Ayurvedic Guide to Headaches

Changing seasons often bring with them headaches. However, there are are dozens of reasons that people suffer from headaches. The World Health Organization states that headaches are among the most common nervous system disorders. Getting to the root cause of headaches is a difficult journey for most, usually involving several doctors, tests, and medications to try. Ayurveda can offer us clues for the cause, as well as traditional solutions for managing headaches. Headaches are a common symptom of dosha imbalances. The three main types of headaches - Migraine, Tension, and Sinus - are all strongly correlated to an imbalance on one or more dosha types. This means that you can have a Vata imbalance with a manifesting symptom being a migraine. While most headaches are considered to be a Vata imbalance, it's important to understand the differences, how these can be vitiated, and how to prevent them going forward. Tension Headaches

Primary Imbalance: Pitta (water + fire) or Vata (air + ether)

Tension headaches are often a result of outside influences. Lifestyle, stress, skipping meals, lack of sleep, overworking yourself. These headaches often feel like a dull, aching pain in the head, and sometimes tension, tenderness or pain in the neck, shoulders, jaw, or scalp. Some people describe feeling like they are wearing a tight band around their head.

Ways to Manage Them

  1. Eat at consistent meal times. Three meals a day, at the same time everyday.

  2. Eat a Pitta-Vata Pacifying Diet. In the simplest terms, this means favoring warm, cooked, wet foods like stews and soups; avoid cold, dry, light foods like crackers and dry cereal. Favor sweet, salty tastes and avoid really spicy foods. For more accurate guidance, consult with your Ayurvedic Provider.

  3. Drink plenty of fluids. Water should be your favorite thing EVER. Lots of water. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. However, if you are used to drinking caffeine, and you stop it cold turkey, just know that you can get headaches from the withdrawal. You may want to consider weaning yourself from caffeine if you choose to try this.

  4. Massage. A daily dose of abhyanga, or massage with Ayurvedic oils before you bathe will do a body good.

  5. Slower yoga styles. Consider a restorative, yin, or somatic yoga flow. These will nourish body tissues. They have a greater impact on the nervous, lymphatic, and endocrine systems. This is where Somatics can have a huge benefit. Tension headaches are often a headache as a result of your muscles being in a constant state of contraction. Somatics helps us to relax those contracted muscles and find release.

  6. Lavender and Peppermint essential oils. They can be diffused, but for some people this will prove too potent. Another wonderful option is to combine a few drops each peppermint and lavender into a carrier oil of your choice and massage on the areas of tension. It's important to use quality oils, ethically sourced, and organic where possible.

Migraine Headaches

Primary Imbalance: Vata (air + ether)

These headaches tend to be a symptom of living a very Vata heavy lifestyle. Which is to say, you see these with people that have inconsistent schedules, and Vata's are far more likely to suffer from these types of headaches in general. The typical triggers are women’s hormone cycles, insomnia, hunger, barometric changes, toxicity in the body, excessive computer use.

They can often be described as having a throbbing or a pulsing sensation. It is common for them to be one side of the head only, but some people experience it on both. Nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and auras are all common symptoms.

Ways to Manage Them

  1. Follow your Dinacharya (Ayurvedic Daily Routine). Creating a sense of normal routine decreases stress overall, and decreases the chance of developing migraines associated with stress and inconsistency.

  2. Eat a Vata Pacifying Diet. Favor warm, cooked foods and warming spices like ginger, cumin and black pepper. Favor sweet and salty tastes, while avoiding bitter and astringent foods. Cut back on caffeine, hard cheeses, and cold, dry foods. Drink warm water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

  3. Meditate. Take 10 minutes every morning to meditate.

  4. Daily Massage. Perform a daily self massage with a Vata friendly oil, such as Sesame (organic and untoasted), or Almond oil. It's best for Vata's if the oil is warmed. You can achieve this by pouring some oil into a small jar with a lid, and put it into a sink in hot water. If you start your morning routine, by the time you're ready it should be warm.

  5. Neti Pot. Cleansing out the sinus cavities can be very beneficial for preventing migraines. Follow up with a Vata Pacifying Nasal Oil.

  6. Lavender and Peppermint. As above, this combination can prove very beneficial for migraines. Always use a carrier oil, and make sure you are using Lavender oil and not Lavandin. Lavandin is often used in place of Lavender oil in less ethical brands, and this can actually be migraine-triggering.

  7. Legs up the Wall. This movement is especially helpful for migraines. Lay on your back, and slide up to a wall. Place your legs up on the wall, with your butt up against the wall. This works especially well if you've done the oils above, and have a nice warm washcloth on your forehead covering your eyes.

  8. Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing. This can pull you out of sympathetic, and into parasympathetic. This can give your body some much needed relaxation to battle with the migraine internally.

  9. Shirodhara. This is an Ayurvedic treatment that involves slowing pouring warmed oil over the forehead. Not only is this method relaxing, but it is specifically Vata pacifying. Shirodhara induces a deep state of relaxation, which can be especially beneficial for migraines.

Sinus Headaches

Primary Imbalance: Kapha (earth + water)

These are the headaches we often see in the Spring, and are largely associated with Kapha imbalances (and Spring, after all, is the season of Kapha). If someone that is largely Vata or Pitta presents with a Sinus headache, it is likely due to having dry sinuses (and this is where a Neti Pot and proper hydration can come into play). Other factors might include a moist climate, lethargy, and a diet that emphasizes cold, moist, heavy, rich, or deep-fried foods

The distinguishing factors with Sinus headaches is the pressure felt around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead. They can feel similar to Migraines, but they usually are on both sides of the face (but not always) and they don't have the nausea, vomiting or light/sound sensitivity.

Ways to Manage Them

  1. Eat a Kapha Pacifying Diet. Favor warm, light, dry foods over cold, heavy, or deep-fried foods. Emphasize bitter, spicy, and astringent tastes. Avoid sweet, sour and salty tastes. Cook with stimulating spices like cinnamon, ginger, basil and black pepper.

  2. Get outside. Breathing in fresh air can often have an impact on your sinuses.

  3. Incorporate daily movement. When you move your body with exercise or yoga, you encourage your body to drain in the ways that it's supposed to, instead of holding fluids stagnate. Movement and proper hydration are both great preventatives for Sinus Headaches, as well as edema, lymphatic drainage, and a myriad of other issues.

  4. Steam. This can be in the form of steam treatments, drinking hot tea, using a warm air humidifier in your room, taking a hot bath or shower, or any other option that will allow steam to permeate into your nasal cavities. Use as many options as you can, but steam is your friend. To make a steam treatment extra beneficial, consider adding eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint, and/or tulsi oil to your shower or bath.

  5. Essential Oils can help. Eucalyptus, menthol, rosemary, peppermint and camphor can help clear the sinuses. Always use a carrier oil, and be cautious. Apply directly over cheeks and forehead.

  6. Yoga in a heated room. Warm or hot yoga will benefit your sinuses greatly. Just avoid inversions, which can exacerbate your symptoms. You're trying to warm up the system and move Kapha out. So get moving, and get warm.

These are just some options to try to rid yourself of headaches. More specific direction can be given by your Ayurvedic Provider. And, as always, it's a great idea to check in with your medical provider. Things like drug interactions, underlying infections, or more serious conditions can all have headaches on the list of possible symptoms. We're also huge fans of body work, particularly Osteopathic Manipulation for headaches of any kind.

If you have any interest in sitting down with Sabbath, and learning more about your dosha type and your current imbalances, contact her today!

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