Yoga and other relaxing exercises are often associated with pain relief. However, in rare cases when someone takes up an improper technique or had their first strenuous yoga session, they may develop a headache or even a migraine. Those who get headaches after yoga should consider altering their lifestyle. Most of the time, the headache is relieved within a few hours without any intervention depending upon the exact cause.
The symptoms vary depending upon the exact cause, some common symptoms are as follows:
- Throbbing or pulsating headache
- Backache or neck ache
- Neck stiffness
- Lack of concentration
- Dizziness, upon standing up
Headache during or after yoga can be due to several causes as minimal as wrong yoga form to as lethal as spine issues. These and some other causes are;
Some forms of yoga such as hot yoga or vinyasa yoga cause excessive sweating which leads to mild or moderate dehydration. Loss of electrolytes and fluids from the body causes the brain to shrink away from the skull temporarily, triggering a headache, commonly known as dehydration headache. This can be easily avoided by drinking water or rehydrating solutions before and during yoga practices.
Decreased blood glucose levels may also trigger a headache as the sugar levels continue to drop during any sort of workout. The decreased nutrition to the brain causes a throbbing or pulsating headache around the temples. This phenomenon is more common in diabetics or pre-diabetics with poor glycemic control, it is better to take a pre-workout snack to avoid a headache after the yoga session.
3- Spinal issues
In people with any type of neck condition such as arthritis or a disc prolapse in the neck, yoga poses can trigger a headache that involves the back of the head and neck mainly. This is also known as cervicogenic headache. Such people should avoid certain poses that involve extensive neck movement or wear a surgical collar around the neck to limit movement.
4- Environmental causes
Some environmental causes may also trigger a headache or migraine in people with chronic headache conditions. Some of these include:
- Bad lighting to very brightly lit rooms
- Reflections from a mirror
- Certain scents or essential oils
- It is important to figure out the trigger and try to find alternatives or avoid it altogether.
5- First time doing yoga
Someone who’s doing yoga for the first time might also experience a headache after his session. This is due to decreased elasticity in the body and extensive muscle stretching at the neck or back. One should attend an in-person yoga class where their overall technique can be improved and they can take time to learn the right amount of stretch required for each pose.
6- Improper form or technique
Yoga requires proper form and technique for maximum effect, slightly wrong form in some of the difficult poses can lead to serious tissue injuries. However, in some easier regular poses, continuous practice in the wrong form can strain the neck and back muscles which causes headaches. This can be alleviated by doing yoga in front of a mirror or taking one-on-one yoga classes.
7- Inversion pose
In this pose, you are supposed to put your head in an upside-down position which makes your heart placed higher than your head, causing a sudden rush of blood to the head. This often triggers a headache after yoga practice in people with chronic migraines or cluster headaches.
8- Improper respiration
Yoga is a difficult exercise in a way that you have to focus on a pose or movement so as not to sprain or stretch your muscle. Sometimes people who are new to yoga, hold their breath while focusing on a pose or a movement without even realizing it. Improper or shallow breathing during any difficult pose will deprive your muscles and brain of adequate oxygen. This leads to muscle tension and thus headaches.
Since the headache doesn’t last long and is often relieved within a few hours on its own, you might not pay any attention to discovering the cause. This can result in daily headaches which have complications;
- Medication overuse
- Development into a chronic headache condition like migraine
- Spinal issues
- Muscle tearing and tension
- Constant neck ache or backache
- Posture problems
Headaches can be easily prevented by taking a few safety precautions;
- Avoid doing yoga in brightly lit rooms or directly under the sun
- Keep yourself hydrated during the whole session
- New yoga students should take one-on-one sessions to learn proper form and technique
- Avoid moving onto strenuous or difficult poses if you’re new to yoga
- Fast-paced yoga-vinyasa is for people who have been doing yoga for a long time
- Avoid inversion poses if you are already having a headache or can be easily triggered
- Breathe deeply during the whole session
- Learn proper breathing techniques, when to breathe in and when to exhale
- Move slowly into the new pose, don’t rush yourself.
Your yoga teachers are not doctors. They can only help the student in correcting the pose or recommend breathing exercises but cannot give consultation for the headache. For that purpose, you need to visit your medical practitioner for a complete evaluation of your symptoms and to rule out other possible causes such as spinal issues.
- In case of severe headache, take over-the-counter painkillers
- Migraine sufferers should take Excedrin or triptans for relief
- Use a neck collar for limited movement around the neck in case of tension in the neck muscles.
- Take a pre-workout snack
- Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day
- Try breathing exercises in between your yoga sessions
- Massage your temples if you feel that you are developing a headache to stimulate blood circulation
- Use lavender or chamomile oil for a calming effect
- To cure a headache, try hot or cold compresses.
When to consult a doctor?
Headache caused by yoga is often relieved within a few hours on its own and by eradicating the cause. But people who develop frequent headaches which are not easily relieved should inform their yoga instructors and consult a doctor.
Can I take a painkiller for headaches caused by yoga?
Yes, you can take an over-the-counter painkiller for pain relief but it is equally important to find out the trigger and alleviate it to avoid further headache episodes.
Does pranayama cause headaches?
Pranayama is the name of a breathing exercise in yoga, some people who are new to this technique might feel slightly lightheaded or may feel a headache developing but this improves over time with practice.
Why do hot yoga cause headaches?
Hot yoga causes dehydration due to excessive sweating which leads to the development of a headache.
Is yoga good for headaches?
Yoga is a relaxing exercise that can help decrease the frequency and increase pain tolerance in migraine sufferers if proper technique and form are applied.
Can I do yoga if I have a migraine?
Basic relaxing yoga exercises have proven to be helpful during a migraine episode but difficult poses and exercises should be avoided during an acute attack