The results of a recent investigation suggest that regular yoga practice can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. I should note that yoga, by itself, didn’t lead to these changes – the people who were enrolled in the study continued to take medication for their headaches.
A total of 114 people between the ages of 18 and 50 participated. They all experienced between four and 14 headaches per month and were assigned to one of two groups – those in the first took medication alone while those in the second took medication and were also taught a one-hour yoga routine that included breathing and relaxation exercises in addition to postures. Initially, those in the latter group were supervised by a yoga instructor three days a week for one month. For the next two months they practiced at home five days a week. Participants in both groups received appropriate medication as well as counseling about lifestyle changes that may help with migraine, such as getting adequate sleep, eating regular meals and exercising.
All the participants kept logs of their headaches, noting how often they occurred, how long they lasted, how severe they were and what medications they took, as well as the extent to which the headaches interfered with their daily lives.
Participants in the yoga group averaged 9.1 headaches per month when the study began and 4.7 headaches per month when it ended. Those in the medication-only group reported an average of 7.7 headaches per month at the beginning of the study and 6.8 at the end of the three months. The average number of pills taken by participants in the yoga group decreased by 47 percent after three months compared to a 12 percent decrease among those in the medication-only group.
Study leader, Rohit Bhatia, M.D. of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, said the good news is that “practicing something as simple and accessible as yoga may help much more than medications alone. And all you need is a mat.” He also noted that, given the expense of migraine medications, yoga may help significantly reduce the overall cost of treating these headaches.
I’m not surprised to hear this. According to the American Migraine Foundation, 30 to 60 percent of all patients who opt for behavioral treatment modalities (such as yoga) end up with many fewer headaches compared to their baseline before they started the therapies. We’ve known for some time that biofeedback and progressive muscle relaxation are widely accepted non-drug techniques for headache control and prevention. These two practices have helped patients achieve a 45 to 60 percent reduction in the frequency and severity of migraines, and their effectiveness has been demonstrated in more than 100 investigations over the past 25 years. Here’s where you can learn more about behavioral treatments for migraines.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Rohit Bhatia et al, “Effect of yoga as add-on therapy in migraine,” Neurology, 2020; 10.1212/WNL.0000000000009473 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000009473