Enduring the pain of a headache can easily ruin your entire day. If you are trying to lead a
holistic lifestyle or simply looking for ways to take less over-the-counter (or even prescribed, as
the case may be) medicine, yoga (along with drinking plenty of water) is a great alternative for
healing a variety of ailments. Any pose that stretches out the neck, shoulders, and upper back
will aid in reducing tension, and, because yoga increases oxygen levels and blood flow, it is the
perfect option for medicine-free healing. Whether your headaches are caused by stress, unhealthy
habits, poor posture, anxiety, sitting in front of a computer too long, or even a hangover, try these
stretches before you try popping pills!
1. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (A.K.A. Bridge Pose)
This pose stretches the chest, neck, and spine, along with stimulating abdominal organs. It is
known to reduce anxiety, fatigue, backache, headaches, and insomnia (all of which can cause
headaches). If you happen to have any type of neck injury, you may want to skip this pose unless
practicing under the supervision of a trained teacher.
To get in bridge pose, lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat, arms
down by your sides. As you exhale, press your feet into the floor and push your tailbone up,
keeping your things parallel with one another. You may clasp your hands underneath your back
and extend through the arms so that you are staying on the tops of your shoulders. Be sure to
keep your chin lifted through the duration of the pose, which you may hold anywhere from 30
seconds to one minute. When you are finished, slowly roll your spine back down to the floor
2. Marjaryasana (A.K.A. Cat Pose) and Bitilasana (A.K.A. Cow Pose or Dog Tilt Pose)
The benefits of cat pose include stretching the middle and upper back, as well as
shoulders. It is often used in conjunction with “cow pose,” which stretches the neck and front
torso. Using these poses together provides a massage for the spine and organs. Again, if you
have a neck injury, you may want to skip this pose unless you are practicing with a trained
To begin, get on your knees and hands (in a tabletop position), with your thighs and arms
both perpendicular to your upper body (reaching straight towards the ground). Your knees should
be directly below your hips, and your wrists should be directly under your shoulders. As you
inhale, slowly lift your tailbone and the front of your chest towards the ceiling, sinking your
belly toward the floor for cow pose. You should be looking straight ahead. As you exhale, slowly
go into cat pose by tucking your chin under and pushing your hands into the ground, lifting your
upper back toward the ceiling and tucking your tailbone under. Repeat these poses several times,
alternating between the two over the course of each inhale and exhale.
3. Adho Mukha Svanasana (A.K.A. Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Downward Facing Dog is a great pose for building upper body strength, and it stimulates
the brain and nervous system, improves memory, relieves stress, energizes the body,
improves digestion, and more, which is probably part of the reason it is one of the most
popular yoga poses “on the market!” The pose also deeply stretches the back, shoulders,
hamstrings, calves, and hands, and it opens the chest. Those with carpal tunnel or other
hand/wrist injuries may have difficulty with this pose, and if your headache is of the
pounding variety, you may want to support your head on a bolster or block.
Starting on your hands and knees, spread your fingers and turn your toes under. As you
exhale, slowly lift your knees off the floor, lengthening your tailbone up towards the sky.
Stretch your heels toward the floor, lengthening through your legs to stretch the calves and
hamstrings. Be sure to keep the shoulders relaxed while pressing the hands into the floor,
keeping pressure off the neck and shoulders. Keep the neck engaged and between the upper
arms, as not to let it hang freely. Hold the pose for up to three minutes, breathing deeply and
staying relaxed through the shoulders.
4. Balasana (A.K.A. Child’s Pose)
This is a calming pose and is often used after challenging poses in yoga classes to relax
the body and rest. It gently stretches the lower back, hips, and thighs, massages the organs, and
relieves stress. Those with knee injuries should be careful when practicing this pose and only
perform it while under the supervision of a trained professional.
While kneeling on the floor, touch your big toes together and spread your knees
approximately hip-width apart. Slowly lay your chest down to the ground between your thighs,
lengthening through the back and tailbone, lifting the base of your head away from your neck.
Lay your hands on the floor either along your sides or stretching out, as indicated in the picture.
You may stay in this pose as long as it is comfortable. Be sure to focus on taking long, deep
breaths and ensure that you are staying relaxed.
5. Viparita Karani (A.K.A. Legs Up the Wall Pose)
Because most people are on their feet or sitting in an upright position, this pose is helpful
in bringing blood flow back down into the belly and digestive organs. It helps to relax the
mind and reduce fatigue, both of which may help your headache start to subside within
minutes. Many yogis also claim that this is a “cure all” pose that may help eliminate any
ailment you are facing, from depression to varicose veins to high or low blood pressure.
Inversion poses such as this should be avoided if you have glaucoma or any other serious eye
problem. If your feet begin to “fall asleep,” feel free to slide them down the wall (towards
your pelvis) with your knees facing outward until you regain feeling.
For this pose, simply lie on your back with your tailbone against the wall (or as close as
possible – it doesn’t have to be touching). Stretch your legs up the wall, and keep your arms
at your sides. Keep your neck and back relaxed, and focus on taking long, deep breaths. Keep
your legs firmly in place for as long as you’d like (typically not over 15 to 20 minutes). As
simple as it looks, this pose may cause strain on your hamstrings if they tend to be tight. If
this is the case, feel free to slightly bend your knees or use the edge of your bed or a chair so
that you may bend your knees.
