Headaches occur for a number of reasons, from stress and hunger, to a lack of sleep and dehydration. Even poor posture, allergies and eye strain can cause tension headaches in millions of people every day. In various yoga forums, new members sometimes complain about headaches after their first yoga session. Does this complaint warrant further investigation into yoga as a potential cause of headaches?
Examining Yoga and Headaches
Headaches come in two forms: tension and migraine. Tension headaches result from contracting head and neck muscles, due to depression, fatigue, varying hormone levels and other factors. Migraines occur due to hormonal fluctuations, chemical imbalances, stress and even certain foods. While curative techniques exist for tension headaches, migraines currently have no cure.
Yoga, when followed correctly, releases muscle tension and stress. It also increases blood circulation and stimulates the body’s nervous system. Due to all of these reasons, yoga should prevent headaches, especially, when you consider the calming effects of yogic relaxation sequences. So, why do some people have headaches after performing yoga?
Breathing and Perspiration
Most people, who experience headaches after a yoga session, have been practicing a physical style, which consists of postures (asanas). During a typical asana practice session, people forget to focus on their breathing, unless they are constantly reminded by their teacher. Oftentimes, they naturally practice shallow breathing or hold their breath without realizing it. Shallow breathing causes headaches, as the brain does not receive the oxygen it needs to function properly. Therefore, some people experience unconscious hyperventilation and develop tension headaches. As in meditation, a complete focus on the breath prevents headaches and ensures positive results.
Although physical styles of yoga do not consist of lifting heavy dumbbells or running around a track, they do involve a lot of warm-ups, postures, stretches and holds. During a stretch, the muscles release toxins into the body that escape through perspiration. The more the body moves, the more toxins it releases. Thus, it increases perspiration and the risk of dehydration. Without proper hydration before, during, and after yoga, people have a higher risk of developing headaches.
Cause and Effect
Yoga only causes headaches with the help of other factors; otherwise, it prevents headaches and helps to relieve tension. Go into each yoga session completely hydrated, and always breathe correctly through each pose. With proper form, focused breathing and a hydrated body, yoga encourages a positive spirit, greater flexibility, and reduced stress and anxiety.
Students should consult with their physicians before practicing physical forms of yoga. Teachers need to speak with students about their health concerns before a practice session. Teachers need to remind students about breathing during the entire practice. Some teachers reserve a special time during the class, which is devoted to yogic breathing (pranayama). This is very beneficial, but breath awareness should be part of the entire session. Students should be aware of the importance of being hydrated before, during, and after, a class.
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