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5 Yoga Poses to Soothe Your Sciatica

Allie Flavio
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I have a confession before we dive into this soothing article . . .
 
I caused my own sciatica.
 
Yes, you read that right. I unknowingly developed sciatica from an overzealous, unsafe, ego-driven yoga practice.
 
It’s not my favorite thing to admit, but it’s reality.
 
I strived to nail every yoga pose, to go as deep as possible, to attempt advanced postures without properly warming up, and in turn, my body shut down. It stopped being the bendy pretzel it once was.
 
My body had had enough.
 
And eventually, after months of subtle pain that led to debilitating pain, I too had enough.
 
This is where my journey to healing began.
 
allie-tree
 

So what the hell is sciatica?

 
Sciatica is a condition that causes tenderness/pain anywhere along the sciatic nerve line. And guess what – the sciatic nerve is the longest damn nerve in the body (no wonder it’s such a troublemaker).
 
The sciatic nerve starts at the lower spinal cord, weaves through the deep layers of the buttocks, down the back of the thigh, along the outer edge of the leg, and all the way into the foot.
 
As I said, it’s a long-ass nerve – about half the length of your body long!
 
Your next obvious question should be, what causes sciatica?
 
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, I don’t have any medical certifications, and I’m a fresh out of the oven yoga teacher. I’m wholeheartedly sharing my experience, my pain, and my journey to healing to inspire your journey. Please take what you need from this and leave what you don’t.
 
That being said, I will shed some light on what I’ve discovered through my journey of sciatica. And trust me, I’ve discovered a lot . . .
 
Sciatica is caused by two common culprits – the lumbar spine and the piriformis muscle.
 
If you’re a total anatomy newbie – like I was and still am – let me further explain those two culprits.
 
The lumbar spine is the lower back area that connects the thoracic spine (middle to upper back) and the sacral spine (the tailbone).
 
The piriformis is a sneaky muscle located deep within the buttock, it attaches your sacrum to the top of your femur (thigh) bone.
 
It’s important to understand the difference between these two in order to locate where the pain is originating from and then how to heal this pain.
 
If the pain is starting from the lumbar spine and aggravating the sciatic nerve here, then you’re dealing with sciatica. But if the pain is starting in the booty area and then aggravating the sciatic nerve, then you’re dealing with piriformis syndrome.
 
And to make it even more confusing – a lot of people experience both scenarios, both lumbar and piriformis pain (I fall into this category).
 
So how do we heal our beautiful selves?
 
Well for starters – we cut out any ego-driven bullshit and learn how to listen to your body. And when I say listen, I mean TRULY turn on your inner guide, tune into the subtleties of the body, and then outwardly practice yoga with this awareness.
 
Cut out the deep backbends, the advanced whatever, put your knees down, take child’s pose frequently, and start to use yoga as medicine (its true purpose).
 
You got all that?
 
Okay . . . back to our scheduled programming.
 
There are a handful of methods to healing your nerve pain and there’s no right or wrong path, except for not starting down a path. I also highly recommend speaking to a medical professional before you make any drastic decisions.
 
Below was my method of healing and how I’m still healing:
 

Rest

I stepped back from my yoga practice. I re-evaluated why I step onto the mat. I let myself soften for over a month and then came back to my mat with a renewed sense of awareness, purpose, and appreciation for my body.
 

Massage Therapy

Massage is a must-do. Massages will help relax the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve and de-stress the body overall.
 

Chiropractor Visits

Chiropractics is a controversial one, but my pain was so intense that it was either him or an MRI. I definitely encourage you to find a trustworthy recommendation and a great doctor to work with. I adore mine – he’s really helpful, interested in my health, and not pushy or manipulative – all qualities you should look for in your own chiropractor, should you choose this route.
 

Restorative Yoga

I started doing restorative yoga as well as teaching it, and have now fallen head over heels for the practice. You can practice a short restorative sequence with me – I offer this in another article in my column, Flow and Grow With Allie, so be sure to check it out!
 
 
I have one final confession to make:
 
I still suffer from sciatica.
 
And while I realize that it’s partly my sedentary/sitting work lifestyle, it’s still very much caused from personal disregard.
 
Isn’t that ridiculous – I’m still causing my own pain.

I’m still causing my own pain.

I sometimes think to myself, Allie you’re a yoga teacher, you should know how to fix this problem. You should know better than to show off for another person, a photo, or yourself. You should know how to listen to your body’s needs, not it’s wants.
 
And then I remember, I’m human.
 
Yes, I’m a yoga teacher, yoga practitioner, yoga blogger, but at the end of the day – I’m a regular girl who struggles with the same everyday problems as the next person. And my ego, within my yoga practice, was and still is a problem.
 
It’s as real as that.
 
So while the below restorative yoga tutorial is a physical practice, I also want to stress the importance of a mind and soul practice.
 
I invite you to take a long pause and reflect on how you got to this point, what brought you to this crossroad, and how you can change paths. And when I say long pause, I’m referring to an introspective, write that shit down, say it loud, go for a long walk to think about it type of pause.
 
When you’ve gained some clarity, step onto your mat with a clear mind, an understanding of what you need to change to move forward, and now – let’s begin.
 

