Tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back is the most common cause – approximately 90% of headaches stem from it – of headaches; the rest are caused by migraines, illness and injury as well as sleep deprivation and hunger. Fortunately, breathing exercises for headache relief can be easily adopted and the results are almost immediately felt.
But it must be emphasized that proper breathing for headache relief requires practice. This is because proper technique and concentration are necessary to reap maximum benefits from the breathing exercises. Otherwise, it will be no different from regular breathing.
Several breathing methods are available but all of these have several common aspects including:
• Breathing using the diaphragm. As infants and children, we breathe using our diaphragm – inhale and your stomach rises, exhale and your stomach sinks. But as we grow older, we start to breathe without our diaphragm, so to speak – inhale and only your chest rises, exhale and your chest sinks. But with breathing exercises for headache relief, you will start breathing from your diaphragm. This should push more oxygen into the lungs on inhalation and push more stale air out of these organs upon exhalation.
• Focusing on the task at hand. We live in a world where multi-tasking is a virtue but to maximize the benefits of proper breathing for headache relief, mental concentration and physical focus on the task at hand is a must. This is the reason why all breathing exercises for headache relief require the individual to find a comfortable position sitting or lying down, focus on his breathing, and imagine the headache seeping away from his body.
In all of the following breathing exercises, it is necessary to find a quiet place where sitting or lying down for 5-10 minutes can be done without interruption.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Place your hands either at your side or on your stomach just below your ribcage. Close your eyes and start breathing – inhale and feel your diaphragm rise, exhale and feel it deflate. Relax your mind and body by focusing on your breathing.
The common methods for breathing exercises for headache relief include:
• Rhythmic breathing
For every inhalation and exhalation, hold your breath for five seconds. Repeat until your headache lessens in intensity or goes away.
• Deep breathing
Imagine a spot just above your navel. Breathe in and imagine it filling with fresh air, breathe out and imagine stale air rushing out of it. This is the classic technique of diaphragmatic breathing.
• Deep breathing coupled with massage
Self-massage is one of the most effective methods to ward off a headache. When coupled with deep breathing exercises, its efficacy is magnified. While performing deep breathing exercises, massage your acupressure points like your earlobes, base of the skull, temples and middle of the forehead. Massaging the webbing between your thumb and forefinger or the webbing between your big and second toes may also help.
Why do breathing exercises for headache relief work? Deep breathing increases the amount of oxygen into your brain, thus, promoting relaxation. The more relaxed you are, the more likely the tension in your neck, shoulders and upper back will disappear quickly.