Headaches are such a common symptom in America that for some people, they don’t question if they’re going to have a headache, but rather when. Each person laments the occurrence of whatever sharp, dull, constricting, isolating, or all-encompassing sensations of pain they feel in the temples, in the scalp, or on the back of the neck.
More technically known as a tension headache, this condition is typically the product of tightness of the muscles or other pain-sensitive components of the afflicted area. Headaches are formally classified in many different ways, and are most typically considered a self-limiting condition in that it resolves itself without the need of medical intervention. There are a variety of reasons why a person might suffer from a headache, including emotional factors (like stress and depression), physical maladies (like the common cold or an injury to the head), and substance misuse (such as excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol).
Western medicine considers a headache to be a chronic condition if the sufferer experiences at least two headaches per week for several months. Many people in the West are instructed to simply avoid activities or substances that trigger headaches and are given techniques to relax and calm themselves to resolve their occurrence.
Headache sufferers also employ Western painkillers to resolve their symptoms (such as Tylenol, aspirin, and ibuprofen). When someone suffers from chronic headaches, he or she may be subjected to extensive tests, scans, and other forms of assessment to determine what might be causing the symptoms.
Ayurveda and Western medicine share a commonality in their response to headaches, as both systems cite identifying the cause to be the best way toward resolving it as a condition. However, Ayurveda also stresses identifying the nature of the headache and the qualities it has in relation to the three doshas and their respective imbalances. An Ayurvedic diagnosis of a headache will determine which doshic imbalance might be triggering the headache, what aspects of the sufferer’s lifestyle might be causing the headache, and what other related symptoms (such as an infection or emotional distress) might help to understand its occurrence.
Ayurveda also suggests that headaches can be caused by Vata-related symptoms like constipation and anxiety, Pitta-related symptoms like indigestion and anger, or Kapha-related symptoms like a cold, the flu, and worry.
Additionally the Ayurveda practice suggests that headaches can be caused by external factors such as the environment and weather conditions. When the cold, warm, dry, wet, daytime, or nighttime aspects of the weather come into contact with our body and mind, and one is more extreme than the other, there can be a conflict that leads to a headache. For example, when the head becomes excessively heated, it is likely that a headache will follow suit.
From the Ayurvedic point of view, a person’s thought patterns and habits can also play a big part in contracting not just a headache but any disease or ailment. This system shows us that a headache is no different in energy from cancer because one is the beginning of a health problem and the latter is an extreme and developed version of the first. Pain occurs in the body as a sign and warning that other, more difficult and painful problems are on the way if it is not resolved. What goes on in the mind will end up in the body.
Through a series of observations and other diagnostic tools, an Ayurvedic practitioner will determine that one or more of the headache sufferer’s doshas are aggravated and triggering the headache. The treatment regimen will include lifestyle changes, food choices, herbal remedies, and other therapies as cited below to help balance the specific doshas related to the headaches and other symptoms.
If someone seems to be experiencing headaches that are accompanied by constipation, dry skin, anxiety, and nervousness, it may be determined that his or her headache is Vata-related. Their treatment will include the use of oils, relaxation therapies, and Vata-reducing foods to help resolve the headache.
If someone seems to be experiencing headaches that are accompanied by burning sensations, nose bleeds, red eyes, anger, and irritability, it may be determined that this is Pitta-related. Their treatment will include the use of herbs and other substances that will purge the body and cleanse the blood, and also use Pitta-reducing foods to help resolve the headache.
If someone seems to be experiencing headaches that are accompanied by dull sensations, a buildup of white phlegm, respiratory problems (like a cold or flu), a sense of heaviness and fatigue, and nausea or vomiting; it may be determined that their headache is Kapha-related. This treatment will include the use of strong purgation therapies and Kapha-reducing foods to help resolve the headache.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future. Lifestyle changes are a fundamental aspect of the self-treatment of headaches, and the specific modifications that are made depend on the doshic nature of the symptoms the sufferer experiences.
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices. We then have the opportunity to make deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room in the stomach later, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and should be fresh and not left over for more than a few hours. When addressing headaches, it is important to eat easy-to-digest foods that help to balance whatever doshas are triggering the symptoms.
Whole wheat (unbleached)
Rice (white basmati)
Rice (white basmati)
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha.Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha.Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods will help the headache sufferer to balance whichever dosha is associated with their particular symptoms:
Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans
Raw and cold foods
Dehydrated, packaged foods
Sour foods (like yogurt, sour cream, and pickles)
Sweets and candies
Dairy products (except goat milk, in moderation)
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water.
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and buildup from there once the body becomes more flexible.
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
A Vata-like headache can be treated with basil, camphor, cedar, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, lavender, lily, lotus, musk, myrrh, patchouli, sandalwood, or cinnamon oil.
A Pitta-like headache can be treated with sandalwood, tea tree, rose, honeysuckle, gardenia, lily, iris, mint, lavender, or lotus oil.
A Kapha-like headache can be treated with cinnamon, eucalyptus, sage, basil, musk, cedar, frankincense, or myrrh oil.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
For a Vata-like headache, repeat the syllable “Lam” for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
As a Vata-related disorder, it is helpful to inwardly repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
For a Pitta-like headache, repeat the syllable “Aum” (pronounced ohm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
As a Pitta-related disorder, it is helpful to both outwardly chant and inwardly repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
For a Kapha-like headache, repeat the syllable “Ham” (pronounced hahm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
As a Kapha-related disorder, it is helpful to outwardly chant this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress. Like with the yoga postures above, breathing exercises are likely to be of significant benefit to those who suffer from considerable amounts of stress.
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