(Continued from previous issue)
2.1 Yoga Therapy 1 : Headache (Migraine)
All of us have experienced headache some time or the other in our lives. You can imagine how miserable life would be if you had to live with headache as a life companion.
The common Psychosomatic causes of headache include migraine or tension headache.These are characteristized by repeated episodes of headache occurring over many years. Migraine headache (MHA) has a characteristic pattern and periodicity. Usually migraine is a weekend phenomenon. After the hectic duties of the week when you want to take rest the headache begins and takes away the entire holiday mood of the family. The ache occurs typically in one half of the head. It starts with a warning of some form of visual disturbance such as blurring or seeing irregular circles of light round bright lights which could be very irritating. It starts around the eyes and forehead on one side and spreads to the entire half of the head. The intensity goes on increasing making you unable to function or stay in the normally lit room. After a few hours when the pain is at its peak nausea begins followed by vomiting and the decline starts. When the pain is gone exhaustion sets in because of the stress of severe pain you went through. You may need another 12 hours of complete rest and sleep before you become functional.
What triggers migraine?
The pain is triggered by physical or mental tension, hot sun, eating fried food, chocolate, milk products etc. Migraine is known to be a psychosomatic disease. Scientists have demonstrated a clear-cut chemical imbalance in the lining of the blood vessels on the surface of the brain that carry pure blood. How does stress cause headache?
Migraine is due to sudden constriction of the blood vessels on the surface of the brain under the skull followed by sudden expansion leading to a throbbing bust of HA. This is now known to be caused by an imbalance in the chemicals that circulate around these blood vessels just under the skull. Stress at the psychological level which is experienced as excessive activity in the emotional cortex of the brain triggers this chemical imbalance which in turn leads to constriction followed by widening or expansion of the blood vessels.
According to the understanding by the yogis this condition is related to wrong lifestyle that leads to a habit of speeded up activity in the emotional part of the mind. This results in a fixed bad habit of getting stuck in that speeded up loop of thoughts. This in turn causes an imbalance in the prána that is responsible for the harmonious functioning of the entire organism. This can only be detected as an irregular rate and rhythm of breathing and speeded up heart. When the lifestyle, speed and greed continue for some more time this imbalance of the prána settles down as a new learnt habit of creating the chemical imbalance in the brain's blood vessels resulting in headache. Why does this generalized response of stress to demanding situation settles down as a ha and not any other health problem? This is because of the family tendency. It is well-known that there are many persons in the family of a migraine patient who suffer from migraine.
Although it has taken a long time to show up as headache, it now goes on almost as an instantaneous response of the body for any small trigger to manifest as a headache. Thus, headache is a bad habit of the nervous system that results in the chemical imbalance.
When you wish to correct this pattern of response you need to develop a new habit of functioning. Yoga trains you into a totally different lifestyle free from all stresses and responses of speed. It is a training to calm down the mind. It gives stability of the mind so that even if there are several triggering factors one may not react. Yoga is “samatvam’ (Gitá: 2.48) which means that you develop a capacity to be balanced under all circumstances. There occurs a balance between all the chemical and nervous functions of the body. Yoga is also freedom. You develop the capacity to react or not to react or react otherwise in any situation that would provoke emotional turmoil. With yoga training you can choose to get angry or anxious as a master and not as a slave.
The Integrated Approach of Yoga Therapy (IAYT) for Migraine consists of one hour daily practice that includes about half an hour of physical practices followed by Praánáyáma and Nádánusandhána. All these practices are designed to provide very deep rest to the body-mind complex and reverse the negative habit of triggering the chemical imbalance resulting in migraine.
