Sciatica and Yoga
Sciatica is a pain in the leg due to irritation of the sciatic nerve Pain is often felt in the lower back, hip and leg. It frequently affects the piriformis muscle; much of this pain can be relieved through yoga. If practised correctly, yoga is extremely beneficial for sciatica. Note though, that despite what any teacher says while practicing yoga, it is most important to listen carefully to your body and not push beyond its limits. As soon as you reach a level of pain, back off immediately. Each person with sciatica will respond differently to some poses.
Top 8 poses for Sciatica
1. Supta Padangusthasana. Lie down on back, legs straight and together. Bend the right leg into the chest, place a yoga strap around the outside of the foot. Straighten the right leg, holding on to each end of the strap with both hands and straighten the leg. While keeping both legs straight and tight, pull down on the strap so that you start to pull the leg toward the nose. Then put the ends of the strap in the right hand and slowly drop the leg out to the right, so that it is perpendicular to the body. (It is important to keep the leg straight while doing this.) Breath and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat this on the left side.
2. Adho Mukha Shvanasana- Downward facing dog.
3. Parsvokanasana- Side angle stretch. Stand with feet 3.5� apart. Turn the right toes out so that the foot is perpendicular to the left foot. Press down on the outside of the left foot and bend the right knee so that the thigh is parallel to the floor, and the knee is directly over the ankle (as in Warrior 2). Place the right elbow on the right knee and raise the left arm overhead. There should be a stretch all the way from your left fingertips down to the outside of your left foot. Breath and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the left.
4. Ardha Chandrasana. Half Moon Pose.
5. Setu Bhandasana. Bridge pose. Lying on your back. Bend knees and place feet on mat, hip distance apart. Lift the pelvis up into the air by rolling slightly onto each shoulder. Place a block in between the thighs and squeeze and lift the pelvis further up, pulling the sternum toward the chin. This technique really helps relieve the stress on the lower back and sciatic nerve. Breath and hold the pose for 20 seconds. Come down and repeat 2 more times.
6. Sarvangasana- Shoulder stand.
7. Svasana- Corpse pose.
8. Eka pada kapotasana - Pigeon pose. There are a number of ways to practice pigeon pose; this pose opens the hips and stretches the piriformis muscle (tightness or injury in the piriformis muscle can compress the sciatic nerve leading to sciatica.)
The best way to open the hips if you are suffering from an injury is to do a complete modification of the pose. Lie on the back, bend left knee and place left foot on floor near buttocks. Cross the right on ankle on the right knee (or slightly below where the thigh meets the knee). Keep the right foot flexed and press the right knee away from you. You should feel an opening sensation in the outer hip or buttocks. If you want to come deeper into the pose, weave the right hand through the space that the right legs makes and the left arm around the left leg. Then clasp the hands behind the left thigh and pull the right leg toward your heart. Resisting the right knee away from the body and keeping the right foot flexed. Then repeat on the other side.
Poses to practice with caution
- Forward folds. Forward folds can be aggravating to sciatica at first. Often stretching the back of the legs through a forward fold will just put additional pressure on the sciatic nerve. Basic forward-folds include, Paschimottanasana, Janu-Sirsana, Uttanasana. Practice these with caution, and make sure to pull back if you feel any pain in the back or legs. Note: Paschimottansana can be practiced safely if you put a bolster under the knees. This keeps the legs bent and can relieve some of the pressure from the sciatic nerve.
- Twists. While twists can be very beneficial for sciatica, they can be difficult for some people. Often over-twisting pulls on the piriformis muscle which is directly impacted by the sciatic nerve. Until the spine builds greater flexibility, it is easy for the practitioner to move the twist into their sacrum which can impact the sciatic nerve.
Full list of poses recommended for Sciatica
Below is a complete list of poses that are beneficial for sciatica. For a full description of each pose and how to get into it, see to B.K.S Iyengar �s book, Light on Yoga. Some of these poses may cause more injury, so be extremely careful.
All standing poses. This includes:
- Tadasana- Mountain pose
- Vrksasana- Tree pose*
- Trikonasana (Uttitha and Parvso)- Triangle pose (extended and revolved)
- Pasrvokanasa � Extended side angle stretch
- Virabadhrasana I- Warrior 1
- Virabadhrasana II- Warrior 2
- Virabadhrasana III- Warrior 3*
- Ardha Chandrasana- Half moon pose
- Uttitha Hasta Padahusthasana- translation is: hand on big toe with extended leg
- Parsvottansana- Intense leg stretch; (translation for this pose is extended side flank)
- Prasarita Padotanasana I, II � Legs are spread and extended
Inversions that are recommended for sciatica are:
- Sirsasana- head stand and all its variations
- Sarvangasana- shoulder stand
Floor Asanas that are beneficial for sciatica are:
- Jatara Parivartanasana
- Supta Padangusthasana- Translation is hand holds big toe and drops to side while lying on back.
- Setu Bhandasan- bridge pose
- Paschimottanasana- Seated forward fold (legs together), (practice with caution)
- Urdhva Paschimottanasana- paschimottanasana lying on the back
- Salabhasana- Locust pose
- Dhanurasana- Bow pose
- Ustrasana- Camel pose
- Bhujangasana- King Cobra
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana- Upward facing dog
- Adho Mukha Svanasana- Downward facing dog
- Urdhva mukha paschimotanasana
- Purvotanasana- Intense front body stretch
- Ardha Matseyendrasana
- Parighasana- translation is a beam or a bar used for closing a gate. This pose is practiced with one knee of the ground and the other leg out �stretched. The body then bends sideways over the extended leg.
Asterisks (*) by pose means this is also a balancing pose; which may require additional strength and focus.
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