6. Janu Sirsasana (A.K.A. Head-to-Knee Forward Bend Pose)
Head-to-knee poses are calming and are known to relieve anxiety and fatigue, both of
which often cause headaches. It stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, spine, and ground, and
strengthens the muscles in the back. There are many modifications to this pose so that all levels
may participate. You may choose to use a strap to help reach the foot or slightly bend your knee.
Be sure not to over-stretch any of your muscles, or you may have a problem much bigger than a
Begin by sitting on the floor with both legs straight in front of you. Bend your right knee,
resting your right foot on the inside of your left thigh or knee, whichever is more comfortable
(the outside of your right leg should be resting on the floor – support it with a folded blanket if it
doesn’t quite reach). Square your body to your left leg, pointing your belly button toward that
knee (it should still be straight out in front of you). Slowly fold forward, lengthening your spine.
You may use a strap wrapped around your foot or reach around your foot with your hands if
possible. Slowly roll back up after up to three minutes and repeat this stretch on the other side for
the same amount of time.
7. Pavana Muktasana (A.K.A. Wind Relieving Pose or Knees-to-Chest Pose)
This pose helps to loosen muscles in the back, which encourages a rush of blood
throughout the body. It also improves digestion and elimination, while lengthening the spine and
stretching the back, reducing tension in the lower back. This pose is considered pretty safe for all
skill levels, but be sure to check with your doctor if you have recently had any type of abdominal
surgery or a hernia.
While lying flat on your back, inhale and bring both knees into your chest. Slowly wrap
your arms around your knees, and hold on to your opposite elbows, forearms, wrists, or fingers,
whichever you can reach most comfortably. Tuck your chin, slightly lengthening your neck onto
the floor. Try to completely relax your back onto the floor so that it is flat. You may hold this
pose as long as you’d like, ensuring that you are focusing on taking deep breaths and relaxing
your entire body onto the ground.
8. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (A.K.A. Upward Facing Dog Pose)
Improving posture, stretching the shoulders, and relieving fatigue are just some of the
headache-relieving benefits of this pose. Poor posture (especially for those who sit in an office
chair all day) is a very common source of headaches, and this pose can counteract some of the
effects caused by sitting in the same position day after day. People with back injuries or carpal
tunnel may have difficult with this pose, as it tends to put pressure on the lower spine and wrists.
While lying on the floor (face down) with your legs extended and the tops of your feet
down, bend your elbows, placing your palms on the floor by your waist. As you inhale, slowly
press your palms into the ground and raise your chest and upper legs off the floor by
straightening your arms. Stay relaxed through the lower back and buttocks, and look straight
ahead or tip your head back slightly, whichever is most comfortable and provides less strain for
you. You may hold this pose for up to 30 seconds, and you may choose to sit back into child’s
pose afterward to relax the lower back.
9. Uttanasana (A.K.A. Standing Forward Fold)
This pose is known to lengthen the spine and hamstrings, strengthen the calves, and calm
the brain, relieving stress and anxiety. It also stimulates most of bodily systems, including the
digestive and nervous systems. Having a tight back and hamstrings, both of which this pose
is aimed at helping, are usually the result of long working hours, hours of commuting
throughout the week, and sleeping in uncomfortable positions. Be sure to keep your
hamstrings open and relaxed to reduce strain in the back while performing this pose, which
you have likely done whether or not you’ve ever stepped foot in a yoga class. Those with
back, leg, hip, or shoulder injuries should check with your physician before doing this pose.
Standing with your feet parallel and slightly less than hip-width apart, exhale while
folding your body forward from your hip joints. Slightly bend the knees so that you can place
your palms flat on the floor and your head towards your knees. Work towards straightening
your legs by lifting the hips up slowly. It is common practice to grab your opposite elbow
and let the head and arms “dangle” from the neck and shoulders. Some yogis also prefer to
sway back and forth slightly and slowly. Hold this for four to eight breaths, and then slowly
bend the knees and roll up to a standing position.
10. Savasana (Corpse Pose)
If you have had the pleasure of participating in a yoga class, you may be aware that most
classes end with several minutes of relaxation. This pose is very popular for “unwinding” at the
end of a yoga lesson, as it rejuvenates the body and reduces stress and tension. Some yogis may
choose to begin their workout with this pose, as it calms the body and focuses the mind, both of
which are important while practicing yoga.
Although the pose looks pretty self-explanatory, it is important that you realize there is
more to the pose than simply laying on the ground. The purpose is to completely relax your body
and focus on your breathing. While lying on your back, allow all of your muscles to completely
loosen, as if your body is falling asleep. Focus on breathing in and out through your nose,
allowing your lungs to fully expand with each inhale and pushing all of your oxygen out with
each exhale. Over the course of the pose, scan your body several times to ensure you are still
completely relaxed. Focus on the muscles you may not realize are tense, such as your jaw,
forehead, fingers, toes, etc. . . . Stay in this pose as long as you’d like. Once you would like to
get up, be sure to do so slowly. Many instructors direct participants to begin to come out of the
pose by wiggling their fingers and toes. Next, slowly bend at the elbows and knees, bringing
your feet flat to the ground. Stay here for a couple of breaths. Eventually, push up to a seated
position and take a few deep breaths before standing.