Yoga asanas for relaxation and headache relief

By Lisa Brant | 13th July 2014
A woman is photographed lying on the beach

Yoga is good for strengthening the body, improving our flexibility and for calming our mind leading to relaxation. If you do not have time for a full class, you can do some yoga asanas (poses) in a break time, if you need to relax and/or to relieve a headache. Here Lisa describes the poses so you can try them the next time you need to release tension in your body or to relax. Five minutes is sometimes all it takes, resting in the position and focusing your awareness on your breath and body.

If you are new to yoga, we recommend that you visit a class before trying yoga or any of these poses at home, so you can see how they are done and an instructor can check that you are in the correct position. Also, check the contraindications for each pose (e.g. if you have glaucoma, sciatica or uncontrolled hypertension) before starting.

So, switch off the phone, find a small area where you won’t be disturbed and allow yourself time to relax.

Childs pose (Balasana)

Childs pose helps to quieten the mind, whilst releasing any tension or stress in the back and shoulders. Start kneeling (knees together or you can take the knees wide), with the top of the feet on the floor. Then bend forward, keeping the bottom towards the ankles and bring the head down towards the floor. The hands come around the body to rest on the floor by the feet. If the bottom starts to rise up away from the ankles, support the head with your hands, a cushion or rolled up blanket. You can also add a blanket to the top of the legs, to support the chest. Take deep breaths in and out. You can stay in childs pose for up to five minutes or longer if you need to. Take care if you have knee problems.

Rag doll

The rag doll is a standing release that you can do in a quiet place (at work!) to relieve stress and tension. It is good for releasing tension in the deep muscles of the back which we use when sitting for a long time at our desk. Take a minute to go into the pose and a minute to come back up. When you are fully down, stay for a few minutes. Start by standing with your bottom, head and shoulders resting on a wall, the feet are a foot and a half away from the wall, placed wider than hip distance apart and feet parallel. The knees should be slightly bent. Inhale and exhale, releasing the neck, then bring the chin down to your chest, keeping the shoulders on the wall. Take five breaths here. We then work with the breath to roll down the wall like a rag doll. So, on inhale, follow your breath and feel the body lifting ever so slightly; on the exhale allow your shoulders to roll forward away from the wall. Inhale, feeling lighter. Then on each following exhalation, allow yourself to move gently downwards. Moving slowly, feel each part of the back against the wall and then release with each breath. The arms will hang and gradually you will roll down the whole of the top part of the body, leaving just the seating bones pressed against the wall. To come up, move slowly, keep your knees bent and the tailbone tucked under and slowly unroll your spine back up the wall, feeling each vertebra. Do not practice this pose if you have glaucoma or sciatica or any disc problems.

Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani)

This is a great asana to do if you have been travelling or standing for a long time. Bring a blanket or mat in front of a wall. Sit in close to the wall, with your right side touching the wall. Start to lower your back onto the floor and at the same time, gently swing your legs right, so they are both up the wall. Try to keep your sitting bones close to the wall. The legs are straight. Lengthen the neck. The hands can rest on the lap, to the side of the body (palms upward) or you can take them over your head to rest on the floor. You then close the eyes and allow your whole body to relax. Stay here for up to five minutes. To come out, bring the legs down to the floor and stay low for a few breaths, before sitting up. You can add blankets beneath the bottom to raise the hips or a small neck roll beneath the neck if you have any neck strain. Do not do this pose if you have uncontrolled hypertension or glaucoma or other eye disorders.

Modified eagle pose (Garudasana)

Headaches can be caused by tension in the shoulders and upper back, so eagle arms, in a seated (or standing) position can be used to help relieve this tension. This one can even be done at your desk! Put both arms out straight in front of you, palms facing upwards and arms parallel to the floor. Bring them together, right arm on the bottom. Where the elbows meet, allow them to cross (left arm crossing the right arm with the left elbow bone slightly further across), then bend both arms at the elbows, bringing the hands together, either palms facing (so the wrists wrap around each other) or if this is uncomfortable with the hands back to back. Close the eyes. You should feel a stretch through your shoulders. If you can or want to increase the stretch further, you can start to slightly lift the elbows into the air, keeping the elbows and hand position the same. Hold for up to five slow breaths, then release. Gently rotate the wrists, elbows and shoulders, then repeat on the other side (left arm on the bottom). Do not do this pose if you have a shoulder injury, unless directed by a qualified instructor.

If you want to relieve a headache, remember to also drink plenty of water!

Do let us know how you get on with these poses and which works best for you.

Headshot of Lisa Brant - Founder of La Crisalida Retreats
Lisa Brant

Lisa has been working in the field of health for over twenty years, first as an epidemiologist and now following a more alternative route! She is a therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa is a nutritionist so designs all our menus, as well as running the retreats. She is also qualified in NLP and hypnosis. Over the years Lisa has overcome her own health challenges with severe endometriosis and is happy to share her story.

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