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Managing Headaches with Ayurveda

It is undeniably difficult to stay present and joyful when it feels like your head is going to explode. Sometimes we can attribute a pounding headache with the binge-watching that kept us up all night, or maybe it was that 3rd glass of wine or bag of salty potato chips. But there are other times when our headaches seem like a total mystery.

The traditional Ayurveda healers, or Vaidyas, would say your headache is a wake up call. And while it is our intention to relieve this suffering it is also an opportunity to take a deeper look into our physical body as well as our current emotional state.

There are many types of head and facial pain that fall under the category of headache. For most of us, headaches come and go, and we often can figure out the trigger (certain foods, outdoors in cold or heat, nervousness, etc). Not all headaches are an issue, but for recurrent ones, or headaches that are severe in nature, we need to pay attention and determine the root cause.

Causes of Headache

1) Primary headache: Primary headaches are not related to any other diseases. If the pain-sensitive areas are overworked such as from a tense situation or high-stress day, then such a headache is caused. Primary headaches can also occur due to certain foods, temperatures, and environments. Affected areas involve the nerves of head and neck, blood vessels, and certain muscles. Tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraines are some examples of a primary headache.

2) Secondary headache: These are headaches due to other causes such as when a specific disease causes the pain-sensitive nerves of the head to get stimulated. Secondary headaches can occur due to different factors. Some of them are:

  • Clotting of blood

  • Bleeding in the surrounding area of the brain or inside it

  • Brain freeze due to cold things

  • Poisoning by carbon monoxide

  • Hangover after alcohol consumption

  • Concussion

  • Dehydration

  • Glaucoma

  • Grinding teeth at night

  • Influenza

  • Rebound headaches due to overdoses of pain medicine

  • Panic attacks

  • Brain tumor

Headaches might be a result of a serious health condition. Therefore for recurrent, severe, and persistent headaches, a medical doctor or Ayurvedic practitioner should be consulted, especially if there is no relief after taking conventional pain-relieving medication. Headaches that are more severe than the ones in the past, headache along with fever, sensory changes, and neck stiffness, and headaches that are debilitating are signs that there could be a more serious underlying problem.

Types of Headaches

Headaches have many types, and accordingly, the causes, severity, curing time, and treatment methods vary.

Tension headache: This is the most prevalent and common type of headache. Initially there is tension in the shoulder and neck. With this headache, a person may experience slight pain at the edges of the head, the head having a heavyweight, or feeling as though a tight band is tied around the head. The span of these headaches can be hours or days, and they can worsen as the day ends. Excessive work, sleep problems, improper posture, stress, anxiety and other lifestyle problems can cause tension headaches.

Migraine: In this neurological condition, severe and throbbing pain is experienced in the head generally on one side. The span can be a few hours or even days. Commonly along with migraine, symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity are present. Other sensations might be experienced even before the headache begins. These include dizziness, prickling sharp pain, seeing patterns before your eyes, etc. The probability of women having migraine headaches is greater than men. Though it might occur at any age, mostly older teens and adults experience it. To manage migraines holistically, diet and lifestyle habits are assessed and modified, and herbal medicines are suggested to give relief for symptoms and prevention.

Cluster headache: On one side of the head, sudden pain, primarily at night, is experienced. Mostly the pain is felt in the surrounding of eyes. For some time, they may occur multiple times in a day and later may not happen for years and months. Causes that trigger this headache should be avoided, and if it worsens or persists, one should visit a practitioner for a holistic approach to mitigate the root cause.

Sinus headache: This type of headache includes facial pain in areas like:

  • Eyes

  • Forehead

  • Cheeks

  • Teeth

When a person leans forward, the pain worsens. The pain can have different severity. This type of headache is linked with sinusitis symptoms like congestion, mucus from the nose, postnasal drip, and feeling a strain inside the head, most often due to an allergic response but not always.

Medication overuse: Excessive use of pain medicines that treat headaches can cause this headache. This rebound headache seems similar to migraine attacks and tension headaches. After withdrawing the overused medicines, improvement is generally seen within two months. However, there may be an increased severity of headaches before improvement. Hence pain medication should only be used when needed and only for a short time.

Ayurvedic View of Headaches

In Ayurveda, headaches are not considered a disease, but a symptom of the vitiation of one or more of the doshas - Vata, Pitta and Kapha, with the primary dosha being effected typically Vata.