Tension headache is another common variety of stress and lifestyle-related headache. This is the intensified version of what we all would have experienced after; we come back from a midday shopping in the hot sun on an empty stomach. Persons suffering from Tension Headache who seek medical help are highly sensitive and would end up with a headache even with minor triggers. A lady came to our yoga therapy residential centre with a history of severe headache and said ‘Doctor, I have forgotten how it feels like to be without a pain in the head. I wake up with a headache and go to sleep with a headache. I even have to force myself to sleep by swallowing sleeping pills. I need only a small event to aggravate my pain”. Tension headaches are generally triggered or aggravated by external environmental and lifestyle changes such as a late meal, a sunny weather, closed space, noise, automobile pollution, or a psychological situations such as tension, anxiety, anger or even a positive emotional surge like an excitement of getting a big profit or passing an examination with very good credits. Most often these events are associated with constipation and insomnia. Missing out on sleep is the commonest cause of headaches. Present day science has clearly traced the pathway of how these events can cause headaches. The ‘ache’ is due to the constant long standing contraction (tightening) of the frowning muscles in the forehead called frontalis. This is a thin sheet of muscle just under the skin stretching from the eyebrows to the top of the head between the skin and the skull bone. Imagine holding your fist tight for one to two hours, what would happen? You would get a severe pain in the forearm and hand. Tension headache is similar to this; without your knowledge you are holding the frontalis very tight. This is controlled by the motor nerves from the brain that send down a small electrical shock for the muscle to tighten. The brain is controlled by your mind. If you think or worry or overexert your mind triggers off this loop of electrical currents that tighten the forehead muscle. The problem is created unconsciously by your own mind which is oversensitive and overreactive. Therefore, the remedy for the problem is also within you as an inbuilt program in your system, but you do not how to use.
Hence the first step in yoga therapy (self healing) for tension headache is to be convinced by your own experience that your mind and your own nerves bring on the headaches. Next step is to move on to learn the techniques of reversing this process. Replace a bad habit of getting struck in the speeded up loop of reflex by a good habit of slowing down to achieve very deep rest to these nerves. This is what you learn in yoga therapy. One of the techniques included in the set of special yoga technique for headache is physical postures. These postures are specially designed to relax the tightened forehead muscles. Practices such as head rolling followed by Shasháñkásana gives a stretch to the scalp muscles. This brings your awareness to the tight muscles, so that you can voluntarily send down the messages to the same muscles to ‘let go’, or ‘relax’. Patanjali says practise “Praytnashaithilya”, - this means while maintaining in an ásana, ‘let go the effort’; during a headache this effort that you need to let go is the unconscious effort of holding the muscles tight. The initial stretch during the posture also prepares you to go into deep relaxation immediately after you return from the posture.
There are several other techniques in yoga that help you to relax these muscles.
Fast breathing practices, such as kapalabhati followed by very slow breathing (slower than your usual resting breathing rate) also is a very good tool to relax the muscles all over the body in general and those of the forehead in particular.
Chanting ‘MMM’ or Bhramari pranayama with both external ears closed using the thumb of both hands also is another very useful trick to rest and relax the scalp muscles. This works through slowing down the mind. When you start enjoying the deep internal massaging effect of the resonance of the sound in the entire head, you can feel the tension getting released.
After this lady who came with constant tension head aches of 8 to 10yrs duration started doing these practices of integrated approach of yoga therapy, on the 7th day she exclaimed and said, “Oh! Today I had one full hour of freedom from my headache. I can make out how my practices are helping me release the tension. “As the days went by, her pain vanished completely with regular practice of head ache special techniques, one hour daily for about 3 to 4 months. This gave her so much of confidence that she is now a trained yoga therapist helping many persons with various stress related health problems. Last week when I met her she said “doctor, I just realize that my entire problem was because I was expecting too much from my family members. It was all me! In fact I now realize how much my partner was putting up with my idiosyncrasies and trying to meet my demands. I am now a more mature mother than before. I can give instead of ‘demand’. This is what yoga has taught me, I have become much softer inside, less demanding, not at all irritated by situations and of course I enjoy the freedom from my headache which is long forgotten.”