Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that combines physical poses, breathing exercises, and meditation. It has a therapeutic effect on both physical and mental wellness.
The practice of yoga is often associated with pain relief. Yet, you might develop a headache during or after a session. This may happen for many reasons, including improper technique or preparation.
Luckily, you don’t have to ditch the mat if you get headaches from yoga. Let’s explore the possible causes, home remedies, and ways to prevent them from happening.
Typically, yoga is beneficial for headaches and migraines. Extensive research has shown that yoga may have the ability to:
- Relieve stress. Yoga can reduce stress, a common trigger of headaches and migraines.
- Promote better sleep. Sleep deprivation could worsen or cause headaches. The stress relieving effects of yoga can help you get better sleep.
- Improve posture. Poor posture may contribute to head pain. Practicing yoga can benefit your posture and alignment.
- Reduce musculoskeletal tightness. Muscle tension in your upper back, neck, and face can trigger headaches. The relaxing movements of yoga may help loosen these muscles.
Despite these benefits, it’s still possible to get a headache while doing yoga. There have been anecdotal reports of headaches during or after the practice.
If yoga makes your head hurt, consider your habits and environment. This can help you pinpoint the cause. Some of the most common reasons for a headache during or after a yoga session could be due to the causes outlined below.
Dehydration is a common cause of headaches. It occurs when you drink less water than your body needs.
Sweating increases your risk of dehydration. You’re more likely to become dehydrated if you practice yoga in hot weather or do a physically demanding sequence.
In addition to a headache, other symptoms of dehydration include:
- increased thirst
- dizziness, especially when standing up
- dark yellow urine
- less urination than usual
- dry mouth
Your body needs glucose for energy. This is especially important during exercise, including yoga.
If you don’t eat before doing yoga, your blood glucose levels might dip too low. Low blood glucose can cause a hunger headache, along with:
- difficulty concentrating
- feelings of faintness
Yoga, like other types of exercise, requires proper technique. Doing each yoga pose with the correct form is key to preventing pain and injury.
Practicing yoga with the wrong technique can strain the muscles near your neck and head. This can cause a headache as well as tension and discomfort in the affected area.
In an inversion pose, your heart is placed higher than your head. This puts your head in an upside-down position. If you’re prone to headaches, these poses might trigger or worsen headache pain.
During yoga, you might hold your breath without realizing it. This may happen when you’re trying to focus on a pose or movement.
Improper or shallow breathing can make it difficult for oxygen to reach your muscles and brain. This, in turn, may cause a headache and muscle tension.
Yoga is generally considered to be a low-impact workout. But if you’re new to the practice, or if you are moving through an advanced sequence, you may overexert yourself. Doing more than your body is capable of could lead to a headache.
Bright indoor lights can trigger a headache or migraine. Similarly, bright sunlight and sun glare can cause a heat headache. This is more likely if you practice yoga outside.
If you get headaches while doing yoga, you don’t have to give up the practice. Instead, follow the tips outlined below to see if they help.
Staying well hydrated can prevent headaches due to mild or moderate dehydration. Its best to spread out your intake of fluids throughout the day.
Drink extra fluids before, during, and after exercise, such as yoga. This is even more important during:
- hot yoga
- fast-paced yoga, like vinyasa yoga
- yoga in hot weather
- yoga under the sun
Eat a small snack
Before practicing yoga, eat a pre-workout snack. The calories and glucose will provide your body with the fuel you need to stay energized during your yoga session.
Some examples of pre-workout snacks include:
- a protein smoothie
- whole grain bread with almond butter
- a banana
- plain Greek yogurt and fruit
Correct your technique
To avoid pain and discomfort, take time to learn the right technique. If you’re new to yoga, attend a yoga class for in-person guidance.
Some yoga teachers also offer one-on-one classes. Another option is to practice in front of a mirror or take pictures to see how you can improve your form and overall technique.
Avoid inversion poses
If you’re prone to headaches, avoid poses that invert your head. Examples of inversion poses include:
- downward dog
- forward fold
- bridge pose
- dolphin pose
Deep, mindful breathing is a vital component of yoga. Do your best to inhale and exhale deeply throughout your practice. The more you breathe, and the deeper you breathe, the more oxygen can reach your muscles and your brain.
Try not to rush into each pose, or to push yourself beyond what’s comfortable for you.
Start slowly and listen to your body. Over time, you can increase the frequency and difficulty of your yoga sessions.
Avoid bright lights
Do yoga in a room without harsh, bright lights.
If you like doing yoga outside, practice in the early morning or evening when the sunlight isn’t too strong. Or, find a shady spot that’s protected from bright sunlight or reflections.
If your headache is mild, home remedies may provide relief. You can try:
- drinking water
- taking over-the-counter pain medication, like ibuprofen or aspirin
- doing breathing exercises
- massaging your temples
- applying lavender oil to your temples
- applying a hot or cold compress to your forehead or back of your neck
In most cases, a headache will go away with self-care or medication. But, sometimes a headache can be a sign of something more serious. Be sure to get medical attention if you have:
- a sudden or severe headache
- a headache that lasts for more than 72 hours
- recurring headaches
- headache after a yoga injury
- vision changes
- stiff neck
- difficulty speaking
- fever above 102°F
- loss of consciousness
If you get headaches from yoga, consider your habits before and during each yoga session. You might be dehydrated or hungry. Using improper techniques or not breathing correctly can also lead to headaches. Some yoga poses may also make you more prone to getting a headache.
Staying well hydrated and keeping your blood sugar levels from dropping too low may help keep a headache at bay. Knowing how to do each pose and movement correctly, not overexerting yourself, and focusing on your breathing may also reduce your risk of developing a headache.