Sciatic pain is not uncommon. Most of us either know of someone who has had it or have actually experienced it ourselves. In fact it is said that around 30% of the population sometime or other have experienced this pain. It is usually felt somewhere along the length of the sciatic nerve which runs from the lower back, through the back of the buttocks and down the legs to the feet.
It is said that sciatica usually resolves by itself with in a month or two although sometimes can take up to a year. In the meantime it is a painful and often debilitating condition.
Although not to be thought of as a quick fix, yoga asanas can be very helpful in alleviating the pain of sciatica and in helping to adjust the underlying problem. According to health professionals the underlying cause is usually in the lumbar spine where the sciatic nerve becomes impinged by compression of the vertebrae. This compression can often be resolved over time through a gentle asana practice that addresses the lower back and core strength. It is also important to address lifestyle habits which might be contributing to our back troubles such as poor posture, sedentary lifestyle and lifting heavy objects (especially lifting and turning).
As much as yoga asanas can be beneficial, watch out they can also exacerbate the problem!
Firstly all asanas should be approached slowly and gently while keeping the bandhas engaged. If you feel an exacerbation of the pain draw back or completely stop that pose.
Poses which elongate the back are recommended as they will decompress the spine. One of the best poses in this category is Downward Facing Dog but if this is not available for you there is a simple standing stretch that works really well. I often do it while cooking or cleaning the kitchen. You can get great spinal stretch by simply making a right angle at the top of the legs and reaching out with your arms to the kitchen bench.
To reverse the tendency to compress the spine through stooping one should always carry oneself in Mountain Pose while engaging the 3 bandhas and help to support the spine with core strengthening exercises. It’s important that the core should always be strengthened with a neutral spine. If you are lying on your back make sure the lower back has a slight arch in it at all times otherwise this might aggravate your problem.
Gentle back arches like the Bridge, Cobra, Sphinx and Camel all help to keep the spine flexible. Bridge pose is great for strengthening the lower back and pelvis and may help with the pain of sciatica.
Forward bends from standing should only be performed with bent knees, and from a seated position the back should remain straight, so it might be best to use a yoga strap in seated forward bends or omit them from your practice.
One of the best poses which helps to alleviate tightness around the buttocks is the Pigeon Pose, especially the variation from a supine position; and anytime your practice gets overwhelming and painful this pose should help reset the pain back to a tolerable level.
Twists should be performed very slowly and carefully with great attention to any twinges you might feel in the spine, pelvis or lower back.
Lastly the underlying cause of many of our physical (and mental) problems is stress and tension. So learn to breathe slowly and deeply. Be mindful and don’t let life get you down by finding shelter in the transcendental realm.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training