I have a headache! I am spending too much time on computer screens these days, have been drinking too much coffee, and not exercising enough. Sound familiar? If not, insert your headache triggers above, and let’s work this out.
Headaches. There are three main categories: sinus, tension, and migraine.
Sinus headaches are due to an infection, tension headaches are caused by tight muscles in the neck and shoulders, and migraines occur when super-sensitive nerve endings in the brain create pain.
For this article, we will be focusing on tension headaches, a few of their causes, and how to use yoga to help ease the pain.
What can bring on a tension headache? Tension headaches occur when the neck, shoulder, and scalp muscles become tense. There are many reasons these muscles become tense. Some of the big culprits are high levels of stress, lack of movement/exercise, and lack of sleep. These three things also happen to be what many of us have been facing with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Physical, psychological, emotional, and financial stressors are plenty right now. Whatever is causing your stress, I think we can all agree that it would be nice to feel it a little less intensely. Although yoga may not have the power to eliminate what is stressing you in your life, it can help you change how you respond to stress. With a regular deep belly breathing practice, you can help calm your nervous system and send messages to your brain and body that everything is ok. If you would like to try a guided breath, check out this one for Strength, Ease, and Clarity.
Straining Head and/or Neck
If you have been sitting in front of a computer screen for extended periods you may be experiencing head and neck strain from overly tight muscles. In our current situation we have fallen victim to a lack of proper computer, desk, and chair setup as we bring our offices into our homes, choose to work from our laptop on our couch, etc. And even if your workstation is ergonomically correct, sitting for long periods at your desk, communicating almost entirely via the screen through your day, likely combined with less activity and movement, can all contribute to this.
Remember to take breaks, get up and walk around, and try these neck and shoulder stretches:
For all of the following neck exercises, sit up tall, with good posture. Roll the shoulders up, around, and down, opening through the chest and strong across the back.
Neck twist: Bring your awareness to your left collarbone. Imagine lengthening the collarbone and opening through that area of your body. Keeping the neck long, begin to turn your head to the right, twisting the cervical spine and you look towards the right. Make sure to keep the neck long and take care to not push yourself too far. Stay here for three to five deep belly breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the nose. Slowly bring the head back to the center and do the same on the other side.
Head tilt: Bring your awareness to your left collarbone. Imagine lengthening the collarbone and opening through that area of your body. Keeping the neck long, begin to tilt your head to the right, tilting your head while keeping the neck long. Stay here for three to five deep belly breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the nose. Slowly bring the head back to the center and do the same on the other side.
Extension: Begin to lift the chin and look up towards the ceiling, paying careful attention to not let the head drop back, keeping length in the neck the entire time. Staying here for three to five breaths.
Flexion: With a lengthened cervical spine, begin to draw your chin in and slightly down. We are not bringing the chin to the chest and we are not bowing the head down. Staying here for three to five breaths.
Lack of Sleep
When there are a lot of things on your mind, you are feeling stressed, you are experiencing headaches, and/or your body is aching from the strain of the day, of course, sleep will be difficult. If possible, establish a “wind-down” routine. Turn the lights down and create a quiet, relaxing environment to prepare for sleep. Try to engage in a quiet, relaxing activity that does not involve a screen. Keep the phone or mobile device out of the bedroom at night. Your routine doesn’t have to be an hour, even 10 to 15 minutes will help. One such activity can be a guided meditation/visualization or breathing exercise that helps to distract and relax the mind. This is the adult version of “counting sheep.” Whether you have difficulty falling asleep at night, or you experience wakefulness throughout the night, play this video for a longer guided meditation practice to help you sleep.
Yoga postures, breath, and meditation can do a lot to relieve, and even prevent, headaches, however, it is important to note that not every practice will work for everyone. Don’t wait until the next time you feel a headache coming on. Try these yoga poses to help the blood flow to the head and neck more freely now, and incorporate the breath and meditation to help reduce stress and improve your sleeping patterns.