Like any pain or discomfort in the body, a headache is an indication of an underlying problem. And the only way to prevent the next one is to correct the problem.
Most people have an occasional headache but some suffer on a regular basis. Paying careful attention, you can discover the source of the problem; once it has been identified, you can take the appropriate steps to stop it from recurring.
According to ancient holistic Eastern Ayurvedic medicine, each of us is born with all universal elements of fire, air, water, and ether/space. These elements are not always present in equal measure—the imbalance can contribute to particular physical experience, including headache. Trupti Gokani, MD is a neurologist known for her holistic and integrative approach to treating headache pain:
“The basic premise of Ayurveda is that each of us comprises five elements of nature—air, space, fire, earth, and water. These elements create our physiological state and dictate how our mind operates. When considering these elements, it is best to think of the quality of each element to help us understand how we may possess them in our physiological constitution. Air types have the quality of air, which may be light, moving and mobile. Some of us have a constitution with more air and space elements at birth, thus creating a mind-body, or dosha, type called Vata dosha. Some have a constitution of fire and water elements, thus creating a Pitta dosha type. Others have more earth and water elements thus creating a Kapha dosha type. Your dosha is your nature at birth, and some are combinations, such as Vata-Pitta or Pitta-Kapha. When we live our lives in balance with our nature, symptoms such as pain will not appear.”(1)
In the case of headaches, Ayurveda categorizes them in accordance with the three mind-body types: vata, pitta, and kapha.
Most headaches are tension headaches. Caused by excess stress, these are often felt at the back of the head and neck. This type of headache feels like a vice is being squeezed around your head. In Ayurvedic medicine, this type of headache is the result of vata, which occurs when there exists a greater influence of air and space elements. It can be caused by neck, shoulder, or back muscle constriction; poor diet; toxins in the colon(2); anxiety; fatigue; alcohol consumption; and fear.
3-step Treatment for Vata Headache
- Boil 1 teaspoon haritaki powder in 1 cup of water. Drink hot. Research has shown haritaki fruit is effective in treating headaches, colds and flu, and abdominal pain.(3) Its antioxidant phytochemicals are potent detoxifiers for all the body’s organs.(4)
- Massage your neck with warm calamus root oil. Calamus root has been found to be a strong anticonvulsant.(5)
- Lie flat on your back (use a small pillow or rolled up towel for neck support) and place 5 drops of warm sesame oil at the opening of each nostril. Breathe slowly and relax for as long as you like. Sesame oil penetrates the skin easily to detoxify.(6)
Pitta the Pain
The pitta headache is known for its sharp, shooting pain—often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light. It can be caused by gastrointestinal imbalance and anger. Ayurveda recognizes pitta as resembling fire. What we eat affects how we feel; people who experience this type of headache should avoid:
- Hot, sour, acidic, and salty foods
Treatments for Pitta Headache
- Include cucumbers, cilantro, and dates in your diet.
“Cool as a cucumber” is based on fact: cucumber contains hydrating electrolytes, the vitamin B complex, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. The aroma itself is known to alleviate stress.(7) Cilantro is a detoxifier and antioxidant; its efficacy as an antimicrobial and effectiveness at removing heavy metals is being researched for water purification.(8) Dates are alkaline and balance the body’s acid content. High in fiber, dates help the body to rid itself of toxins.
- Eat two tablespoons of aloe vera gel three times a day.
One of aloe vera’s many medicinal uses is as a detoxifier, providing support to the immune system.(9)
- Place 3 drops of ghee at the base of each nostril before sleep.
Ghee is the rendered fat of butter. Many studies into its medicial applications have shown it effective for a host of conditions, including constipation and other gastrointestinal disorders, fever, and epilepsy.(10)
- Massage feet and scalp with warm coconut oil before sleep.
Coconut oil improves digestion by retarding growth of parasites and fungi. Because your skin is porous, coconut oil’s nutrients are readily absorbed through it.
Earth + water = mud
Kapha headaches are known by their concentration at the front of the head and are associated with an imbalance of earth or water elements. Often accompanied by congestion, seasonal allergies, and affecting the sinuses, one suffering from a kapha should avoid mucus-producing foods like dairy and sweet tropical fruit. Offsetting the overabundance of sweet with bitter will help to restore balance through spicy, acidic, warm and dry foods.
Treatment of Kapha Headache
- Three times a day, mix 1/2 teaspoon of sitopaladi powder with 1 tablespoon local, raw honey.
Sitopaladi is a mixture of herbs, spices, (tabasheer, piper longum, cardamom, and cinnamon) and sugar. It’s known for its antihistamine and antitussive effects, relieving coughs and congestion, and reducing fever.(11)
- Put 1 drop eucalyptus oil in a bowl of warm water. Bend your head over the bowl and cover it with a towel. Inhale the steam for a few minutes to ease congestion.
Being mindful of the cause of a headache goes a long way toward its treatment and prevention of recurrence. How you sleep, not getting enough sleep, vision problems, dehydration, poor posture, and extensive travel can also result in a headache.