Looking for another reason to add yoga in your cross-training mix? Here’s one: A recent study in Neurologysuggests adopting a regular practice can help ward off migraines for those who suffer from them.
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Researchers looked at 114 people ranging in age from 18 to 50, living in New Delhi, India, who had a history of headache and migraine pain. They were split into two groups; one group received medication only, and the other group supplemented medication with a regular yoga practice done three days a week for one month total. For two months after that, they were asked to practice on their own at home for five days a week.
Both groups also received counseling about lifestyle changes that could be helpful, including better sleep, a healthier diet, and regular activity.
Headaches in both groups improved over the study period, but those in the yoga group reported less pain intensity, lower use of medication, less headache frequency, and less disruption to daily life because of migraine effects.
At the start of the study, the group of people who practiced yoga had about nine headaches per month, and ended with about four per month—a reduction of nearly 50 percent. Those taking only medication had only a 12-percent decrease.
About half of people who have migraines take medication to get relief, study author Rohit Bhatia, M.D., a professor in the Department of Neurology at the All Institute of Medical Sciences in India, told Runner’s World.Yoga could be a good way to reduce migraine onset for those who prefer not to take medication, he said. It also seems promising for those who do opt for meds but may still struggle to reduce frequency and severity of the condition.
Because yoga was found to be so effective in easing migraines “for those who struggle with affordability when it comes to migraine medication, this would be worth trying,” Bhatia said.
While Bhatia and his colleagues aren’t 100-percent sure what the exact connection between yoga and migraine relief is, previous studies may offer some clues.
For example, a 2014 study on yoga and migraines found that the practice improved vagal tone—activity related to the vagus nerve, a part of the nervous system responsible for regulating heart rate and lowering stress, among other tasks—and elicited a relaxation response, which both have a beneficial impact on pain reduction.
Yoga’s focus on breath work is likely another plus for knocking out headache and migraine pain. Researchers reported in a 2018 study that breath-focused, yogic-breathing practices and meditation increases a brain chemical called noradrenaline, which improves attention and enhances brain health. And, when that chemical is in shorter supply, it’s been linked to migraine activity.
The takeaway? If you struggle with migraines or headaches, incorporating some yoga sequences into your activity blend could be a potential pain prevention strategy.