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Yoga for Migraines: Can It Help?

Posted on May 11, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Victoria Menard

Members of MyMigraineTeam have reported practicing yoga in addition to their usual migraine treatments to help manage their symptoms. “Been doing yoga for over 30 years,” wrote one member. “I don’t know how I could survive without it!” Another member shared that they call their yoga teacher “the migraine whisperer.” But what does the research say? Can yoga really help manage migraine symptoms?

Here, we explore the potential benefits of yoga for migraine, including some tips to keep in mind before starting the practice. Be sure to talk with your doctor or health care provider before making changes to your migraine care regimen, including adding yoga as a treatment option.

Can Yoga Help With Migraines?

Several studies have been conducted to assess the potential benefits of yoga on migraines. Research has suggested that yoga may help manage migraine symptoms. It has also been found that yoga can be an effective stress-management tool. Practicing yoga to manage stress may be doubly helpful, as stress is a common trigger of migraine symptoms.

Yoga and Migraine Symptoms

One study on the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary migraine therapy evaluated 60 individuals with migraine. Thirty participants received six weeks of a conventional treatment plan, and 30 practiced yoga in addition to this conventional care.

To assess the participants’ quality of life, researchers measured changes in headache-related disability using the headache impact test (HIT-6). Participants used a headache diary to record their headache intensity (rated from 1-10), total number of headaches, and medications used during the study.

After six weeks, both the conventional care and the conventional-care-plus-yoga groups showed significant reductions in HIT scores, headache-related disability, monthly headache frequency, and average pain severity. However, the group that practiced yoga in addition to conventional care showed greater improvements in all areas. What’s more, only this group showed that their headaches had little to no impact on daily life.

Other studies have shown similar results. In a study of 114 participants with episodic migraine, those who practiced yoga combined with medical treatment showed a significant improvement in migraine headache intensity and frequency, HIT score, Migraine Disability Assessment scores, and total number of pills taken compared to the medical-treatment-only group.

Yoga and Stress Management

Excessive stress is a common migraine trigger for those with the condition. “Stress seems to precede my problems,” one MyMigraineTeam member wrote. As this member went on to share, “There’s no magic pill for me, and I don’t have all the answers, but I know that stress only makes things worse.”

Some research has suggested that stress reduction can improve migraine symptoms. Yoga, with its focus on meditation and mindfulness, has been found to reduce stress and anxiety, potentially alleviating stress-related migraine attacks.

Yoga’s stress-reducing effects may be attributed to the fact that the practice — as well as other forms of exercise — affects the body’s levels of certain stress-related hormones. Studies have also found that yoga can improve vagal tone (or vagus nerve activity, which has been found to contribute to emotional regulation).

Hatha yoga, in particular, has been found to reduce stress in the long term. As one MyMigraineTeam member wrote, “One thing that really helps is hatha yoga. When I leave the class, my pain is always at least half as much as when I started.”

Can Yoga Help With Migraine?

Some studies have concluded that practicing yoga with conventional medical treatments for migraine is more effective than medical treatments alone. The practice is generally safe and cost-effective, making it an accessible self-care approach for many people with migraine.

Many MyMigraineTeam members swear by yoga as a complementary migraine-management tool. As one member shared, “A particularly dynamic and strong yoga practice helped me avoid a migraine attack — at least I think so — for the first time ever!” This member later shared: “Three days after yoga, and I am still migraine-free. Taking into account that on Saturday night, I had a few glasses of wine and got my period today, migraine-free is no small feat for me. I can’t think of any particular reason for it, apart from a lot of yoga practice.”

That said, yoga cannot replace your prescribed or doctor-recommended migraine treatments. It may serve as one helpful, supplemental self-management tool in your overall treatment plan. As with any treatment or symptom management plan, talk to your health care team before beginning yoga to help with migraine headache relief.

What To Keep in Mind When Practicing Yoga With Migraines

After getting your doctor’s go-ahead, there are some things you should keep in mind before beginning to practice yoga.

Different Types of Yoga

There are many different types of yoga. In addition to hatha yoga, which has been found to have stress-reducing effects, MyMigraineTeam members have recommended yin yoga — a practice focused on slow-paced yoga poses and deep-breathing exercises. Experts have also recommended restorative yoga. This form of the practice combines deep breathing with relaxed postures supported by blocks, mats, or blankets.

It may take some time to find the right yoga instructor and class for you, but trying out different forms of the practice can help guide you in the right direction. That said, you may want to avoid some types of yoga. Experts recommend that people with migraine avoid hot yoga — especially at very high temperatures — as well as yoga that requires vigorous activity or strenuous postures. You can also let your yoga instructor know that you experience migraines. They may be able to recommend adjustments or alternatives if certain poses cause discomfort. You can also search for appropriate yoga videos on YouTube or other platforms.

Yoga as a Potential Trigger

Although yoga may help some people manage their migraine symptoms, for others, the practice has the opposite effect. Approximately 22 percent of people with migraine report that exercise triggers their migraine pain. Several MyMigraineTeam members have found this to be the case. “I’ve tried yoga and massage in the past,” wrote one, “but they seem to trigger migraines.” Another member shared, “I went to my first yoga class and got some good stretching in. Came home, and boom — migraine hit me.”

If rigorous physical activity triggers your migraine attacks, you may want to start with gentle stretching or a relaxing yoga practice like hatha or yin yoga.

Find Your Team

Living with migraine can be a daily challenge. The good news? You don’t have to go it alone. MyMigraineTeam is the social network for people with migraine and their loved ones. Here, more than 76,000 members from across the world come together to ask questions, offer advice and support, and meet others who understand life with migraine.

Have you tried practicing yoga as part of your migraine management regimen? Share your experience or tips in the comments below or by posting on MyMigraineTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Victoria Menard is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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