“No, I can’t,” Rachel reluctantly said to her youngest son. “I have a migraine.” She saw the familiar disappointment flash across his face as she trudged toward her bed for what she knew would be several hours.
“I felt like it had become my mantra to say, ‘I can’t; I have a migraine.’ I knew it wasn’t fair — my son was only asking for a ride to get some ice cream, but I couldn’t function, think straight, or even string a coherent sentence together because the pain was so severe”, Rachel admits. “My headaches had been becoming more and more frequent, and I was just down and out of the picture a lot of the time. I felt horrible because my boys missed out on having a mom and I missed time with them. I felt like I was giving up a portion of my life.
No End in Sight
“At that point, I’d been suffering from debilitating migraines for 25 years. I would get about four migraines every month, and each time, I’d feel sick for three to four days. It would be a massive headache, but also sensitivity to sound and smells, nausea and sometimes even vomiting. At their worst, I couldn’t go to work and spent much of the day in bed, alone in a dark room.
“The frequency of the migraines picked up several years ago, and I started missing a lot of work. I also missed out on my kids’ soccer and basketball games, as well as family fun activities like going to the movies or the park. The headaches began costing me other things that were important to me too. For instance, I love to read and was involved in a book club. Sometimes, I’d read the book, then get a migraine and miss our discussion meeting. Other times, I couldn’t finish the book because of the headaches. My frequent headaches were impacting my life in such a negative way, it was almost leading me into depression.
“I was so tired of repeatedly going to my neurologist trying to find new solutions. I’d tried a variety of different pills, nasal sprays and Botox injections, which were not covered by my insurance, without any measurable success. Everything I tried seemed to fail.
Relief At Last
“I did a lot of research into natural ways to ease migraines. In my reading, yoga came up over and over. I wear my shoulders like earrings when I’m having a migraine, so it made sense that relieving that tension might bring relief.
“At that point, I’d only tried yoga sporadically since I primarily did cardio and strength training for exercise. At first, I thought, ‘I’m so uncoordinated, I’ll never be able to do this!’
I began with some YouTube videos at home to learn the stretches so I wouldn’t look foolish when I eventually tried it in public, and I loved how relaxed I felt after those first sessions. “When I was confident enough to go to a studio, I worked on specific poses with the help of the yoga instructor. She guided me to perfect and deepen my poses, which tremendously improved my progress. Soon, I noticed that my migraines were becoming less frequent — and they weren’t lasting as long.
“These days, I have a three-day-a-week yoga routine. When I sink into a pose and release my thoughts and worries, I physically feel my muscles loosen, and I try to picture the tension leaving my body. I also do the routine whenever I feel a migraine starting — in the moment, it’s difficult to move, think or breathe through the pain and nausea, so it seems counterintuitive to do yoga.
“But I push myself to get started and take it very slowly. In the midst of a migraine, I do my best to hold the restorative poses for a longer period and give myself time to center my breath and focus on areas of tension. I may stay in a particular stretch for a full two minutes. After about 15 minutes of this, I begin to feel relief from the throbbing part of the headache, and this allows me to lie down for restful and healing sleep, which gives my body time to recover much more quickly than I used to.
“With the help of regular yoga practice, now my migraines only last a day or so rather than for three or four days, like they did in the past. This allows me to get back to my life so much more quickly. I no longer take any nasal medications or prescriptions, and that saves me roughly $50 to $65 a month. I’m finally able to focus on the things that matter most to me in life — and I no longer let migraines dictate what or when that will be! I now enjoy spending plenty of time out with friends, going to my boys’ sporting events as well as hiking and boxing.”
Check out this story for a few yoga stretches that can help you banish your headache pain, just like Rachel, for good.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.