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Stopping Migraines Before They Start (and After!)

in YogaDork Ed

A fairly accurate illustration of an ocular migraine aura.

by Cari Devine Bjelajac

This morning I woke up and saw a crescent shaped prism right before my eyes. When I closed them, it was still there. This has happened to me only once before – the prism grew until I couldn’t see, setting up a massive panic attack and a trip to the ER. All I could imagine was “brain tumor.”

After thousands of dollars in tests and an intense three-day headache, I was told I experienced what is known as an ocular migraine. Both of my encounters with these visual disturbances were one sided, painless and sudden in their onset. Both started as a little reflective prism-like arc in the corner of my vision field.

Most ocular migraines, also known as optical migraines or migraines with aura, completely disappear within 20-60 minutes. My first started in the corner of my eye while I was driving and began to spread so quickly I pulled over to the side of the road. The fact that I was literally blinded while driving set me into flight mode – as it’s tough to fight when you can’t see! My heart rate and blood pressure skyrocketed, my ability to get a grip, not to mention my rational decision making ability tanked, and I found myself flashing on my last words to my children and my husband. It was terrifying.

After the ER and the 72 hour headache of champions, I did a bit of research and found that migraines, with or without visual disturbances, have a variety of possible causes including: opthalmic issues, food triggers (allergies or sensitivities to additives, sweeteners, caffeine, chocolate – gasp!, etc.), odors, light, sleep deprivation, emotional stress, and muscular tension in the upper body, specifically the levator scapulae, SCM, scalenes, upper trapezius, sub-occipital extensors, and pectoralis major and minor.

There exists a category of headache that I point to when recognizing my own experience. The Cervicogenic Headache (CGH) mainly occurs due to nerve, joint and muscular problems related to the cervical spine, specifically C1 – C3. Sensory input from the roots of the nerves in this area literally make pain in the neck refer to the head and face. Some people feel pressure in the temples, forehead, or all over, or like me, have a vision disturbance.

Both of my episodes occurred in the morning after what must have been award worthy jaw-clentch-a-thons in my sleep. Although it is not clear if head forward position (HFP) causes TMJD or TMJD causes HFP, there exists a link to migraines, and the other 14 categories of headaches according to the IHS (the International Headache Society). Yes. It exists.

Knowledge is power. Today, instead of freaking out when the all too familiar prisim appeard, I grabbed my ALPHA, my Classic YTU Balls, and yoga block and gently unlocked my jaw, released my temporalis and masseter, and finished up with the sub-occipitals. What struck me most was about 3 seconds after I started on the temple area, the prism disappeared. Because I was able to do something to help myself, I didn’t lose it. I didn’t panic. No ER. No huge bill from my medical insurance.

Embodied anatomy is empowering. We are so in tune with our students and clients we often wait for a problem to pop up to tune up our own tissues. Although I tend to my glutes, TFL, psoas, QL, and upper back daily because of the strenuous swimming, cycling and running I do, I forgot how trashed these unsung heroes can get. Can I get an amen?

Here are a couple of videos that are sure to help with those troublesome migraines.

For neck tension that causes headaches, try the Trapezius Trigger Point Tamer:

If you are a jaw clencher and/or suffer from TMJ, try this jaw dropping jaw massage with YTU Teacher Holli Rabishaw:


The study of human movement and performance has kept Cari Devine Bjelajac’s fascination alive for over thirty years as a personal fitness trainer, group exercise instructor, competitive athlete, and mother of three. Her constant search for relevant information led her to Jill Miller and Yoga Tune Up. Applying the principles of alignment as they impact the ability to produce power has drawn cyclists, runners, swimmers, rowers, and other athletes to discover their maximum potential. Teaching non-athletes to find their blind spots through the brilliance of YTU Embodied Anatomy has enabled students to change habitual postures and reduce pain, improve health, and live more happily in their own skin.



2 comments… add one
  • Laura

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, very interesting stuff.

  • Robin

    I get horrible aura migraines. Could you please share the sequence you do to ward them off when they start.

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