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Suffering from Migraines or Chronic Pain? Try Yoga
By Louise Schultz

If you're seeking relief from migraine headache pain, consider giving yoga a try. According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 29.5 million Americans suffer from migraines and turn to remedies from medication to alternative therapies in efforts to ease the often-debilitating pain. Julie Booth, a yoga instructor and massage therapist at the Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center of The Washington Hospital, has seen first-hand how practicing gentle yoga has helped some of her students with migraines find welcome relief. "It's not a cure, but they've found that hatha yoga can help reduce the frequency, duration and intensity of migraines," said Booth, who has practiced yoga for 15 years. She credits yoga's ability to promote inner calm and alleviate stress with relaxing the body's nervous system, helping to minimize the onset and severity of migraines.

Although Booth does not suffer from migraines, she began researching the potential benefits of yoga after seeing how much pain the headaches caused several of her friends. She put her findings into practice through special workshops where she teaches specific yoga postures – known as asanas – and breathing techniques to prevent or delay migraines as well as ease symptoms. "It's important to stick to gentle, restorative yoga practice," she explained. "You should also try to practice regularly, either at home or in a class."

Booth has found that helpful poses for persons with migraines typically include the child's pose, seated forward bend, cobra pose, standing forward fold and tree pose. "A lot of these poses incorporate forward folding that draws you inward, calms you, soothes your nerves, and reduces sensory overload," she said.

Yoga also may help relieve symptoms for people with other chronic conditions such as back and neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Jamie Thornton, lead mind/body instructor at the Wellness Center, observed that by encouraging correct postural alignment, yoga loosens unconscious muscular gripping that may cause chronic pain. "You line up your spine, pull your head back, and pay attention to the natural curve of your spine and neck," she said. "The stretching from the asanas also promotes flexibility and movement, which lessens pain."

Thornton and Booth also find that yoga's emphasis on breathing exercises helps reduce the stress and tension that can exacerbate pain. Booth, who has helped a student with multiple sclerosis find symptom relief through yoga, noted, "There probably can't be enough said for breathing, relaxing and being in the moment. The whole nervous system benefits when yoga helps you stay relaxed and keep your muscles long and stretched."

Louise Schultz is Wellness Coordinator at Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center of The Washington Hospital. For information on yoga workshops, call (724) 250-6282.

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