May 12

Yoga Stretches for Sciatica and Sciatic Nerve Pain

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Sciatica, what a pain in the arse!

Jokes aside, sciatic nerve pain can be really frustrating and debilitating.

But don't worry, I got you  😉

I'm going to share 10 simple stretches for soothing sciatica that you can do right now that might help give you immediate relief.

So grab a mat and a pillow, scroll down and get your stretch on!

More...

The What, Where and Why of Sciatica

Many people, at some point or the other, experience sciatica or sciatic nerve pain. Characterized by a pinching sensation on one side of the lower back, irritation around the outer hip and butt or numbness and radiating pain down the back of the leg.

The sciatic nerve originates in the lower spine and then travels through the hips and down each leg all the way to the foot. And so, symptoms can vary from type of sensation to area of sensation. Click here to see a diagram.

But why tho? 

But Y Tho?

Really, sciatica can be brought about from some movement you did or by not moving enough – like sitting for prolonged periods of time. The specific cause can vary from a bulging disk or bone spur of the spine, inflammation or muscle spasms and in some rare cases sacroiliac joint dysfunction. Getting an accurate diagnosis from your doctor is important if the pain is affecting your quality of life or if the symptoms persist beyond a few days.

In most cases it will resolve with a bit of time but you can also assist the alleviation of sciatica with some gentle yoga and stretches.

Release and Relief Sciatica Stretches 

Whatever the cause is for your sciatica,, gentle movements and stretching can often bring relief and can be helpful in understanding how the sciatica was brought about and what you can do to prevent it from happening again.

The most important thing to note here is that pain is an indicator of a movement you SHOULD NOT BE DOING. So as you practice the yoga poses and stretches in this blog, move slowly and with awareness, avoiding anything that creates sharp feelings of pain. Some discomfort is okay when stretching, but tuning in to your body’s feedback is key.

Prepare a nice space for yourself where you can be comfortable on the floor with a yoga mat or blanket and have some pillows around. You know what? Go ahead and put on some soothing music and make some tea too. It might sound fru-fru but the more you relax, the more relief you will get.

Shishuasana and Prasarita Balasana

Let’s begin really slowly with Child’s Pose and Wide-Knee Child’s Pose. 

Shishuasana / Balasana — Child's Pose

Shishuasana / Balasana — Child's Pose

Starting with Child's Pose, come to sit on your shins with your legs together, settle your sit bones to your heels and then slowly walk your hands forward, lying your belly and chest over your own thighs. Place your forehead on the floor, arms curled around you with hands next to your feet or arms stretched out ahead of you. 

Place a blanket under your shins if you find the pressure on the floor uncomfortable and place a blanket or pillow behind your knees if you find the compression of the knee joint uncomfortable. Make sure you’re comfy because it’s ideal to stay here for at least a minute, but longer if you can. Let your breaths be slow and calm, but deep. Feel the belly press against the thighs during inhales using this sensation to keep you aware of your breathing.

Prasarita Balasana — Wide Knee Child's Pose

Prasarita Balasana — Wide Knee Child's Pose

You can also try this as a Wide-Knee Child's Pose, making some extra space for the chest to drop down to the floor (this might also make it easier to breath) and allowing a more spacious stretch for the hips. Here you can use a pillow under the chest and either place your forehead, chin or chest on the floor (whatever feels more natural). Alternatively, place the hands on top of each other and rest the forehead on the hands. 

This restorative pose is one of the most calming poses and benefits range from stretching the hips and the spine to improving blood circulation and digestion.

The Caterpillar and The Butterfly

These are two of my favorite Yin Yoga poses.

Caterpillar Pose

Caterpillar Pose

For Caterpillar Pose, come to sitting on your bum. Place a pillow under your knees, using a plusher pillow if you are tighter or less flexible. Tuck your chin and allow the spine to round before lowering your head down towards your shins. Don’t try to go as deep as you can right away. Stop at the first signs of stretch in the neck and back. Just hang out there, like a ragdoll, letting gravity work slowly. Be gentle with these. Try to stay for 1-3 minutes in each pose. Remaining pretty still and relaxed, avoid going in and out or fidgeting. Focus on pacifying breathing to make your poses more meditative. 

Think caterpillar in cocoon...

Curl out of the pose slowly from the base of the spine — slow, slow, slow — letting the head come up last and then just remain upright for a few breaths. It’s normal to feel vulnerable over the muscles around the spine for a few moments after. Lie down flat on your back, legs stretched out, and relax the back.

Baddha Konasana — Cobbler Pose

Baddha Konasana — Cobbler Pose

Butterfly Pose

Butterfly Pose

When you feel ready, come back to sitting and let's transform into Butterfly Pose

This time sit with the knees bent out to the sides and the soles of your feet together. You can hold onto your feet with your hands, keep an upright spine, and pulse your knees up and down like gently flapping wings, loosening up the hips joints. You can fold forward with this pose too, again holding the pose in a soft stretch for a few minutes.

