Help! My Yoga Student Gets Headaches in Class

Question

I have a student who complains of getting headaches with every yoga class.

We've ruled out sinus congestion, dehydration, low blood pressure, and holding her breath. She does kick boxing and doesn't get headaches with that. She develops headaches during every class and when she does the postures at home.

Any suggestions?

Answers

Gyandev McCord
Ananda Village, California

A couple thoughts come to mind:

  1. specific postures
  2. attitude / energy usage

(Of course, there are always spinal misalignments, high blood pressure, or other physical possibilities, but Jennifer addresses that below.)

First, since there's something she's doing in asanas that she isn't doing while kick boxing (or vice versa), she might benefit by doing some testing at home: do just a few selected postures (e.g., just some forward and backward bends) and see if she still gets the headaches. If so, then she's learned something and can isolate one or more of those postures (or an entire area of postures, such as backward bends). If not, then she knows some "safe" postures and can add a few others for testing, etc.

Second, is this person rather aggressive, high-strung, or stressed out? If so, kick boxing may be providing an outlet for "steam" that she doesn't know how to let off any other way. If she's staying all bottled up during yoga, then I could see how she might be getting headaches. It seems she has a lot of energy, and that's great -- she needs to learn how to use it, not dissipate it, and work with her energy through asana in a more effective way. You say she's not holding her breath, but still she might be helped by breathing more deeply, in a consciously therapeutic way. Full yogic breaths can be great for this, in or out of the asanas. Also, Energization can be a wonderful aid, providing an outlet for pent-up energies. If a person will combine that high energy in Energization with at least a little bit of awareness, the results can be fabulously positive. (The greater the will, the greater the flow of energy.)

Jennifer Nelson, D.C.
Nevada City, California

Headaches are difficult.

When I first started to practice Yoga, I would get headaches in the frontal area after extreme forward bends like Plough pose or Shoulderstand. It would not last long — but it was very strong at the time. It just went away after I continued to practice — more gently, though. If she does shoulder stand, make sure she is using graduated blankets at her shoulders (could start with three folded blankets) so there is plenty of cushioning for her cervical spine.

The headaches may be spinally related. Perhaps this student has a subluxation which is causing aggravation of spinal nerves. It would be good to see a chiropractor just to get an evaluation of her spinal alignment.

Another thought is that they may be from low blood sugar. Perhaps she holds off on breakfast, or dinner to do the class. Low blood sugar can cause headaches.

Perhaps inversions are too fiery for this student at this time. The Sitali breath (breathing though the rolled tongue) may be a good adjunct to this person's yoga practice.

Of course, diet and life style practices that are pacifying to ones fiery nature would be good also. I guess a good way to approach this would be to have her only do some postures. Ask her to pay attention to each pose and see when the headache comes on — what type of pose brings on headaches. She could go home and just do some simple Forward bends — very specific ones every day.

If they are ok, then have her add other Forward bends or some other types of poses, Backward bends or Twists. This is a good opportunity for her to get in touch with her own body.

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