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Yoga for Sciatica Relief

What is Sciatica?

The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body. It starts as a collection of spinal nerves extending from the L4 to S3 spinal segments of the lumbar spine and sacral plexus and extends down from your lower back through your hips, buttocks and down through each leg. Sciatica refers to the pain that radiates down along the path of the sciatic nerve: the lower back, buttock, hamstring area and calf, and often only on one side of the body. The good news is that people that practice yoga for sciatica relief often achieve results within only a few weeks.

What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatica is a term used to describe any irritation of the sciatic nerve, the typical causes of which can be either muscular or skeletal.

Piriformis pressure is one of the leading causes of sciatica. The piriformis is a pyramid-shaped muscle situated within the pelvis, deep below the gluteus muscle complex and is one the of external rotators of the femur bone that functions to turn out and abduct the thigh. The sciatic nerve runs between the piriformis and the tendons of the sacral and pelvic bones, and a tight piriformis muscle can exert significant pressure on the sciatic nerve.

sciatica piriformis

The skeletal cause of sciatica could be compression in the lower spine, which might be the result of two conditions:

  • A herniated disk causing nerve root compression is one of the leading causes of sciatica. The rubbery disks between the vertebrae consist of a soft nucleus surrounded by a tougher annulus. A herniated disc occurs when the nucleus pushes through a fissure in the annulus. Sciatica symptoms occur when the herniation compresses the sciatic nerve.

sciatica herniated disc

  • Spinal stenosis (or narrowing) is a condition that occurs when the small spinal canal, which contains the nerve roots and spinal cord, becomes compressed. This compression causes a pinching of the spinal cord or nerve roots, which leads to pain, cramping or numbness.

Ideally, one should consult a doctor to determine whether the cause of the sciatica is skeletal or muscular. A herniated disk is a significant problem only in severe cases where it may require medication and perhaps surgical intervention.

Yoga for Sciatica

Research has shown that practicing yoga for sciatica relief is both safe and beneficial. Whether the cause is skeletal or muscular, it is vital to strengthen the core and abdominal muscles to support the back body better. Asanas that stretch the lower back and hamstrings also have a considerable effect in relieving sciatic pain.

A herniated disc seldom genuinely requires surgery, and a mindful yoga practice can lengthen, strengthen and align the lower back, thereby lessening the symptoms and sometimes even reducing the herniation.

A tight piriformis will require a targeted approach to stretching this muscle. As always, one must realise that this process takes time and regular practice and should be done mindfully to avoid injury.

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Sitting can be both a cause and catalyst of sciatica pain in that it can lead to tightness in the lower back, and sitting for long periods such as when driving can cause the pain to flare up. This relaxing asana lengthens the spine, spreads the lower back and relaxes the glutes.

  1. Kneel in the centre of the mat and spread the knees about hip distance apart with the big toes together.
  2. Sit back onto the heels curling the tailbone down and extend the torso forward, allowing the forehead to descend towards the floor.
  3. Extend the arms backwards with the palms facing up.
  4. Five breaths.

Parsva Balasana (Thread the Needle Pose)

This gentle flow from all fours into a twist of the upper body opens the neck, shoulders, back and glutes, also easing the piriformis into length.

  1. Rise onto all fours with the knees hip width apart and the place hands shoulder-width apart. Turn the right hand inward so that the fingers face to the left.
  2. Inhale, twist the torso to the left and extend the left arm upwards looking up toward the left thumb. Push back into the right buttock to keep the hips squared.
  3. Exhale, twist the torso to the right and feed the left arm between the right Repeat on and the right knee to ‘thread the needle’. Allow the shoulder and the left side of the head to rest on the ground, and the left arm extends to the right, palm up. The right side upper arm and forearm form a vertical right-angle. Keep pushing back into the right buttock to keep the hips squared.
  4. Repeat five times.
  5. Change sides.

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Lord of the Fishes Pose) Variation

This is an easy half spinal twist that encourages the piriformis to lengthen and release, but one must be mindful to start gently and increase the intensity of the twists progressively with each breath, backing off at any hint of sharp pain.

  1. Sit with both legs extended forward.
  2. Bend the left leg and ground the foot to the outside of the right knee.
  3. Bend the right leg and bring the heel to the outside of the left hip.
  4. Interlace the hands around the left knee and extend the spine upwards.
  5. Start to revolve the upper torso to the left and hook the right elbow over the outside of the right knee. The right palm faces the left side with the fingers extended upward. Cup the fingers of the left hand onto the ground behind the tailbone.
  6. Inhale, press the tailbone down and lift the crown. Exhale, draw the waist in and twist.
  7. Five breaths.
  8. Repeat on the other side.

Sucirandhrasana (Reverse Pigeon Pose)

This supine stretch helps to relieve compression of the sciatic nerve by stretching the lower back, glutes and piriformis.

  1. Start by lying on the back. Bend the knees and place the feet on the ground hip distance apart.
  2. Place the outer right ankle above the left knee and let the right knee drop to the right side.
  3. Lift the left foot and feed the right hand through the legs and interlace the fingers around the left thigh. For a stronger stretch, interlace the fingers around the left shin.
  4. Keeping the shoulders on the ground, gently pull the leg towards the chest.
  5. Five breaths.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

Adho Mukha Virasana (Downward Facing Hero Pose)

This asana is similar to Balasana, but with the arms extended forward. It also lengthens the spine, spreads the lower back and relaxes the glutes. Also, it provides an excellent general hand and foot position to rise into Adho Mukha Svanasana.

