and then do the other side for the same amount of time. 

4
Sphinx Pose

Sphinx Pose helps prevent headaches
Sphinx Pose. Ann Pizer

Lower on to your belly in preparation for sphinx pose. Prop yourself up on your elbows, but don't let your shoulders shrug up toward your ears. Keep your shoulders down, your neck long, and your forearms pressing the floor. Try to stay in this position for at least 5 breaths.

5
Camel Pose - Ustrasana

Camel Pose - Ustrasana helps prevent headaches
Camel Pose - Ustrasana. Ann Pizer

Come onto your knees for camel pose. There are a number of possible variations to make this pose less intense. You can keep your hands on your low back, use blocks to rest your hands on, or curl your toes under to lift your heels so it is easier to grab them.

You can also choose to let the head hang back or to engage your neck and hold your head up, depending on which is more comfortable. Hold for 3 - 5 breaths and then sit back on your heels to rest. You can repeat the pose two or three times if you want.

6
Eagle Pose - Garudasana

Eagle Pose - Garudasana helps prevent headaches
Eagle Pose - Garudasana. Ann Pizer

For eagle, we are most interested in the shoulder stretch, which means there are a number of options for your legs. You can do the full pose, you can sit cross-legged on the floor or you can return to your chair if that's the best fit for you. Hold each side for 3 - 5 breaths.

7
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose - Ardha Matsyendrasana

Half Lord of the Fishes Pose - Ardha Matsyendrasana helps prevent headaches
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose - Ardha Matsyendrasana. Ann Pizer

Sit on the floor (or in a chair) for a spinal twist. Use your inhales to lengthen your spine and your exhales to twist. Stay 5 breaths on each side.

8
Alternate Nostril Breathing - Nadi Sodhana

Alternate Nostril Breathing - Nadi Shodhana helps prevent headaches
Alternate Nostril Breathing - Nadi Shodhana. John Freeman/Doring Kindersley/Getty Images

Finish with alternate nostril breathing, in which you breathe through each nostril in turn while blocking the other one. This is a balancing, relaxing breath. Go for 5 -10 rounds.

A Note on Iyengar

B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga includes an appendix titled Curative Asanas for Various Diseases. For headache and migraine, Iyengar recommends a number of inverted and forward folding poses, including headstand, shoulderstand, plow, uttanasana, and paschimottanasana. The efficacy of inverting as a headache treatment is unproven, but it is worth noting that it is not recommended at times you actually have a headache.

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