Destiny, you may believe, is what leads you to fall in love with a particular person…to have or not have children…or to become an artist or animal-rights activist. But could destiny determine the type of headaches you get—for instance, tension headaches that feel like you’re squeezed into a child-sized helmet…migraines that feel like a knife in the eye…or sinus headaches that make it too painful to bend over?
The answer is yes. According to the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, headache tendencies are to some extent preordained by your dosha, or mind-body type. But that doesn’t mean you have to live with the pain. Just as your dosha determines the type and frequency of your headaches, it determines their antidotes, too. Here’s why…
In Ayurveda, an ancient system of healing wisdom, the three basic doshas—vata, pitta and kapha—are said to be derived from the five elements of earth, air, water, fire and space. Each person typically has two governing doshas, with one being the lead dosha. Your dosha shapes everything about you, from your physique to your personality to the particular maladies you’re most vulnerable to. The Ayurvedic way to optimal health depends on pacifying or balancing that dominant dosha, according to neurologist Trupti Gokani, MD, director of North Shore Headache & Wellness, an integrative clinic in Highland Park, Illinois.
To reduce the frequency of your headaches and minimize discomfort when they do arise, Dr. Gokani suggested the following. First, identify your predominant dosha…then follow the appropriate dosha-balancing strategies. Note: Products mentioned below are sold in health-food stores and generally are safe, but it is best to work with an Ayurvedic practitioner who can ensure that they are right for you and suggest dosages.
The three doshas…
VATA. Linked to the elements of air and space, people with this dosha tend to be energetic, lean and muscular. “When these elements come together, it creates movement—think of it as wind blowing through your mind and body,” Dr. Gokani said. Vatas also are excitable, anxious and reactive…are prone to joint or muscle aches, constipation and/or gas (which can create stress that contributes to headaches)…and often feel cold.
Headache type: If you are a vata, you are vulnerable to tension headaches. The pain may be a throbbing in the back of your head or neck or it may feel like a constricting band around your head. Typically, headaches arise when you push yourself too hard, disrupt your schedule or repress your emotions. What helps…
- Sticking to a schedule is important for vatas. Get up and go to bed at the same time each day…have meals on a regular schedule, too.
- Eat plenty of warm, cooked foods that are high in fiber. To aid digestion, season foods with cinnamon, cumin, fennel and/or ginger.
- Drink warm or hot water throughout the day. Avoid cold drinks, which aggravate vata.
- Supplement with magnesium, which is calming. For patients with a vata imbalance, Dr. Gokani also considers the herbs jata mamsi and brahmi to promote relaxation…and triphala to help heal digestive distress.
PITTA. Associated with fire and water, pitta is the dosha linked to metabolism and inflammation. Pitta people are average in size and build…tend to be intense “type A” perfectionists…and often feel too warm even when others are cold.
Headache type: If you are a pitta, you are prone to migraines. Typically (but not always) the pain is in the eye area on the right side and is accompanied by nausea, light sensitivity and irritability. What helps…
- Cool down by eating more fresh fruits and salads…and season foods with cooling herbs, such as cilantro and turmeric. Avoid spicy foods and hot beverages, which worsen a pitta imbalance.
- After meals, drink one-quarter cup of aloe vera juice or chew a slice of turmeric root.
- Relax in the evening. Pitta women often keep going at full steam long past bedtime, then have trouble sleeping, thus increasing migraine risk. Better: Go to bed by 10 pm.
- Lighten up. Noting that she herself falls into the pitta category, Dr. Gokani said, “We’re the folks who need to relax, have some fun and allow life to flow a bit more, which may include allowing mistakes—our own and other people’s—to just happen.”
KAPHA. Governed by the elements of earth and water, kapha is associated with stability and groundedness. Kaphas often are large-boned…may suffer from congestion, fluid retention, body stiffness and lethargy…and have a tendency to gain weight.
Headache type: If you are a kapha, you are prone to sinus headaches, which affect the forehead and face and intensify when you bend down. “This damp, congested, heavy state is a sign that the body needs to cleanse itself and detoxify,” Dr. Gokani said. What helps…
- Avoid antihistamines, which can impair your system’s natural efforts to self-cleanse, Dr. Gokani advised. Instead, to irrigate the sinuses and relieve the congestion that can lead to or exacerbate sinus headaches, use a neti pot daily (or less frequently if nasal passages become too dry). You can follow this with a treatment called nasya. It involves placing a few drops of medicated sesame oil (which contains dosha-balancing herbs such as mustard seed) in each nostril using a dropper or the tip of your pinky finger to help lubricate nasal passages, calm the mind and relieve headaches.
- Reduce your intake of dairy products and foods that contain gluten (a protein in wheat, rye and barley), since these are difficult to digest.
- Season foods with energizing hot spices, such as black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and mustard seed. Be particularly liberal with cinnamon, which also is helpful for cleansing, Dr. Gokani said.
- Incorporate more movement in your day to stimulate your sluggish system. Especially beneficial: Get up no later than 6 am and take a walk outdoors. Early-morning air is filled with the energy force prana, which can help keep you energized and headache-free all day.