The major cause of many headaches comes down to stress or tension in the body. Therefore, how to get rid of headaches naturally typically comes down to treatment options that reduce stress and tension. Our three favorite, research-backed options include yoga, meditation, and biofeedback training.
How to get rid of headaches, naturally
The following video gives a brief overview of the causes of headaches, as well as symptoms and diagnosis options.
How to get rid of headaches with yoga
Yoga is an excellent way to reduce stress and tension in the body. The deep breathing that comes with sustained yoga practice helps those who practice become more aware of the stress in their bodies. A consistent yoga practice helps to release stress and the associated head pain.
One of the main places people hold tension is the neck and upper back. When these areas are tight, head pain can result. Too often, we spend long hours hunched over a laptop, and when we’re tired, our shoulders slump forward, our head juts out, and neck pain and headaches result.
A few simple exercises can help relax and release tension while easing your aching head.
1. Wide-legged forward fold
A wide-legged forward fold is a great place to start. Stand with your feet about three or four feet apart. Inhale, and then on an exhale, fold forward and down, with your back flat. Try to keep your legs engaged. You can stop halfway down and rest your forehead on a chair or a counter, you can bend your knees if needed, or you can go all the way down. Keep your abs engaged and let your neck and head relax. Hold for several breaths, letting everything go. Rise up on an inhale.
2. Cat and cow pose
Next, move down to the floor for cat and cow pose. Start on hands and knees. Inhale deeply, lifting your chin and dropping your stomach towards the floor while the back of your hips rise. On an exhale, arch your back and drop your head and hips toward the floor. This should be similar to the way a Halloween cat moves. Do several sets of these until you feel tension release in your back. Don’t push, and follow your inhale and exhale with your movements.
3. Child’s pose
After cat and cow, drop into a child’s pose, one of the most restorative poses there is. Sitting with your legs folded under you, let your knees fall open while your toes touch. Fold over until your forehead touches the ground. Breathe into your upper back. Arms can either be stretched overhead, or they can be by your sides. Stay here for several breaths, and relax. Try to keep your butt on your heels, but again, don’t push.
4. Side stretch
On an inhale, rise up from your child’s pose. Cross your legs. Inhale and lift your right arm gently over your head. Exhale and then place your right hand on your head. Gently stretch your head down towards your right shoulder. Breathe and relax. Try to release any tightness you feel. Inhale and release. Then switch the cross of your legs and repeat on the left side. Clasp both hands behind your head, and gently press your head forward, while keeping your chin tucked.
After you stretch both sides, inhale both arms up over your head. Exhale, then bring your right hand to your left knee and placing your left hand on the floor behind you. Inhale and lengthen up through your spine. As you exhale and squeeze your belly button in, deepen the twist. Hold for five breaths, then inhale your arms over your head and repeat on the other side.
6. Legs up the wall
Next, move to a wall and lay back with your legs up the wall. You can roll a blanket up and place it under the small of your back or under your hips. Your legs need not be straight. You can also place a blanket down the middle of your back to open the front of your body. Arms should be out to the side in a T.
Stay in this pose for anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes. This is a restorative pose. It should feel good. Let the floor support you; let go and just breathe. If thoughts come through your mind while you are in this pose, acknowledge those thoughts and let them go. Keep breathing into any tight spots, loosening any clenching.
These six poses are meant to be done restoratively. Don’t push past your edge. Any sharp pain or numbness is your body telling you to pull back.
How to get rid of headaches or migraines with meditation
For the millions who suffer from headaches, relief from pain is priceless. From cold compresses to anti-convulsants and antidepressants to opioids, many migraine sufferers, in particular, have tried nearly every method for how to get rid of headaches. But what if just sitting quietly focusing on the breath was the only treatment they needed?
New research is examining how meditation can be used to treat migraine, tension and cluster headaches, and neck pain, with promising results. A new study by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has looked closely at how stress, one of migraine’s powerful triggers, can be treated with meditation.
Research on meditation for head pain
Rebecca Erwin Wells, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study published in the online edition of the journal Headache designed a study to examine the efficacy, safety, and effects of mindfulness meditation on migraine.
In this small study, ten adults were given standard, traditional medical care for treatment of migraines and nine adults were treated using yoga interventions and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques. The adults who participated in MBSR attended a weekly training class and also meditated or did yoga five additional times per week. All participants maintained headache logs noting frequency, severity, and duration of migraine headaches for eight weeks.
Wells had this to say about the results:
“We found that the MBSR participants had trends of fewer migraines that were less severe. Secondary effects included headaches that were shorter in duration and less disabling, and participants had increases in mindfulness and self-efficacy — a sense of personal control over their migraines. In addition, there were no adverse events and excellent adherence.”
