Yesterday, a friend commented that she had a bit of a headache; in her case, abundant work responsibilities and little sleep may have been the culprits. Having also had a headache upon waking the previous day (most likely from a faulty sleep position), I was reminded that nagging noggins have a variety of causes. Both my friend and I also remarked that weather changes and fluctuating barometric pressures often provoke a heavy or throbbing head. Regardless of cause, even a minor headache distracts and detracts from full participation in daily life.
On this Silent Sunday, I designed a practice to soothe most aches: The modality that alleviates discomfort also will help you determine the cause. For example, if the eye-movement technique is effective, your headache may have been caused by eye strain (screen time, poor lighting, reading fine print, etc.). Comfort from a restorative yoga pose, on the other hand, can indicate that fatigue or even sluggish digestion lies at the root of the headache. When practiced in its entirety, today’s routine will renew vitality while assuaging pain.
Special note: If a headache is a symptom of a known illness, I suggest that one restrict their choice of relief to resting quietly while holding the closing mudra.
As a precursor to the following practice, have a glass of water. Dehydration is often overlooked as a source of headaches: If that is the case, an 8-ounce dose will help almost immediately. Additionally, you may enjoy anointing yourself with an essential oil blend: Lavender and peppermint are very soothing to a throbbing head. Or, if you suspect nasal congestion as the cause, eucalyptus oil may help.
Begin by lying on the belly. Place one hand on the other, palms down, and rest your forehead on the stack. Shift the left and then right wrist slightly up and down, back and forth, so that the head rolls slightly from side to side: This will begin to release tension and blocked energy in the head and neck. Roll the head gently, breathing deeply through the nose, for as long as you like.
Now, slowly shift yourself up and back into Baby Pose. Instead of resting the head on the floor (which would create a slight inversion, thus not conducive to relieving pressure in the head), bring your elbows in front of the knees. Raise the forearms, and bring the palms together: Tip the hands forward slightly, so that you can rest the Third Eye on the base knuckles of the connected thumbs. Gently massage this center brow point, as well as the forehead and brow line, with the knuckles. Be sure to fully release the weight of the skull onto the hands. Continue for as long as you like.
From Baby Pose, come up to sit in a Wide-Leg Straddle. The legs do not have to be far apart; open them only as far as you can do with ease. Add any bolsters that you need or want, e.g., under the hips or knees. Tip forward as if angling into a Forward Bend; however, go only as far as you are able to rest the hands (or forearms, if flexible) on the ground between the legs without any sense of effort.
Close the eyes, and breathe deeply. The head may tip forward, and/or the spine may curve slightly. This is a yin posture, so allow the body to find a way to relax in the position. The pose will help to unravel leg tension from sitting, and it also will aid digestion by relaxing the belly: Ironically, imbalance in the lower body can create or exacerbate a headache. Remain here for 3 minutes.
Next, help yourself into your favorite seated position; you may choose to sit in a chair. With eyes softly open, begin to turn the head from left to right; move slowly and with awareness, tracking the movement with the eye gaze. If you have restriction due to muscle tension in the neck, honor your personal range of motion: As this exercise progresses, you likely will find that you are able to move more freely.
After about a minute of looking side to side, pause in the center. Then, turn the head to the left as before, bringing the gaze with the movement. As you turn the head to the right, however, maintain the eye gaze to the left: This may feel difficult and cause temporary strain in the eye muscles; it will dissipate as you continue.
When the head is fully turned to the right, bring the gaze there. Then, keep the eye gaze to the right as you turn the head to the left. At the end of the left-looking turn, bring the eyes all the way to the left. Keep the focus there as you repeat the head turn to the right. When fully turned to the right, bring the eyes to the right. Maintain that gaze as you turn left, and so on. Continue for 2-3 minutes.
Special note: Due to the high level of concentration demanded by this movement, the breath may shallow or pause. Be sure to maintain deep, steady breathing as you move.
Now, lie down on your back. Bend the knees, and move the feet a bit wider than hip width; let the knees fall inward to rest against each other. (This Restorative Rest position does wonders to relax the lower back.) Reach the hands to slide the fingers under the base of the skull. I tend to use the middle fingers for this technique, but feel free to use whichever fingers operate most naturally. Alternating between left and right, firmly press the fingers into the occipital ridge (base of skull bone): Begin next to the spine on each side, and move outward as you massage back and forth; the head will rock side to side, as in the opening prone version of this move. Continue this tension-tamer for as long as feels good to you.
Finally, with the legs remaining bent or extended long on the floor, create a mudra for headache relief. On both hands, curl the ring finger to touch the tip to the inner base of the thumb; hold the ring finger down with the thumb. Touch the tips of the index and middle fingers to the their respective thumb tips; the pinkies stretch straight. Breathe slowly and deeply with the mudra hands resting on the floor, palms up. Keep the mudra intact for 2-3 minutes as you rest and breathe, and then release the hands to settle into Full Svasana for as long as you like.