By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Any person, who has experienced cluster headaches, knows they are quite the nightmare. With the intense amount of pain involved with the onset of these headaches, it’s no wonder they are often dubbed ‘suicide’ or ‘alarm clock’ headaches. Unfortunately, this pesky condition is often treated with over-the-counter drugs or prescription medicines. There are also natural ways to shorten the length or intensity of an attack, such as one or more of the following Yoga techniques.
Oxygen has been known to help relieve cluster headaches, so breathing exercises associated with Yoga (pranayama), can speed a release from pain. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, and breathe in deeply for four counts – concentrating on filling your belly with air. Hold in the breath for a few counts, relishing the healing power of oxygen, and then breathe out for four counts, pulling the stomach in to completely expel all the carbon dioxide. Repeat this as many times as you like. This pranayama technique can be especially useful if practiced at the first feeling of an onset of cluster headaches, as this can delay, or even cancel, an attack.
Meditation is a powerful tool, practiced in Yoga, to foster a strong mind-body connection and can also be used in treating cluster headaches. When you feel an attack coming on, find a comfortable seated position (or lie down, if you prefer), close your eyes, and focus your mind on a part of your body completely unrelated to your head, such as your right foot.
Send all your thoughts to this appendage, concentrating on how it feels as it rests on your mat or bed. You might try wiggling your toes and concentrate all your energy on this action, moving each toe slowly and deliberately. The object of concentration does not need to be limited to a part of your body.
You could also imagine you are somewhere peaceful and relaxing, such as an open field or beach. You could also try this meditation in a shower, as the water gently runs over your head. Personally, I would choose cooler water temperatures, but ideal water temperature is a personal preference. Therefore, try it, and discover what works for you.
Restorative Asana or Flowing Movement
Mild movement has been known to treat cluster headaches, so this could also be a good time to try holding restorative postures or engage in mild synchronized movement. For those who like to move, practicing a few Sun Salutations can ease the pain in your head, by creating a diversion. Restorative postures can be held for minutes at a time, in combination with pranayama or meditation.
On the other hand, some Yoga practitioners flow through the poses at a fairly quickly pace, while placing a strong focus on their breathing, as they move their bodies. The practice of Ujjayi pranayama, while flowing, seems to create a diversion in the mind.
Cluster headaches are definitely no picnic, but with careful practice and the right technique, they can be relieved naturally, or in combination with medicine, and may become much less of a problem as you find a technique that works for you.
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