Migraines are pressure headaches, making them much different than tension headaches. They come as a result of vasodilation of the cerebral arteries which increases intracranial and arterial pressure, resulting in a pressure headache.
A tension headache typically results when the muscles in the neck and shoulders tighten, usually due to stress clamping down on the skull, neck, and shoulders, causing muscular tension. Massage can work wonders for tension headaches but unfortunately tends to not do much for migraines.
Studies show that people from all walks of life can suffer from occasional migraines, although curiously, they are most prevalent in women, people between the ages of 35 and 45 years old, and in populations with lower incomes (under $10,000 per year) suggesting that stress may be a contributing factor. (1)
An estimated 18% of women and 6% of men have been found to experience sporadic migraine headaches. (2) Studies have shown that intermittent migraines can be spurred by many factors, including but not limited to stress, alcohol, weather changes, and menstruation. (3-6)
According to Ayurveda, the common culprit behind occasional migraine headaches is stress, as well as the body’s inability to effectively detox and remove waste from the body. Vessels in the head can dilate and cause pressure and pain inside the skull in an attempt to release toxins through the dilation process.
In a similar way, the body’s skin dilates in order to sweat and, therefore, remove waste. The vessels in the head can do the same, but only if some other detox channel in the body has been compromised in some way.
Newly discovered brain and central nervous system lymph vessels called glymphatics may also play a role here. If the brain lymphs become congested, wastes can accumulate in the cranium increasing pressure and forcing a vasodilation headache. The key here is to address the source of the lymphatic congestion.
From the Ayurvedic perspective, stress is processed through the gut and compromises digestion which is the source of the lymphatic flow. Addressing any underlying digestive and lymphatic issues is key to resolving this issue.
Learn more about brain lymphatics and the lymphatic system here.
Each body type may present these vasodilation headaches uniquely. Let’s dig in.
Ayurvedic Therapy for the Occasional Headache
To distinguish between whether you have a pressure or a tension headache, try the following:
- Lie down and apply heat in the form of 2 hot water bottles or a heating pad wrapped around both feet, with most of the heat hitting the soles.
- Apply a cool ice cloth to the forehead and rest for 20 minutes.
The cool cloth on the forehead will vasoconstrict the swollen vessels in the head, while the heat on the feet will vasodilate the many blood vessels in the feet. The blood and toxins are then shunted away from the head in the direction of the new exit ramp: the vasodilated feet. If this resolves the issue, then it is a pressure-related concern.
Next is to determine which detox system may be involved. Each body type has its strengths and weaknesses in regard to its detox pathways. Knowing your body type can help you know where to start in addressing the problem.
The vata body type is hypermetabolic in nature, both physiologically and mentally. Vata types think fast and act fast, tend to have dry skin and when under stress, they are prone to occasional constipation. If the elimination concerns linger, toxins from the gut can re-absorb back to the lymph and liver and enter into the brain lymphs and bloodstream. In conjunction with stress, blood vessels can first become constricted and then can be followed with a rebound dilation. The dilation can cause pressure, pain, and toxicity to flood into the dilated vessels and neck in an attempt to be released from the body.
Suggestion: Consider Elim 1 or Triphala to support healthy elimination.
Headaches in pitta body types are typically due to liver congestion, and excess stress that can irritate and inflame the intestinal tract. In the same way toxins accumulate from the gut back to the liver in the vata body type, in the pitta type, the congestion and toxicity due to liver and sometimes gallbladder congestion can pass impurities into the bloodstream. The liver congestion predisposes the cranial vessels to inflame and dilate, which can cause an occasional migraine.
Suggestion: Consider Liver Repair or Beet Cleanse to boost bile flow from the gallbladder and bile production from the liver.
Headaches in kapha body types are typically a result of poor body and brain lymphatic circulation. The lymphatic system is the largest detox system of the body, and kapha types who have a slower metabolism commonly experience lymphatic circulation concerns. Toxins can build up in the bloodstream due to poor lymphatic circulation, causing pressure, vasodilation, and pain.
Suggestion: Consider Manjistha to support healthy lymphatic flow and decongestion.
Nasya Therapy for Occasional Headaches (for all types)
- Place 2-3 drops of sesame oil, (or see LifeSpa’s Nasya Oil) into your palm.
- With your right hand, rub your pinky in the oil. Then, place your pinky gently into the right nostril as far up as is comfortable and spread the oil.
- Repeat the procedure in the left nostril.
- Repeat until all the oil is gone from your palm.
- Hold one nostril closed and breathe in. Do the same thing on the other side.
- Best done on an empty stomach.
- Best not to do before bed to prevent dripping into the larynx.
- It’s normal to taste the oil in the back of the mouth or to have some oil drip out of your nose for a minute or two after.
- Nasya Therapy is not indicated for children under 13. Children do not have a fully developed glottis and a small amount of oil can drip into the larynx.
We RecommendNeti & Nasya – The Dynamic Duo
NOTE: For more information on how to treat the detox pathway related to your type, please see my archived articles and videos on detox and lymph. If you are having frequent or more than just occasional headaches, please see a medical professional.