Same as with Caterpillar Pose, you can curl out slowly. Once again, it will feel really good to lie down flat on the mat. This time place your feet on the floor, wider apart than your hips, and lean the knees together — like chilling on the beach. Feel the back of the hips open and soften.

Deer pose and Sleeping Pigeon

Mrigiasana and Salamba Kapotasana are similar but Deer Pose (Mrigiasana) is a bit more accessible if you are not yet very mobile and flexible in your hips, so it’s a good place to start. 

Mrigiasana — Deer Pose (top view)

Mrigiasana — Deer Pose (top view)

Mrigiasana — Deer Pose (folding forward)

Mrigiasana — Deer Pose (folding forward)

Finding Deer Pose, come to a seated position and allow yourself to sit more over to the affected hip. Then bring your legs to the opposite direction into an S-shape. This pose is also sometimes called 90/90 as you try to bring your legs into two 90-degree angles, bending at the hips and knees (with the leg that is experiencing sciatica in front of you and the other leg to your side). You can keep the body upright at first and perhaps even taking a small spinal twist here by turning your shoulders away from your legs. Then you can try folding your chest over the shin of the front leg, prop yourself up with pillows and use your arms to decide how deep you want to drop in to start.

The more your chest is over towards the foot side of the leg, the more intense the sensation may become over your outer hip and even upper hamstring. For a more gentle stretch, keep your chest over your own thigh and knee. Hold for anywhere between 30 seconds to 5 minutes each side. Let your body decide how long you stay. Remember you can also return to these stretches tomorrow and then maybe hold for a bit longer — especially if it’s giving you a feeling of release and relief. Do both sides for balance.

To release the pose, you can stretch both legs out in front of you and rock the legs from side to side. You can also move straight into the same pose on the other side if you place your hands behind your back, lean backwards, then lift both knees skywards and over to the other side ☺ fancy.

If Deer Pose felt good and your hips will allow then you can try Pigeon Pose too.

Salamba Kapotasana — Supported Pigeon Pose

Salamba Kapotasana — Supported Pigeon Pose

Sleeping Pigeon Pose (folding forward)

Sleeping Pigeon Pose (folding forward)

To enter Pigeon Pose from Table Pose (on hands and knees), bring the knee of the affected leg towards the wrist on the same side and then shimmy your foot over to the opposite side. Lower the opposite hip towards the heel of that front foot, then stretch the back leg further backwards. Try to keep the hips square, so avoid falling over to one side.

You can stay upright here with the chest lifted, using the hands for support, until you feel more comfortable. Then lower down again for the “Sleeping” or passive version of this pose.

To release the pose, push into the hands and the knees and slide the front leg backwards and lie on your belly for a few moments, gently rocking the hips from side to side. Even if you don’t have sciatic nerve pain on the other side, it's just good practice to stretch both legs and keep the body feeling mobile and balanced.

Shoelace pose and Firelog

These two poses are in some ways similar to the two above, but each pose is different and by doing several you might discover THE pose that helps you the most; or at least the one that discloses where you are the most trapped up. It’s all an adventure of discovery.

The following two poses definitely require a bit more hip mobility and might be more challenging. Don’t be discouraged if they feel inaccessible for now... just continue practicing the other stretches until these open up.

Gomukhasana — Cow Face / Shoelace Pose

Gomukhasana — Cow Face / Shoelace Pose

Gomukhasana or Cow Face Pose is also know as Shoelace Pose in Yin yoga. From a seated position, bring one leg over the other (“lady sit”), externally rotating at the hips. Ideally you would stack the knees on top of each other in the center and sweep the feet around the sides of the hips.

But remember that if the poses are new to your body, then you might have to modify them a bit to start. You can prop up your sit bones with a yoga block or pillows to make this easier. The top leg might not fully align with the other knee and maybe the foot doesn’t quite reach the floor – that is okay. Notice where your mobility is at right now and be gentle.

Being kind and patient with yourself is an integral part of your yoga practice.

Sit upright until this pose becomes softer, then you can begin folding forward. Feeling more ease in this pose can take a few minutes or a few years – everyone’s body and journey is different. Keep your expectations light.

To release the pose un-stack the legs and stretch them out in front of you rolling a bit from side to side over the outer hips to massage them gently against the floor. 

Remember to do both sides.

