5 Yoga Poses For Sciatica + How The Practice Can Offer Relief
Sciatica is a searing pain, tingling, or numbness that shoots from your lower back down the back of one leg. It's not a condition itself, but rather a symptom of an underlying one. You may have heard of—or even suffered from—sciatic nerve pain without really knowing what it is or how to manage it.
What are sciatic nerves?
You have two sciatic nerves that run from the base of your spine, down through the buttocks, underneath the piriformis (a key external hip rotator), down the back of your thighs, and all the way into your heels and soles of your feet. Sciatica1 refers to tenderness or compression of the sciatic nerve.
How yoga for sciatica can help
The first thing to do if you experience this type of pain is to visit a doctor to determine the cause of sciatica in your specific case.
Two of the most common root causes are a herniated disc or tight hips (specifically tight external hip rotators). If either is responsible, you may be able to get some relief through yoga for sciatica.
The following five yoga poses for sciatica are reclining, so you can do them first thing in the morning and last thing at night to take pressure off your sciatic nerve and ease the discomfort. Please be careful not to move in any way that causes pain or aggravates your underlying issue. Always listen to your body; it's giving you messages all the time, and sometimes they're not so subtle.
How to: Lie on your back on a soft surface and take a deep breath in. When you exhale, hug your right knee into your chest. On every exhalation, try to soften and let go of a little more tension in your pelvis. Relax your jaw, neck, and shoulders, and breathe into your lower back. Repeat on the other side. Relax into each side 5 to 10 breaths.
To release: Take a deep breath in, exhale, and drop you leg. After completing the pose on each side, hug both knees into your chest and rock a little side to side.
Dead pigeon stretches the deep external hip rotators, including the piriformis. In many cases of sciatica, the piriformis is what's putting pressure on the sciatic nerve and causing your pain.
How to: Bring both feet flat to the mat. Rest your right ankle on your left knee. Take a deep breath in. On an exhalation, thread your hand through the triangle between your legs and hold the back of your left thigh with both hands. Gently pull your left leg in toward you. Flex your right foot to protect your right knee. Relax your neck and shoulders. If you are more flexible, you can reach through to take hold of your shin. Press the back of your pelvis into the mat. Repeat on the other side. Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths on each side.
To release: Take a deep breath in. On the exhale, bring your foot back to the mat.
Bridge pose is a gentle backbend (spinal extension) that can help heal a herniated disc.
How to: Rest your hands by your sides, palms facedown for bridge pose. Walk your feet back until your fingertips graze your heels, and check that your feet are hip-width apart and parallel. Take a breath here. Inhale, press into your heels, and lift your hips all the way up. Exhale, relax into the pose. If you can, roll your shoulders underneath you, interlace your fingers, straighten your arms, and press your little fingers into the mat or bed. Lift your chest up and back as you draw your lower abs in. Take slow, deep, and even breaths at the top of the pose. If you feel compression at your lower back, lower your hips, curl your tailbone under, and release your inner thighs down to make space at your lower back. Hold the pose for 3 to 5 breaths.
To release: Take one more deep breath in, exhale and lower.
Reclining spinal twist eagle
Our next pose is a reclining spinal twist variation that releases tension at the lower back and stretches the deep hip rotators.
How to: Cross your right knee in front of your left knee. If you can, wrap your right toes around the back of your left ankle (like in eagle pose). Bring your right arm out to the side, palm facing up. Take a deep breath in. On the exhale, gently lower both knees to the left and turn your head to the right. Rest your left hand on your right thigh. It's OK if your knees don't come all the way down. Breathe into the stretch. Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths on each side.
To release: Take a deep breath in. On an exhalation, use your abs to bring your knees back up to center. Unwrap your legs and hug your knees into your chest for the other side.
We'll finish with happy baby, another excellent posture for taking pressure off the sciatic nerve.
How to: Keep your feet together, open your knees out wide, and stretch your hands through to take hold of the outsides of your feet. Bring your feet out over your knees, and gently pull them down toward the mat. Flex your feet, press the back of your pelvis into the mat, and stay here for a few deep breaths. You can hold onto your ankles if that is more comfortable. Relax into the pose and rock gently from side to side. Hold the pose for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
To release: Inhale, exhale. Let go of your feet and let them gently drop to the floor.
If you have a couple of extra minutes, lie in savasana or with your feet flat on the mat, and feel your body. Notice where you feel pain or tension and breathe into that spot for a couple of minutes. And as always, be gentle with yourself.
Abi Carver is deeply passionate about sharing the practices and philosophy of yoga. She has completed two 200-Hr Yoga Alliance Teacher Training, is a NASM Qualified Personal Trainer, and lives wherever the winds take her. Her video series, Yoga 15, clarifies and simplifies ancient yogic techniques to make the practice accessible to a new audience of men and women, constantly looking for ways to improve the lives of themselves and those around them. She believes that yoga is one of the most powerful tools to ease the physical aches and pains we encounter in modern life and bring us into a state of calm, clarity and creativity. Follow her on Instagram for yoga tips, inspiration and motivation.