Ayurveda makes mention of certain types of head pain:

Ardhaavabheda (unilateral pain )

Anantavaata (classical migraine)

Suryavatra (morning headache)

According to Ayurveda, some causes of headaches are:

  • Constipation

  • Indigestion

  • Consuming polluted food (i.e. GMO foods)

  • Consuming oily and spicy food

  • Emotions like stress, sadness, and anger

  • Excessively consuming dry and salty food

  • Excessive intake of pungent food

  • Suppressing natural urges

Through the Ayurvedic exam (Rogi Pariksha) and questioning, the practitioner will determine the root cause and the dosha imbalance. Below is an explanation of the various types of headaches due to dosha vitiation.

Vata Headache

If you have a throbbing, pulsating pain and the sensation of a band being tightened around your head, you have a Vata headache. Neck and shoulder tension, mental and emotional stress, an irregular sleeping schedule, possible toxicity in the gut (like constipation) and unresolved fear or anxiety are known culprits of this headache type.

What To Do:

Vata is represented by the dry, cool, fast moving element of air. When dealing with a Vata headache our intention is to relieve dryness within the mind and body.  We also want to support and clear the gut.

  • Drink lots of warm water and incorporate ghee (clarified butter) into the diet.

  • For acute headaches, try a traditional nasya treatment by putting 5 drops of luke-warm sesame oil in each nostril while lying down.

  • Receiving a massage is also a great way to relieve tension in the body. 

Vata headaches require deep rest and relaxation so it’s ok to take that 20-min afternoon nap that you need. 

Pitta Headache

A Pitta headache typically starts in the temples and spreads to the central part of your head. They are known for their shooting, burning, piercing pain with a dash of nausea and often made worse by bright light, heat or by eating sour or spicy foods. Migraines are associated with this category. Pitta headaches are often linked to imbalances in the stomach and intestines, such as acid indigestion, hyperacidity or heartburn. 

What to Do:

Pitta is associated with the element of fire. Our goal when remedying a Pitta headache is to cool acidity (fire) in the body.

  • Avoid spicy, salty, fried foods and add more cooling foods such as cucumbers, watermelon, cilantro or dates to your daily diet.

  •  Massage warm coconut oil or brahmi oil onto the scalp and soles of the feet to soothe acute pitta headaches.

  • For migraines it is recommended to put a few drops of ghee into each nostril before bed.

Don’t forget to take a deep breath, get some rest and slow down your schedule.

Kapha Headache

This headache type is known to strike most ferociously in the Winter and Spring. Usually you wake up or go to bed with a Kapha headache. It is accompanied by a cough or runny nose, probably gets worse when you lie down or bend over and characterized by a heavy, dull feeling in the face and head. Kapha headaches are commonly called a sinus headache because they are the byproduct of excess pressure in the sinus cavity. 

What To Do:

To remedy this type of headache we must relieve pressure in the sinuses.

  • Use a neti pot daily with salts to help open sinus channels.

  • Drinking hot ginger tea and taking in pungent spices like black pepper, cinnamon and cloves to reduce mucus congestion.

  • Inhaling eucalyptus steam is also great way to soothe a Kapha headache.

Ayurvedic Herbal Remedies for Headaches

Ayurveda prescribes herbs, yoga, and lifestyle therapies for headaches.

Effective herbal formulations for migraines and headaches are:

  • Brahmi ghritam

  • Sarapgandha vati

  • Ksheerbala capsule

  • Yograj guggulu

  • Yashtimadhu churna

  • Triphala churna

  • Aswagandharishtam

  • Balarishtam

  • Anu thailam

  • Brahmi thailam

  • Chandani thailam

  • Rasnadi kashayam

  • Sudarshan ghan vati

Ayurvedic Therapies for Headaches

  • Shirodhara

  • Nasyam

  • Shirobhyanga

  • Shirolepa

Yoga Postures for Headaches

  • Savasana (Corpse pose)

  • Setu bandhasana (Bridge pose)

  • Paschimottasana (Seated forward bend)

  • Janusirasana (Single head to knee pose)

  • Balasana (Childs Pose)

Ayurvedic Tips for Headaches

  • Avoid late nights, sleeping less than 7 hours or more than 8

  • Avoid frequent intake of painkillers

  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption and smoking

  • Avoid consumption of strong tea and coffee

  • Avoid frequent fasting (or going long hours between meals)

  • Have a morning and evening walk

  • Avoid long periods of direct sunlight

  • Avoid outdoors in windy conditions

  • Avoid excessive use of digital screens

For more information and to get help, contact us at Vedic Health.


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