Here are 5 Yoga Poses to Soothe Your Sciatica

 

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist)

allie-seated-twist
 
The How-To:

  • Start in a seated position on the floor with both legs extended long.
  • Bend the right leg and bring the heel to the outside your left glute.
  • Bend the left leg and place your foot outside the right thigh.
  • Place the left hand behind and close to the body. Let it act as a kickstand to support the spine and the integrity of the posture.
  • Bring the right hand to the right knee. You have options here. Either bring the elbow to the outside of the left knee or wrap the arm around the left knee. The deciding factor is how your body is feeling today. If the pain is heightened, take the gentle hug version. If your pain is absent, explore the deeper elbow to knee connection.
  • Use the inhale breath to grow tall and lengthen, and the exhale breath to soften into the space created
  • Focus your energy on the outside of the left leg, hip, glute, and lower back region. Stay aware of how deep your stretch is and if it’s healing your pain or deepening it.

 
Practice the pose on both sides, holding for 5 full breaths.
 
Recommended Prop/Modification:

  • Use a blanket underneath your seat to help tilt the pelvis and create length and space in the spine.
  • For the arm placement, I mentioned the elbow versus the hug method. The hug modification is highly recommended for sciatica/piriformis pain. Once you go deeper into the twist with the elbow outside the knee, the pose stretches deeper into the hip and loses the piriformis/sciatic benefits.

 
 

Supine Figure Four

Supine Figure Four
 
The How-To:

  • Begin lying down on your back with knees bent and feet planted.
  • Cross the right ankle over the left thigh, right above the knee.
  • Interlace the hands through your legs and clasp the back of the thigh.
  • Use the strength of your arms to gently pull the legs in towards your chest.
  • Keep both feet flexed to protect the knees.

 
Practice the pose on both sides, holding for 5 full breaths.
 
 

Forward Fold Variation

allie-fold
 
The How-To:

  • Cross the left ankle behind the right ankle and do your best to line the pinky toes up.
  • Feel free to bend the knees as much as you need to to find the pinky toe alignment.
  • Let the chest, head, and neck melt down to the floor.
  • Let the hands rest to the ground or blocks and do your best to relax here.
  • Send the breath to the outside of the left leg and up to the hip region. You’ll definitely feel this stretch, like a lot. So please – breathe deeply!

 
Practice the pose on both sides, holding for 5 full breaths.
 
Recommended Modification:

-If your sciatica is derived from a spinal issue, I recommend skipping this posture altogether. Like, don’t even try it, it’s not worth it.
 
 
Standing Figure 4

standing figure four
 
The How-To:

  • Place two blocks in front of you on the highest height.
  • Begin by crossing the left ankle over the right thigh (above the knee).
  • Lower the hips and bring the hands to rest on the blocks in front of you.
  • Keep your back flat and long.
  • Send your breath to the outside of the left leg – thigh, glute, and hip especially.
  • As the piriformis muscle starts to release, feel free to lower the block height and possibly bring fingertips to the ground.

 
Practice the pose on both sides, holding for 5 full breaths.
 
Recommended Prop/Modification:

-Use two blocks to help support the posture and find a deeper, yet softer release. The block height can slowly be lowered as the piriformis and hips begin to open.

-If standing isn’t accessible, go back to the supine version up above.
 
 

Figure 4 with a Roller

roller-allie
 
The How-To:

  • Start seated on the ground and place a roller beneath your bum.
  • Bring the body into a figure four stance.
  • Place the hands behind you for support and stability.
  • Before you roll, pick your booty up and rest on the outside of the crossed thigh. Use the picture for a clear idea of what I’m referencing.
  • Begin to move up and down on your roller, massaging the piriformis muscle.
  • Breathe into the body as you massage it here, this is an incredibly deep sensation, so the breath is vital to it’s success.

 
Practice this on both sides for as long as your heart desires. But please, be kind to yourself, and don’t overdo it!
 
Required Prop:

A roller is required to perform this stretch. You can easily find one online or at your local sports shop, or even a discount retailer like Ross or TJ Maxx.
 
We recommend the RAD Muscle Flushing Kit from RAD Roller.
 
 
Thank you for joining me on the journey to healing and for taking the time to educate yourself about the what, why, and how behind sciatica.
 
Let’s talk! Do you suffer from sciatic pain? How did your did your sciatica develop? Are you a yoga teacher who works with this type of pain? If so, what yoga postures do you recommend?
 
As always – comments, suggestions, feedback, questions, or general yoga love – please leave it down below!
 
Until next time – xoxo.
 

This article and all included information is not intended as medical advice and does not treat or diagnose. Please consult your doctor for any health-related questions or concerns.

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Allie Flavio

Allie is the soul behind TheJourneyJunkie.com and a yoga girl at heart. After years of gymnastics and cheerleading, yoga came naturally into her life and at the perfect timing. With no motivation for fitness and a lack of purpose or dharma, yoga and Allie quickly fell for one another and the rest is history. When Allie’s not blogging about yoga/travel advice or doing/teaching yoga, you can find her relaxing by the beach in sunny St. Petersburg, FL. A born and raised Florida girl, Allie is an outdoor junkie who loves the ocean, fresh air, and a delicious fish sandwich! To learn more about her yoga and travel adventures, check out her blog The Journey Junkie.

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