What is Sciatic Pain?
The sciatic nerve is your body’s largest nerve. Sciatic pain can stretch from your lower back all the way to past your knee, usually just experienced on one side. Sciatica can also be associated with numbness or pins-and-needles in the same area, as well as not being able to lift your feet up (as if you were to walk on your heels). It can be caused by a herniated disc (aka slipped disc) which pinches the nerve.
The sciatic nerve can also be pinched by a narrowed spinal canal. This is actually a common condition that comes with age, but it can result in a very painful experience if the change in the shape of your spine puts pressure on your sciatic nerve. Something similar happens to some pregnant women, as their weight distributes differently over a short period of time. Sciatic pain can also be a result of an injury, from physical activity or an accident.
How can Yoga Help?
Doctors know that exercise can actually help sciatic pain, even though you might feel like never moving again. Specifically, there are some yoga poses that focus on opening the hips and stretching hamstrings. These can help relieve a lot of the pain and discomfort that comes with sciatic pain. For each pose, only stretch as far as you can comfortably. Hold each pose up to 10 seconds, and be sure to stretch both sides of your body (for example, if you’re twisting to the right, reverse the position and twist to the left afterwards).
Bound Angle Pose. Sit down, bringing your feet together in front of you, knees out to the sides. As you inhale, focus on pressing your hips to the floor and lengthening your spine toward the ceiling. You can place a folded towel under your hips or knees to make this more comfortable.
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose. From the bound angle pose, extend one leg straight out (let’s start with the right leg). Cross your left leg over top of your right, so that your left foot is placed next to your right knee. Then bend your right leg, bringing your foot close to your body. Reach your right hand around your left knee and hug it close to your chest. Focus on pressing your hips to the ground and keeping your chest stretched.
Smiling Cow Pose (Variation). Start from the bound angle pose. Extend one leg out in front of you. Slowly fold your torso forward, bringing your nose towards your bent leg.
Sleeping Pigeon Pose. Start from the bound angle pose, then extend one leg behind you, keeping the other foot underneath your body, between your hands. If you can, lie your torso down over your foot, extending your arms in front of you.
Open Lizard Pose. Start from a lunge position, with your bent right leg in front and straight left leg behind. Place both hands on the floor to the left of your right leg (ie. the inside side), keeping your left leg balanced on your toes. Lower your torso to the ground as much as you can. If you can’t get your forearms on the ground, you can place a yoga block or some folded towels underneath your arms.
Reclined Twist. Lie on your back, with your legs extended. Bring your knees to chest, crossing one leg over the other (let’s start with the right over left). Lean your legs to the left until your left leg is touching the ground. Keep both shoulders flat on the ground.
Supported Bridge Pose. Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Lift your pelvis towards the ceiling, using your hands to support your hips. Be careful not to strain your neck while doing this pose.
The more you practice these poses, the better you’ll be at doing them. Never strain yourself beyond what you can handle, flexibility will come with practice. Work your way up to trying all 7 exercises for natural pain relief!