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  • Erica Vinson

How Can Pilates Help with My Migraines?

In a previous blog post I mentioned how physical exercise could be a possible trigger to headaches.  This is true for some people especially if the exercises are too strenuous or causes you to over-exert yourself and increases tension.  However, exercise that involves pain-free, repetitive movement may prove to be beneficial to you. 


In general, exercise stimulates your body to release natural pain controlling chemicals called endorphins and natural anti-depressant chemicals called enkephalins. So participating in a well balanced exercise program like Pilates could help relieve your headaches. Pain-free movement will actually calm the nervous system and the repetitive movement will increase blood flow throughout the body. This is a parasympathetic response very similar to what happens when getting a massage.


When performing the mat exercises I would suggest focusing on BREATHING. Joseph Pilates stated “to breathe correctly you must completely exhale and inhale, always trying very hard to ‘squeeze’ every atom of impure air from our lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth." Proper breathing is cleansing to the whole body (including the brain). I would also recommend doing Pilates exercises that provide stability to the neck and shoulders. Feel free to use a small pillow or a rolled towel to support the head if needed. Here are some mat exercises to consider:


One Leg Circles

Bring one leg straight up at a 90 degree angle towards the ceiling; take the leg across the body, down, out to the side and back to the start position. Inhale as you go across the body; exhale as you return to 90 degree position. Do 5-8 reps then repeat with the other leg. Be mindful of keeping the chest open and the neck relaxed by pressing the palms down into the mat.

Side Kicks

Lay on your side with the hips stacked. Your upper body will be in line with the back of the mat with legs slightly forward. You may want to lay flat on the mat with your head and neck supported by a small pillow. Lift the top leg hip height and kick forward (hip flexion) and kick back (hip extension).

Shoulder Bridge

This is a great chest opening exercise. Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Start by curling the tail and rolling the spine up until you are in a plank position. If possible you want to lift the hips as high as you can creating back extension. Hold for 5 counts then roll down articulating the spine one vertebrae at a time.

Swan with Neck Rolls

Lay prone(face down) with palm of hands next to armpits. Inhale and start to lift the eyes, nose, chin, then the chest as if rolling a marble away from the mat. With the sternum is reaching forward, exhale and look to the right. Inhale as roll your chin down towards your chest. Exhale as you look left and inhale back to center. Take another exhale as you lower the body back down unto the mat.

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