Stress, tiredness, dehydration, posture, screen glare… there are many triggers for tension headaches. They often feel like a tight band around your head and are the most common type, affecting 80% of us at some point.
When you feel the dull throb a headache start, the first thing many people do is reach for the painkillers. This may be a short-term answer, but there are other ways you can ease a headache.
First, up your water intake. It sounds simple, but when you’re dehydrated, the brain can temporarily shrink from fluid loss. This causes the brain to pull away from the skull, causing pain.
What you need to do now is relieve tension, increase circulation and calm the mind. A hot shower or a warm compress are relaxing and can reduce symptoms, as can gently massaging the neck and temples. Assess how you feel and maybe take a walk or opt for a nap.
Yoga can help, too. Try these three headache-busting techniques:
- ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING
Breathing deeply is known to relieve tension. Alternate nostril breathing (nadi sodhana) balances the breath and increases oxygen intake, but don’t attempt it if you have any nasal congestion!
Place your thumb on the right side of the nose, just below the bone, and your two smallest fingers on the left side. The forefinger and middle finger can rest between your eyebrows or be folded down. Relax the shoulders and keep the right elbow close to the body.
Gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it with your little fingers. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril. Keeping the right nostril open, inhale again. Close it and open the left, exhale slowly. Repeat three to five times before returning to normal breathing.
2. EAGLE ARM POSE
Gentle neck and shoulder stretches can help headaches, so try eagle arm pose. Sit comfortably and feel as if you can grow a little taller. Bring your arms up and cross right arm over left arm in front of the body.
Now bring your forearms towards each other and aim to get your palms together, thumbs close to the nose. To increase the stretch, raise your crossed arms higher.
Stay here for several breaths and enjoy the deep release through your upper back and shoulders. Repeat on the other side.
3. PUPPY POSE
Do puppy pose if you’re feeling tense and in the first throes of a headache, although I wouldn’t recommend it if the pain is very bad or if you have a migraine. I’d also steer clear if you have high blood pressure or glaucoma.
Come onto all fours and walk the hands forward as far as you can, lowering your forehead to the ground. Melt your heart towards the ground to deepen the stretch. Stay here for five breaths.
Ultimately, you need to assess what’s behind your tension headaches. The trigger is often stress, so maybe you need to slow down a bit… and be kind to yourself.
Published in the Irish Daily Mail, May 1, 2018