For years, I was getting loads of headaches. Sometimes they would last whole days and their characteristics (one side of the head, eye pain, sharp and relentless) pointed to migraines. I always attributed them to tension, anxiety, increased workload, a heavy bag on my shoulder or my period. My way of coping was without hesitation a vicious cycle of coffee and painkillers. Sound familiar?
It was not until I started paying attention to what my body was trying to tell me that I noticed these headaches were pretty much constant. I realised that there were periods in my life in which more than half the days in a month I would have a headache. I would fall asleep in pain, wake up in pain. I would take a pain killer, feel slightly better, go on with life. The temporary effect of the drugs would not be enough and I would alternate between states of frustration, caffeine, self-medication and short-lived relief. I was living with headaches for so long that I actually got really used to them, learning to function at reduced capacity with a numbed consciousness and a pretty pissed-off attitude.
When I started taking better care of myself through yoga and a cleaner diet, which I have to admit, happened after the age of 25, I started looking out for natural headache remedies without my previous formula. I tried herbs, supplements, massages, neck stretches, eye exercises, you name it. I reduced my caffeine intake to one coffee a day (with the occasional slip), I ended my unhealthy relationship with painkillers and turned to sustainable, soulful tools that not only reduced my headaches, but have helped lead a calmer, happier life. Here, after almost five years of experimenting, I share my 9 best holistic ways to help you heal headaches and get rid of them for good.
9 holistic ways to heal headaches + stop them from coming back
1// Yoga, yoga + more yoga
Not surprisingly yoga is my number one on the list of natural headache remedies and it is by far the best way to wave goodbye to muscle tension. In fact, yoga for headaches is so effective that half way through writing this post, I decided I am going to write a separate one with instructions on specific postures and practices to heal headaches through yoga. For now, I will leave you with my two restorative favourites: child’s pose (balasana) and legs up the wall (viparita karani).
Try this: Balasana with your forehead resting on a lavender eye bag. The light touch on the forehead and the forward bend in combination with the relaxation effect of lavender, helps relieve tension, promoting calm in the senses and internal focus.
Viparita Karani – place your hips on a folded blanket and bring your legs straight up the wall. Have your hands on your belly, palms down or arms by your side, palms towards the sky. Close your eyes (+ use the lavender eye bag). Stay for as long as you like, but try for at least 5 minutes.
2// Reduce your sugar intake + consider cutting out dairy
When I realised how much refined (crappy, processed) sugar I was consuming in the form of chocolate, pastries, “health” bars and low fat products, I was mortified. It was not until later when I had consciously reduced my sugar intake for other health reasons that I found out about the link between sugar and headaches, and it has since clicked. When I felt a headache coming on and my energy levels drop, I used to reach for a chocolate bar for a pick me up. What I did not realise is that eating too much sugar and chocolate in particular, has in fact been found to be a trigger for headaches and migraines.
Surprisingly, dairy and especially cheese has been found to have a similar effect. My man still looks at me weirdly when I say that I get a headache when I eat cheese, but it is true. I now aim to have a completely dairy free diet and really feel the consequences when I go off track.
Check out NHS choices for more information on the medical side of migraines.
3// Peppermint essential oil
My sister introduced me to essential oils a while back and peppermint is on the must-have list. Try a few drops on a napkin and take a few deep inhalations when you have a headache. I find it really helps clear the mind and soothe the pain. Little magic drops equal a true superpower in the list of natural headache remedies!
Step away from your computer and your iPhone screen. Close Facebook, your emails, Twitter and Instagram. Stop texting and chatting endlessly. Simply disconnect for at least 15 minutes. Constantly staring at a bright screen is not doing us headache sufferers any favours. I have also changed the brightness settings on all my devices to match the time of day.
Try this:Go for a walk outside, smell the fresh air; read a book; meet a friend; experiment in the kitchen; have a bath. Just don’t look at screen for a while.
Alternative nostril breathing is one of the best ways to clear the mind and bring about balance. Yogis believe it calms the nervous system, revitalises the body, activates the left and right sides of the brain, improves flow of life force energy – Prana – through the body and improves sleep. I found that although alternate nostril breathing should not be done while you have a headache, if practiced regularly, it helps my head feel clearer and makes my headaches fewer.
Try this: Sit up on a chair or on a cushion and rest your left hand on your thigh or lap, closing your eyes. Keeping your index and middle fingers of your right hand folded in vishnu mudra gently close your right nostril with the thumb of your right hand. Inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with your ring and little fingers while opening the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril. Close the right nostril with your thumb, releasing and exhaling through the left nostril. This is one full round of alternate nostril breathing. Start with practicing a few rounds, without strain or forcing. When you are done, breathe normally through both nostrils for a few breaths noticing the effects.
I always say that, but that’s because meditation has been life changing for me. One of the most obvious causes of headaches is tension and our brains being “switched on” all the time. Learning to quieten the mind and sit in stillness following your breath will help alleviate unnecessary stress and is one of my ultimate natural headache remedies.
Try this: Sit up on a chair (even at work) or on a cushion on the floor with your back straight and your chin slightly tucked in. Release your shoulders and your jaw. Close your eyes and take ten deep, slow breaths into your belly through your nose. Try to visualise your breath as it moves in and out of the body.
7// Drink more water
No seriously. We all know we should drink more water, but dehydration is still a major cause of headaches. Make drinking water an indulgence by adding fresh fruit and cucumber in it and drinking plenty of herbal teas. Have a look at my suggested recipe in this week’s beautiful things.
Massage in the shoulder and neck area is no surprise in the list of headache remedies. However, it was not until I went to Thailand and experienced trigger point therapeutic thai massage by Mr Somsak on Koh Tao island that I realised what effect it can have on your body. When I have a headache, I feel like I want to increase flow of the blood in the area of the neck and head. I feel restricted, blocked, congested. Trigger point massage helps to release areas of tension, increase blood flow and have a detoxifying effect. If you are not lucky enough to be married to a sports massage therapist, invest in a mighty Acuball (I have it and highly recommend it.)
9// Have more (+better) sex
Yes, that is right, I did just say that. I recently found out that orgasms are an effective pain reliever due to the release of oxytocin and endorphins, so the excuse “I have a headache” no longer stands in bed, ladies (and men for that matter). Unfortunately, we all need to have more, good sex. How is that for a natural headache remedy?!
++ So, there you have it. My part 2 on yoga for headaches is on the pipeline, so make sure you are signed up for the newsletter below to get it first.
What about you guys? Any fellow migraine/headache sufferers out there who have successfully found natural headache remedies? Share a tip below.
Disclaimer: I am sure you know I am not (nor do I pretend to be) a medical professional and therefore you should always seek expert medical advice if you are concerned about headaches. This article (as well as the rest of my blog) is based on my own health journey and should not be considered medical advice.
Image credit: Vee O, Unsplash