Combating Migraine With Yoga (Vol.1 - Hannah Zerphey x Migraine Buddy)
It’s been a busy few days for me – friends visiting from our old Chicago stomping grounds, constant weather shifts, and trying to keep up with work – so when I went to sleep last night with tell-tale signs of a migraine I wasn’t the least bit surprised this morning when I woke up to a full-blown aura migraine with mild head pain.
Aura migraines are a new concept for me – I have all the aura symptoms with little to no head pain. These types of migraine present a unique challenge for me as I feel as though I should be operating like a normal human being – one that exercises, works, and has good eating habits. Because I’m not suffering debilitating head pain, but instead I’m experiencing light/sound sensitivities, exhaustion, nausea, tinnitus, anxiety, sometimes diarrhoea, and bleary eyes with these aura migraines, they make it difficult to actually operate normally.
So, I took a moment when I got up this morning to take stock of what I felt I could get done today – I had high hopes for a full work day, a brisk walk, and teaching yoga tonight. Where I found myself was dreading the idea of staring at a computer screen all day, feeling unsure if I’ll be a good yoga teacher this evening, yet I still found myself dragging my feet to my yoga mat. I only made it to my mat because recently my yoga teacher gave me a daily practice with a challenge to do some piece of the practice every day for 40-days.
We all know how hard this can be for someone with chronic migraines, but I have risen to the challenge and am now on day 22 of 40. I don’t want to stop now, so I lit my candles, said my prayer, and laid back on my mat to do some gentle yoga poses, but as soon as I lay back on my mat I knew that even slight movement on the floor was not in my wheelhouse. I took a breath and re-examined my capacity for today – I really wanted to do something “yogic” so I settled on Queen’s Pose, or Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined bound angle pose, also known as sleeping butterfly).
I briefly talked about this pose in Migraine Buddy’s previous article, Yoga for Migraines. Here’s how to do it on your own:
Props for Supta baddha konasana
Gather any or all of the following props – use as many as you need to be really comfortable in the pose so you can rest here a while:
2 Bolsters, cushions, or pillows
Blanket or pillow for head support
Blanket to cover yourself
Blanket to wrap around your ankles
Blocks or books to support your knees
Cushions stacked in cross fashion
Full prop set-up for supta baddha konasana
To start, lay one bolster horizontally across your mat on the floor and cross the other vertically (at a right angle) on top of it; then roll one of the blankets lengthwise. If practicing on carpet you may not need or want this. Sit with your low back touching (or near) the bottom edge of the bolster (you can adjust how close or far from the bolster to accommodate your back), then bring the soles of your feet together, creating a triangle with your legs. Wrap the blanket around the top/front of your ankles (the tail of your blanket will be inside the triangle of your legs) – this helps support proper leg alignment (thighs out/shins in) as the blanket roll keeps the shins in and allows the thighs to drop out.
Next grab your blocks and place them comfortable under your knees. You may find that you only need the ankle roll to support your legs and not the blocks. Feel free to play with the height of the support – you may need more or less height/support depending on how flexible your hips are. Finally, lay back on the top bolster/cushion and make any adjustments needed to get comfortable; the name of the game in this pose is total comfort. Place your arms wherever comfortable, on the floor or your belly, or even on blocks if you have extra ones. I usually use an eye bag to give my eyes a rest and allows me to withdraw from my senses. Lay here for as long as you are able. It can be nice to turn on some relaxing music, or tune into the sensations in your body, do a body scan, or focus your attention on your breathing.
When ready, come out of the pose slowly by rolling off your props and resting on one side. Use your hands to help you to a seated position. From here I usually move in and out of cat/cow – inhale and drop the shoulders down the back into a back bend, exhale and round the shoulders into a forward bend – to bring some movement to my spine before I get up.
Hannah Zerphey in supta baddha konasana
The benefits of this pose are many and wide ranging – with specific effect on migraine aura symptoms:
Calms the nervous system
Relieves stress and tension in the body – allowing for full body relaxation
Relives fatigue and insomnia
Calms the mind
Energizes the body
Soothes the digestive system
Stimulates the heart and improves circulation
Opens the inner groin and hips
You can see how just this one pose can have huge impact on the aura effects of migraine.
Today, I rested in this pose for about 20-minutes. While it didn’t really help with the mild head pain of my aura migraine it did energize me enough to write this article and get some work done. The beauty of this pose lies in the comfort and support of it.
Self-care with a migraine can be difficult, but reminding ourselves that self-care does not have to be a big gesture or complicated task can be liberating. For my own self, I realized that to meet my teacher’s 40-day challenge today I didn’t need to do any movement, that rest in Queen’s Pose was the self-care I needed today. And really, that’s what the challenge is all about – finding the time every day to take care of myself.
Hannah Zerphey is a RYT-200 and finishing her Yoga Therapy Certificate training program at Surya Chandra Healing Yoga School.
She enjoys reading and watching the deer from her back deck and live life despite her chronic migraine. She lives in Unionville, VA.
From everyone at the Migraine Buddy team, thank you Hannah, for sharing this with the community! Wishing everyone a migraine-free week ahead of you!