Do you have a pain in your buttocks?
I’m not talking about your boss. I’m talking about the sciatic nerve pain a lot of us suffer from, including Yours Truly.
Sciatic nerve pain (sciatica) is often described as:
- Pain in one side of the buttock or leg
- Pain that worsenes when sitting
- Leg pain that is often described as tingling, burning or shooting
- Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot
- A sharp pain that makes it difficult to stand or walk
Sciatica can vary in location, severity and origin. But before I go any further, and before you try any of these stretches, you should consult a medical doctor to make sure any exercise or stretching routine is safe for you.
As I stated before, sciatica is something many of us struggle with on a constant or intermittent basis. My issues are more intermittent. I know which conditions irritate it, so therefore I try to avoid them. The more you listen to your body and know how it responds to certain conditions and movements, the more you’ll be able to avoid or limit those situations that are detrimental.
Depending on the severity of sciatica, some yoga poses may help alleviate the pain and may also prevent any recurrence, if done on a regular basis.
So let’s talk about the most common causes of sciatic nerve pain:
- A bulging or herniated disk/degenerative disc disease/spinal stenosis. All of which pinch or irritate the nearby nerve, the sciatic nerve. If this is the cause of your sciatica, it is very important that you seek medical attention and/or a physical therapy program. They can design a specific exercise/stretching regimen for you to help manage the situation and perhaps reduce the pain. The program should begin with basic, gentle stretching and gradually lead into the foundational asanas (yoga poses) to help align and lengthen the spine and alleviate tension on the back.
- Piriformis syndrome, which is a condition where the piriformis (a muscle in the buttocks) pushes the sciatic nerve against the tendons beneath it, causing nerve irritation and the familiar buttock, hip and leg pain. If this is the culprit, you need to work on stretching the piriformis. Again, it is very important to start slow and easy. Never push yourself into a stretch and always remember to breathe. If you cannot breathe in a certain position or stretch, you should not stay there. It is also very possible to make your sciatica worse by going too far or overstretching the piriformis.
So which yoga poses help sciatica?
Dandasana (Staff pose)
Start by sitting on your mat or floor with your legs outstretched and palms pressing into the earth alongside your body. Draw your kneecaps up, flex your feet and press through your heels while grounding your sits bones and elongating your spine. If you have tight hamstrings, you can start by sitting on a bolster, block or pillow.
Lengthen the torso by lifting out of the hips and through the crown of your head. Draw the low belly up and in to encourage and support this lift while allowing the spaces in the chest and between the shoulder blades to widen. Take 5 full breaths, inhaling and exhaling completely and evenly.
Modified Gomukhasana (modified Cow Face pose)
Begin by sitting in Dandasana (Staff pose). Cross the left leg over the right, so that the outer calf muscle is resting on the right quadricept. Again, you may modify further by sitting on a bolster, block or pillow if needed.
Ground the sits bones, lift up and out of the pelvis and engage the lower abdominals to encourage spine elongation. Draw the knees toward one another and encourage the top knee down toward the earth. Take 5 full breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist)
Starting in Dandasana, cross the left leg over the right, placing the sole of the left foot on the ground to the outside of the right knee. Make sure both sits bones are pressing evenly into the earth and the hips are square. Lift from the base of your spine through the crown of your head, while allowing your chest to open and your shoulders to relax away from your ears.
Place your left hand on the ground behind your left hip. Inhale and draw your right arm up towards the sky, keeping your low belly drawn up and in. As you exhale, twist to the left, crossing your right elbow over your left knee, or simply place your right hand on the outside of your left knee; gently guiding the knee toward the chest as the torso twists to the left.
With every inhale, find more length in your spine. With every exhale, engage the low belly further and revolve a bit deeper into your twist. Be mindful both sits bones remain on the floor equally and that you do not over rotate. Take 5 full breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
Note: In any posutre, it is important to remember to breathe. If you cannot inhale and exhale fully, you should come out of posture and rest.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-legged King Pigeon pose)
Starting in Tabletop (hands on the floor under shoulders and knees on the floor under hips), bring your left knee forward with the shin directly under your thigh. Slide the right leg back with the top of the foot pressing into the floor. Align your right knee with the hip and try to keep your hips square by drawing the left hip back and the right hip forward.
Support yourself with your hands by firmly pressing into the floor alongside your hips. If needed, you can modify by using a prop (bolster, block or pillow); place it under your left hip for support.
You can slide the left knee out to the side and begin to move your left foot away from your body. Flex your left foot to keep the knee joint engaged and safe. If you feel any pain or pressure, slide the foot back closer to you.
Lift the spine and chest, relax your shoulders, and draw the low belly in to avoid overarching the low back. Relax the left hip toward the earth and lengthen your right leg behind you, keeping the right thigh pressing toward the floor. Keeping the pelvis square, you can hinge forward from the hips and rest your head on your arms, hands, or prop. And breathe.
Stay here for 5 full breaths (or longer… I love this pose), then switch legs and repeat.
If your knees bother you, try this modification (above illustration): Lie on your back. Bend your left leg and bring it up off the floor, so that your thigh bone is perpendicular to the floor and your knee makes a 90 degree angle. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Gently hold on with both hands behind your left thigh and guide your knee in toward your chest. You can also use your right elbow and gently press it into your right thigh to help open your hip more.
Lie flat on your back. If lying flat is uncomfortable for you, bend your knees and place both feet on the floor. Lengthen the back of your neck into a neutral position. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and tuck your shoulder blades under. Draw the belly button down toward your spine and keep the pelvis in a neutral position with the natural curve in the low back.
Bend the right knee into the chest, wrapping your hands around a few inches below the knee joint. Guide the knee in toward your chest using your biceps to draw your knee close, relaxing your hip muscles.
Using your peace fingers, reach for your big toe on the right foot. Keeping the hips and shoulders grounded, begin to straighten your leg by extending your right heel toward the sky. If you have tight hamstrings (like me), keep your knee bent and focus on the stretch you feel from heel to hip. Keep the left leg engaged and long. And breathe.
Take 5 full breaths in this posture, then switch to the opposite side.
Happy stretching and happy practicing!