Mindfulness-based stress reduction participants had 1.4 fewer migraines per month and fewer additional migraine-linked symptoms during the study. While these results (and the size of the study) don’t quite reach statistical significance, this is a good first step towards a treatment option that has no negative side effects whatsoever. This is a non-pharmaceutical option for those migraine sufferers who are looking for other ways to get relief.
Meditation isn’t just for head pain, though. Another study in the American Pain Society’s publication The Journal of Pain also reported that mindfulness meditation may help those suffering from chronic neck pain, which can lead to migraine and is often comorbid with depression.
How to start with meditation
For both studies, one of the significant outcomes is the ease of this treatment and the complete lack of side effects. There are simple steps to follow to start mindfulness meditation on your own.
1. Have a seat
You will remain seated in stillness for a period of time, so be certain you are comfortable. You can sit on the floor with your legs crossed or in a chair if getting down to the floor (and back up) is problematic. If sitting is painful, you can also lay down, but there is always the possibility of falling asleep.
2. Sit tall
You want to allow as much breath to flow into your body as freely as possible, so imagine that the top of your spine is reaching up through the crown of your head while your tailbone moves down into the floor. You are not aiming for a stiff spine, or even a straight spine. Our backs are naturally curved. Allow your spine to follow its natural curve without slumping your shoulders forward or thrusting them back. You can also place a pillow under you to help you feel more comfortable.
Hold your upper arms parallel to your body and let your hands fall where they naturally fall on your thighs. This will help you stay upright but will also not hunch your forward. Don’t reach for your knees if that’s not where your hands go.
Then, lower your gaze (without dropping your chin) or close your eyes completely. You want your eyes to relax in your head, not dart around, so closed eyes may help. Finally, settle into your posture. Just sit for a breath or two and notice whatever sensations arise.
3. Begin focusing on your breath
Breathe deeply in through your nose, feeling your belly and lower ribs expand first and then maybe your collarbones lifting a little. Feel the air flow into your nostrils, then feel it flow out. Don’t rush the breath and don’t force it. You can count your inhale and exhale to help focus.
For the deepest rest, try to make your exhale longer than your inhale. It signals to your brain to relax and let go.
4. When your mind wanders, just come back to the breath
Don’t judge your thoughts or feel like you are no good at meditation. The mind’s job is to wander and think; you are trying to get it to focus for just a moment on the sensations of your body breathing, and it will rebel by reminding you of your grocery list, errands to run, and the argument you had with a friend. Mindfulness meditation lets you think those thoughts, acknowledge they are there, and then let them go.
Sit in this way for ten to 30 minutes a day (or longer!). You can come back to your breath at any time during the day when you feel stressed out or overwhelmed. With practice, daily mindfulness meditation may become as vital as breathing. Even if meditation does not completely relieve your head pain or neck pain symptoms, you may find them easier to cope with when you begin to eliminate stress and anxiety.
How to get rid of headaches with biofeedback training
Biofeedback training is a medical technique that monitors the body’s natural functions with the idea that we can train our brains to reproduce a more pleasant sensation when we are feeling stress or pain. Essential is the ability to make an involuntary reaction voluntary.
What is biofeedback training?
Biofeedback training is taught with the use of guided imagery or meditation.
Under the supervision of a professional, patients are monitored with machines that track their body’s natural response to the pain. As the patient is described a healing or serene scene, the doctor or professional will monitor changes in their body.
Once the patient is able to transition from a pain response to a calm response, they can use these techniques at home or in their daily lives to reduce pain.
Benefits of biofeedback training
Biofeedback treatment can be applied to pain that is felt in the neck and head. Using the biofeedback techniques and visualization, a patient experiencing pain in their head or neck can reduce the painful reaction and return to a calmer, less painful state.
Visualization is important for this process. The idea is to visualize the pain in the head or neck as a tangible object. By the destruction or the transformation of this object the pain will begin to subside. This is paired with deep breathing and other relaxation techniques. A common choice for visualization is the use of color. The pain could be represented by red which is visualized as being absorbed by calming and healing blue energy.
If natural options don’t work
Head and neck pain is extremely common and can affect an individual’s ability to function at work and at home. While medications and interventional procedures can help alleviate pain, the use of a non-invasive or non-chemical treatment may be beneficial for anyone suffering from long-term, chronic pain.
However, some patients with head pain don’t respond to simple at-home treatments like these. If you’ve tried natural options for reducing your headaches, it may be time to talk to a pain doctor. They’ll be able to identify the type and cause of your pain, and suggest treatment options that could help you figure out how to get rid of headaches for you.