  1. Kneel in the centre of the mat and spread the knees about hip distance apart with the big toes together.
  2. Sit the buttocks onto the heels, stretch the torso and arms forward and descend the forehead towards the ground.
  3. Five breaths.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

This pose lengthens the spine and stretches the lower back and hamstrings.

  1. From Adho Mukha Virasa, tuck the toes under and lift the pelvis towards the ceiling. Place the feet hip distance apart, keeping the inner feet parallel.
  2. Drop the heels down, roll the pelvis forward, externally rotate the upper arms and push strongly through the hands.
  3. Allow the head to hang, relaxing the neck and shoulders and gaze towards the knees, thighs or navel.
  4. Five breaths.

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Bhujangasana has been used for centuries if not millennia as a treatment for Ghridrasi, the Ayurvedic term for sciatica. The cobra pose strengthens the muscles of the back and improves spinal flexibility.

  1. Lie on the stomach with the legs extended backwards, toes together and relax the spine.
  2. Place the palms of both hands slightly forward of each shoulder.
  3. Inhale, push into the hands straightening the arms and rolling the shoulders back and down.
  4. The thighs and pelvis remain firmly rooted on the ground.
  5. For a stronger backbend, move the hands back towards the lower ribs.
  6. If comfortable, raise the neck and gaze up and backwards.
  7. Five breaths.

Salabhasana (Locust Pose)

Salabhasana is another effective asana for sciatica. The locust post also strengthens the lower back and improves spinal flexibility.

  1. Lie on the stomach with the legs extended backwards, toes together and relax the spine.
  2. With the chin on the floor, place your arms close to your side body, palms facing up.
  3. Inhale, raise the legs, arms and the torso off the ground, balancing the body on the navel area.
  4. Relax and extend the neck and gaze about two metres ahead.
  5. Take two breaths, then with a slow exhalation, lower the body to the floor.
  6. Repeat five times.

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) Variation

This variation is a comfortable spinal stretch and easy hip opener.

  1. Bring the soles of the feet together into a loose Baddha Konasana, with the heels about a foot away from the pelvis.
  2. Interlace the hands around the front of the feet.
  3. Exhale, fold forward and allow the head to descend toward the arches of the feet and ground into the sit bones.
  4. Five breaths.

Navasana (Boat Pose)

This is a great strengthening pose for the core, which ultimately supports the lower back.

  1. Sit with the legs extended forward, hands either side of the hips.
  2. Bend the knees and lift the heels, toes on the ground.
  3. Extend the arms forward, palms facing each other.
  4. Push chest forward, roll shoulders back and pull the arms into the shoulder sockets.
  5. Lift the shins off the ground parallel to the floor, feet together and point the toes.
  6. For a stronger core workout, straighten the legs.
  7. Two breaths.
  8. Repeat five times.

Setubhandasana (Bridge Pose) Variation

This mild backbend

  1. Start by lying on the back. Bend the knees and place the feet on the ground hip distance apart.
  2. Exhale, draw the heels towards the buttocks, pull the upper arms into the sides and point the forearms and fingers toward the ceiling.
  3. Inhale and push into the upper arms and feet, raising the pelvis towards the ceiling.
  4. Five breaths.

Supta Padangusthasana (Reclined Big Toe Pose) Strap Variation

This variation of Supta Padangusthasana utilises a strap around the ball of the foot and the base of the skull. The effect is two-fold: as a hamstring stretch and a spinal stretch that flattens the sacrum on the ground, easing tension in the lower back. The head, neck, shoulders and arms are relaxed.

  1. Start by lying on the back with the legs internally rotated and extended forward.
  2. Lift the right leg and wrap the strap around the ball of the foot and the base of the skull, just below the occipital bone.
  3. Tighten the strap until the head is lifted off the ground and the straightened leg is in full flexion.
  4. Lay the arms to the sides and relax back
  5. Five breaths.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

Ardha Pavan Muktasana (Half Wind Relieving Pose) Strap Variation

This strap variation pulls the head of the femur bone toward the heel providing a release in the sacroiliac joint and a stretch in the piriformis

  1. Lying on the back, draw the left knee to the chest and wrap the strap around the left hip crease and the ball of the right foot.
  2. Lightly bend the right leg and tighten the strap.
  3. Interlace the hands around the left shin and pull it towards the chest, while gently extending and internally rotating the right leg.
  4. Five breaths.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Spinal Twist Pose)

  1. Lying on the back, extend the legs forward and extend the arms out to the side.
  2. Bend the right knee until it’s above the hip and shift the hip to the right.
  3. Exhale, twist the abdomen to the left and lower the right knee towards the floor.
  4. Keep shoulders grounded and place the left hand on the right thigh.
  5. Five breaths.
  6. Inhale, return to centre
  7. Repeat on the other side.

Savasana (Corpse Pose)

Need we say any more?

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