I recently had a student approach me who had been suffering from sciatica for a while and was looking for ways her yoga practice might be able to support her. Sciatica is tricky because it involves the interplay of several different things: bone, muscle and nerves, all of which can be playing a role in causing the flare ups, and for different people it will manifest differently. As with many issues in the body, its not all about stretching either, if other muscles are not strengthened the stretching only does so much good.
In general, some things to watch if sciatica is present in your practice:
- Avoid all seated forward folds with legs straight, this will simply aggrevate the sciatica.
- Modify with poses like janu sirsana where one leg is bent and you are stretching over only one extended leg.
- Bend knees in downward dog and focus on the back lengthening and pelvic tilt rather than pushing the heels to the floor.
Here are some poses to help support you in home a practice:
Work several different variations: 1) only lift legs; 2) lift chest and legs; 3) lift chest and legs, then open legs on inhale close the legs on exhale. This will help to strengthen the piriformis which is often at the root of sciatica issues.
Work variations on this pose as well: 1) begin with feet and legs close together; 2) move to standard feet and knees hip-width apart; 3) move to feet and knees as wide as the mat. This too helps strengthen many supporting muscles.
Seated Spinal Twist
Now move into stretching the piriformis with a simple seated spinal twist. If it is too intense with the bottom leg bent, take the option of extending the bottom leg.
Pigeon Pose/Thread the Needle
Finish stretching with one or both of these poses. If pigeon is not accessible for you simply work with thread the needle as your variation.