Learn how to use Pranayama to relieve relieve stress, anxiety, fatigue, and headache pain.
Heal your Headaches from Within
What is pranayama?
Pranayama comes from the Sanskrit words “prana” (life force) and “yama” (control). Pranayama involves a series of controlled yoga breathing techniques that promote good health. There are many different Pranayama poses, and each one has its own unique benefits, such as stress release, increased energy, or improved respiratory health. For the chronic migraine sufferer, Pranayama yoga is effective for natural migraine management.
There are four essential stages of healthy breathing techniques in each Pranayama exercise:
- Puraka: Slowly inhale in one fluid motion. Focus on fresh, healing air entering your lungs.
- Abhyantara Kumbhaka: Hold breath for several counts.
- Rechaka: Slowly breathe out, imagining all the tension and pain symptoms leaving your body with every exhalation.
- Bahya Kumbhaka: Pause briefly before continuing to the next inhalation
Basic Pranayama moves
Below is a list of four essential breathing techniques aimed at relieving migraine headache pain:
Kapalabhati: Frontal Brain Cleaning Breath
The Kapalbhati breathing technique, often referred to as “the shining skull,” balances the cerebral spinal fluid, thus stimulating the brain, increasing stamina, and promoting healthy neurological responses to pain signals.
To begin, sit comfortably, in either the lotus position or another cross-legged pose, with your back straight.
- Take a few slow breaths, counting to four at each inhalation and exhalation.
- Inhale deeply, feeling your stomach expand outwards like a balloon filling up with air.
- To exhale, force the air out of your stomach by clenching your abdominal muscles. This technique might take some practice, but it is well worth the effort.
- Continue “pumping” air in and out of your lungs, focusing more on actively pushing stale air out of your body, than drawing fresh air into your body, which happens passively.
- Repeat as many times as is comfortable, up to 20 times.
Sitkari: Hissing Breath
Sitkari is a popular breathing exercise that gets its name from the hissing sound produced when breathing in through the teeth. Sitkari has a cooling effect on the blood as it supplies the lungs with fresh air with each “cooling breath.”
- To begin, gently allow your upper jaw to meet your lower jaw, teeth touching.
- Open your mouth without separating the jaws.
- Slowly breathe in through your mouth, allowing the cooling hair to rush through your teeth and into your lungs.
- Close your mouth and exhale through the nostrils.
- Repeat as many times as is comfortable.
Anuloma Viloma: Alternate Nostril Breath
Anuloma Viloma is an excellent healing yoga technique; it involves breathing in through one nostril and breathing out the other, and then reversing the motion. It is important not to neglect switching sides. Inhaling through the right nostril produces a warming, invigorating effect, while breathing in through the left has a cooler, more sedating impact on the nerves.
To begin, take your right hand and press your middle and index fingers towards your palm, leaving only the thumb protruding on one side, with the ring and pinky fingers protruding on the other.
- Using your right thumb, close your right nostril while breathing in to the count of four.
- Close both nostrils and hold to the count of sixteen.
- Release just the right thumb, continuing to keep the left nostril closed with the ring and pinky fingers.
- Exhale to the count of eight.
- Repeat several times.
- Using your left hand, close your left nostril and breathe in, repeating the previous steps.
Ujjayi: Victory Breath
The Ujjayi Breath, when done properly, produces a rumbling sound from the back of the throat, and is useful for relieving stress and nighttime wakefulness, while also helping to sustain healthy cognitive functioning. The “victory” is in the meeting between the healing breath and your physiological response.
To begin, sit comfortably on the floor.
- Slowly inhale, filling first your stomach, and then your ribcage with clean, fresh air.
- Unlike in the Kapalabhati (shining skull) technique, do not allow your stomach to expand outwards. Rather, focus on lifting your torso upwards.
- Exhale, this time emptying first the lungs, and then the stomach, squeezing the tension out of your lower abdominal and back muscles.
Read more about preventing migraines through stress reduction:
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