Agnistambhasana — Firelog / Double Pigeon Pose

Agnistambhasana — Firelog / Double Pigeon Pose

Agnistambhasana is also called knee-to-ankle pose, Square Pose, Double Pigeon Pose or Firelog Pose. From sitting, bring the shins of both legs to stack on top of each other (ideally with shins squared and lining up the knee and ankle of opposite sides). If you are finding it difficult to get into this pose (or if the top knee is lifted very high), place blocks or pillows under your sit bones to give yourself more room.

This pose can be tricky to get into and can feel quite intense over the outer hips. I generally find though, that it does improve — at least a little bit — the first time you try it if you can just relax the breath, soften the hips and take your time. Seriously, take your time.

If you experience pain in the knees or if this pose is just not within your practice right now, then leave it out. No sweat.

Crossed-Legged Forward Fold (Uttanasana variation)

This is one of my favorite poses because THIS is the one that gave me the most relief from the time I had sciatica.

That’s right, I have been there too.

Funny enough, I had been helping to treat people for sciatica with both Yoga and Thai Massage... and then one day I felt the same sensations described to me by so many of my clients. In a way it was great because I was going to finally understand sciatic nerve pain through experience, and now I had the opportunity to put my own advise and techniques to the test.

All of these poses felt like they were helping, but this Cross-Legged variation of Forward Fold was the one that hit the spot!

Cross feet and align your toes

Cross feet and align your toes

Uttanasana — Cross leg variation

Uttanasana — Cross leg variation

If you are tight, then have some blocks or a chair around for support.

From standing, cross the legs over one another (start with the affected leg at the back) and try aligning the little toes as much as possible. Try to keep the weight evenly balanced between both feet. Fold over slowly with your hands on a chair, low table or yoga blocks. You should feel quite a bit of stretch and release over the outer part of the leg that is behind. If you can, reach the hands to the floor. Hang the head relaxed and breath. Breath.

After each stretch, you can replace the feet to normal and relax for a few moments. 

Yoga for runners or cyclists is a wonderful way to keep stretching the legs and balance all the repetitive elliptical movements you are doing while running or cycling. The more you feel it, the more it is meant for you.

Spinal twists, yummmm...

The final poses that I have for you today are Spinal Twists. If you have a favorite spinal twist you can do that one, but this simple and supported variation targets the lower back and outer hip area in a very gentle way that allows you to be there for longer. Sleepy, sleepy time yoga.

Supported Spinal Twist

Supported Spinal Twist

Lying on your back, bring one knee towards your chest and gently pull that knee toward you with your hands. Rock gently from side to side. Then use the opposite hand to guide the knee across the bellybutton to the other side of the body.

Use a big pillow next to your hip so that the foot and knee can rest comfortably and avoid lifting the opposite shoulder off the floor. If that happens, stick a pillow or blanket under the shoulder too. Try to keep the head, neck and shoulders grounded and relaxed. Get comfortable and hold these poses for up to 5 minutes. Gentle is better, don’t try to twist deep. Let the back of the hips and the low back soften in this state. Yummy yum.

To come out of the pose, gently roll onto your back, keeping the knee bent towards your chest and wait a moment or two before you extend the leg out again to meet the other one. Then change sides.

Home stretch: Savasana

Always end your yoga practice with Savasana.

Savasana — Corpse Pose

Savasana — Corpse Pose

Come to lie flat on your back and stretch out. For the sequence we have done, I do recommend putting a pillow or two under your knees, this will really help the lower back and pelvis sink and spread into the mat. If you have an eye pillow and lavender oil – bonus! Let the relaxation begin!

Separate the legs and let the feet flop out to the sides. Shimmy your shoulders blades together a bit underneath you and allow the front of the shoulders to externally rotate and open. Move the arms away from the body, and turn the palms of the hands to face up.

Once you are comfortable, resist the urge to move and come to complete stillness apart from the gentle ebb and flow of your breathing.

Eyes closed and mind open.

Stay here for at least 5 minutes…make that 10! Feel the bones resetting back into place with the firmness of the floor. Let gravity pull your weight down and make you heavy and soft.
Notice the sensations in your body, and use symbolic exhales to flush out any remaining tension.

When you are ready to come out of Savasana, begin to make small movements in the body noticing how everything feels. Slowly bring your body to wakefulness. Take a long stretch pointing the toes and reaching with the arms overhead. Roll onto your right-hand side into a fetal position. Then come up to a seated position and smile to your whole being.

Stay Stretching

I hope that you loved this gentle opening practice and I trust that you will find some relief.

Even after the symptoms have faded away, you can continue with these poses and more to keep finding freedom in your body and liberation of your mind. Don't wait for pain to tell you it's time to move your body.

I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below and let me know if you have questions or thoughts.

Need a little summin' summin' extra?

P.S. I also made a video tutorial about Thai Massage and body-work for sciatica relief. Grab a friend and enjoy the beautiful and healing art of Thai Massage!


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