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Yoga might help with migraines, says science

Migraines aren’t your average headache. They’re throbbing, relentless beasts that make people nauseous and sensitive to light and sound for days. And meds don’t work for everyone who experience chronic migraines. But researchers have found new hopeful evidence that approaching the condition holistically could bring some relief; according to a study released last week, yoga was found to help treat migraine headaches, in conjunction with meds.

Look, I’m a yoga teacher, and I see all the promises that modern western yoga culture makes that it can’t possibly deliver on. So if you’re feeling doubtful, good on you for not caving to the woo. But while yoga is not the magic cure-all that some too skinny blonde, turmeric-loving influencer says it is, it can make positively impact the frequency and severity of migraine symptoms.

At the end of the study, 12% of the patients in the yoga group reported that they were completely headache free and had reduced their pill intake by almost half.

The study — which followed 114 patients for three months — was conducted at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, India, reported CNN. Half of the patients were given just migraine medication and the other half were given medication in conjunction with a prescribed yoga sequence three days a week. At the end of the study, 12% of the patients in the yoga group reported that they were completely headache free and had reduced their pill intake by almost half, CNN reported. Patients in the yoga group also reported that the debilitating effects of migraine on their work and lives had been reduced by 37%.

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In a fascinating and responsible fusion of techniques, yoga was not used as an alternative to medication in the study, but as an addition. “All too often we see Western versus Eastern or holistic medicine," Andrew Russo, a molecular physiology and biophysics professor at the University of Iowa, told CNN. This study is evidence that alternative and traditional medicine don’t have to compete. Instead, they can be combined to produce the best results for patients. “It's a fallacy to think yoga-type therapies and pill versions don't involve the same nervous system,” he added. As someone who has been saying for decades that you don’t have to choose between penicillin and pigeon pose, I feel very seen right now.

One of the main triggers of migraine is stress, and scientists think that yoga can help relieve migraine by reducing tension, reported CNN. The yoga prescribed to patients in the study wasn’t your average spandex and sweat core workout, though. The sequence that worked for migraine sufferers did include asana, or the physical postures that most of us associate with yoga, but it also included prayer, yoga nidra (guided deep relaxation), and pranayama breathing techniques. "The yoga that we know of is just the tip of the iceberg," study co-author Gautam Sharma, a cardiology professor at the Centre for Integrative Medicine and Research told CNN. Sharma described the benefits of yoga as “exercise plus.”

As someone who has been saying for decades that you don’t have to choose between penicillin and pigeon pose, I feel very seen right now.

Sharma said that he is hopeful that yoga can provide an inexpensive health boost and lead patients not just towards relief of terrible migraine symptoms, but also towards better overall health. “The more you practice, the deeper you go, the more benefit that you derive from yoga,” Sharma said.