Over 45 million Americans experience chronic, recurring headaches, according to the National Headache Foundation, and 29.5 million suffer from migraines. If you’re one of them, you may be tempted to pop a pill for quick relief. But if you have a sneaking suspicion that over-the-counter remedies address the symptoms, not the underlying cause, of your pain, you’re probably right.
Ayurveda takes a different approach. Vaidyas, or traditional healers, say that your headache is a wake-up call: Pay attention to your body, your mind, your emotions. What is causing your pain? And how can you get to the root of the problem? Every headache has a story to tell. Read on to determine the cause of your pain, then try a few natural ayurvedic remedies.
3 Types of Headaches
Ayurveda classifies many headaches according to which dosha (or subtle energy principle) is out of balance in your body-mind: vata, pitta, or kapha.
If you have throbbing, pulsating, migrating pain in the back of your head, you have a vata headache. Neck and shoulder tension, back stiffness, and signs of toxicity in the colon (like constipation), and unresolved fear and anxiety can contribute to this type of pain.
What to do: At bedtime, boil one teaspoon of powdered haritaki in a cup of water, then drink. Gently massage your neck with warm vacha (calamus) root oil, lie down with your nostrils parallel to the ceiling, and put five drops of lukewarm sesame oil in each nostril for a vata-calming nasya treatment (nasal oil therapy).
If your headache starts in your temples and spreads to the central part of your head, you can trace your problem back to pitta-related imbalances in the stomach and intestines (such as acid indigestion, hyperacidity, or heartburn) and/or unresolved anger or irritability. Pitta headaches are characterized by shooting, burning, piercing, or penetrating pain, and may be associated with nausea, dizziness, and/or a burning sensation in the eyes. These symptoms are worsened by bright light, hot sun, or high temperatures, or by eating sour fruits, pickles, or spicy food.
What to do: Because these headaches are related to imbalances in the stomach and intestines, eat pitta-pacifying foods like cucumbers, cilantro, and dates. Take two tablespoons of aloe vera gel three times a day, and put three drops of plain, warm ghee (clarified butter) in each nostril at bedtime. Then rub warm coconut oil on the soles of your feet and scalp and enjoy a deep, rejuvenating sleep.
If your headache occurs in winter or spring, strikes in the morning or evening, is accompanied by a cough or a runny nose, or gets worse when you bend down, you have a kapha headache. Usually dull and deep-seated, the pain starts in the upper frontal area of the skull, moves down to the forehead, and can creep into the sinuses. Sinus congestion, colds, flus, hay fever, and other allergies cause kapha headaches.
What to do: Take one-half teaspoon of sitopaladi powder three times a day with honey. Then put one drop of eucalyptus oil in a bowl of hot water, cover your head with a towel, and inhale the steam to clear your sinuses.
Time to See the Doctor
Most headaches can be relieved by using ayurvedic remedies, but if you have a headache that persists for more than a couple of days; if it’s accompanied by a fever or a stiff neck; if you also experience neurological symptoms such as blurred vision, difficulty with coordination or speech, memory loss, numbness, or weakness in your arms or legs; if you wake up at midnight with a headache and need to vomit; if your headache is due to an ear infection, TMJ, meningitis, or spinal arthritis; or if you are having frequent headaches that seem to be getting more severe, please see a doctor.
Did you know?
Headaches can also flare up due to ear problems, eye problems, insomnia, food allergies, wrong diet, too much traveling, unhealthy relationships, pent-up emotions, exposure to cold temperatures, neck tension, or working too long (for instance, in front of a computer) with poor posture. Even sleeping on two pillows can give you a headache!
Vasant Lad, BAMS, MASc, is a world-renowned ayurvedic physician and author. He is the founder of the Ayurvedic Institute (ayurveda.com) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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