yoga for migraines

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I’m not sure what had me open up PubMed this afternoon, considering I’m not even in school right now I probably should be out spending my Saturday doing non-school things. Truth is I opened it and keyed in “naturopathic oncology” (an interest of mine). The first article that came up immediately caught my eye, first because it actually had nothing to do with oncology and second because it was about yoga.

PubMed is not a rich source of alternative medicine research, but there’s not much research in alternative medicine in general. Funding is minimal but interest is growing and I think we will see an incline in available research opportunities in non-invasive therapies.

“Effect of Yoga on Migraine: a comprehensive study using clinical profile and cardiac autonomic functions” was published in July of this year in the International Journal of Yoga. The sample size was small, 60 people total, 30 receiving conventional migraine treatment and 30 receiving conventional treatment + 5 yoga sessions a week for 6 weeks. The patients kept a migraine diary throughout the 6 weeks, indicating the total number of headaches as well as the intensity and medication used. The variable measured was headache-specific quality of life, and patients were able to rate the benefit of treatment on a 5-point scale. The researchers also studied heart rate variability after the 6 week treatment in both groups.

Headache frequency and intensity were reduced in both groups, however a further reduction was seen in the yoga group. When asked to rate the benefit of the treatment, 8 people in the conventional treatment stated “neither harmful nor helpful” with the remaining 22 stating “more harmful than helpful”. All 30 yoga participants stated the treatment was “more helpful than harmful”. Heart rate was found to increase slightly in the conventional treatment group (not statistically significant), while in the yoga group the heart rate of participates was found to decrease. Lastly, in the headache-specific quality of life score, both groups showed an improvement, while only in the yoga group were scores of “little to no impact on life” found.

The researchers go on to state the role stress has on development and worsening of migraine headaches, and how a mindfulness-based aerobic exercise, such as yoga, works to decrease stress and anxiety, as well as alleviate depression and enhance mood. Yoga has also been shown to decrease stress hormones, such as cortisol, which at a chronic level can contribute to hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression and a depressed immune system [2].

As a new yogi and yoga enthusiast, finding articles such as this one on a data base full of pharmacological-focused papers was encouraging. The yoga participants still received conventional therapy, however improvement beyond conventional therapy alone was achieved. It’s great to see interest in lifestyle approaches for the treatment of migraines, as it is such a common illness in our high-stress society.

Here is a link to the paper if you are interested – reading research articles is not the same as sitting down to a good book, however, I do encourage you to take a glance. This is a concise article with great information presented in understandable language.




In love & yoga,





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