Sciatic nerve pain most commonly occurs in one leg. It starts in the low back or buttocks and radiates down the back of the leg, and in some cases, into the foot. Some may describe the pain as sharp, searing or burning and standing or sitting for long periods of time may worsen the pain. Some women may experience it only during pregnancy as the weight of baby increases.
If you are experiencing pain in mid-lower back, tingling, burning, numbness or electro shocks down the length of the leg, these can be signs of a more serious issue—a herniated disc—and you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
However, if you aren’t experiencing these extreme symptoms, in most cases, a tight muscle may be to blame and that’s where yoga can help.
The small but significant muscle deep within the hip called the piriformis (used to turn the hip out) has a nerve—the sciatic nerve—running through it. When tension builds up within this particular muscle, it compresses and irritates the nerve, creating obvious and sometimes intolerable pain.
Regular stretching of this muscle will soothe and relieve the constant pain if there is no issue with the disk. The following 8 gentle and restorative yoga poses to relieve sciatic nerve pain will release the hip structure and create traction, which takes pressure off the nerve, thereby helping you manage and ease the pain.
Easy Pose Forward Fold
- Come into a comfortable cross-legged seat with the right leg crossed in front, up on a blanket or pillow. Be sure the hips are higher than the knees.
- Lengthen the spine; reach out through the crown of the head while softening your shoulders down.
- Place your hands on the earth, next to the hips, and inhale all the way down to the hips. As you exhale, hinge the hips forward. Keep your hands by your sides.
- For more intensity and a deeper fold, inhale, find length and as you exhale, place the hands on the earth in front of you, folding onto forearms. The straighter the spine, the more beneficial this stretch will be. You really want the fold to come from the hips, not from the shoulders or neck. Come back up to maintain the straight spine if you are rounding.
- Drop the tailbone down as you’re reaching out through the crown of the head. Keep the neck long, as an extension of the spine.
- Keep the gaze down as you breathe deeply, lifting the waist out of the hips with each inhale. With each exhale, hinge forward slightly as the hips start to open.
- Breathe slowly and deeply into the hips and legs, softening any tension for 15-20 cycles of breath on each side.
- To release: bring the torso to center and switch the cross of the legs. Follow the same instruction for the other side.
Supported Twist With Extended Legs
- Sit with one hip against a bolster, rolled up blankets or firm pillows and stack the knees on top of each other.
- Turn and face the support, bringing your hands on either side of it.
- Inhale and lengthen the spine. Exhale and fold down onto the support, resting the torso and head down, facing the knees.
- Soften the shoulders and slowly lengthen the legs, keeping a slight bend in the knees. For less intensity, bring the legs closer together. For more intensity, draw the legs further aPart.
- Breathe deeply for 6-7 minutes on each side. Imagine each exhale releasing tension in the spine, side body and hips.
- To release: bend the legs, slowly drawing the knees together. Press the hands into the earth to lift the torso off the support and turn away, coming up to a seated position. Turn away form the support and continue to turn, bringing the opposite hip against the support. Follow the same instruction for the other side.
Low Lunge Pose With Hands On Thigh
- Come onto hands and knees in a tabletop position.
- Step the right foot between the hands and align the right knee over the right ankle. Rest the top of the back foot down on the earth and bring both hands onto the thigh. Feel free to use blocks under the hands for support and assistance getting into the pose. Also use a blanket or pillow under the back knee if necessary.
- Soften the shoulders and keep a soft and steady gaze; this pose will challenge your balance.
- Keep drawing the hips forward without passing the right knee beyond the right ankle. (You may need to draw the left knee back.)
- Soften the front toes and jaw as you breathe for 20-30 slow breaths.
- To release: Gently place the hands on the earth and step back into table pose. Switch the legs by drawing the left leg between the hands and follow the same instructions for the other side.
3 Part Pigeon into Supported Pigeon
- From table pose (on hands and knees), set up the bolster, rolled blankets or firm pillows vertically in front of you.
- Draw the right knee to the right wrist. Then draw the right foot to the left as you lengthen the left leg back. Move the heel closer to the groin for less intensity or away from the groin for more.
- Spread the fingers wide and stack the wrists under the shoulders. Pause here and take a moment to center the hips, and then breathe 20-30 slow breaths. Soften the face, jaw, shoulders and hands as you gaze down or close the eyes. Imagine you can breathe down into the hips and exhale tension.
- Using an exhale, fold down onto the forearms. (Use the support under the forearms if they do not touch the earth.) You can interlace the hands or keep the palms flat on the earth. Soften any clenching in the hands or face as you breathe deeply.
- Draw the ribs forward, lifting them out of the waist as you breathe here for another 20-30 cycles of breath. Breathe softly and slowly.
- When you’re finished with these breaths, tuck the left toes under and lift the left knee slightly off the earth. Lift the thighbone up as you lengthen the leg back. Breathe for 6-8 cycles of breath, then gently place the knee down and untuck the toes, resting the top of the foot on the earth.
- Come back onto the hands for a moment and draw the support you previously set down in close to the leg and fold down on exhale, resting the torso and the head on it. Turn the head to face the bent knee and rest your forearms and hands on the earth, softening the shoulders as you exhale. Breathe slowly for 4-7 minutes, depending on desired intensity. If this pose is too intense, build up the support you are resting the torso on by adding more blankets or pillows. Also, place another support under the right hip.
- To release: walk the hands back and lift the torso up. Slowly come back into table pose (on hands and knees) and lengthen the right leg back. Tuck the toes under as you press out through the heel, stretching open the back of the leg. Hold 6-8 cycles of breath and release back into table pose. Follow these instructions for the left leg.
3 Part Hamstring Stretch and Hip Circles
- Place a strap, rope or belt next to you and lay on your back with a pillow or blanket under the head.
- Bend the knees so both feet rest flat on the earth and draw the right knee into the chest. Place the strap around the foot and lengthen the leg toward the sky. Press out through the heel.
- Holding a strap in each hand, circle the leg around. Allow the leg to be passive, as the work is coming from the arms while the shoulders and hands remain soft. Gently and slowly make large circles with the leg to soften the hip. Breathe deeply as you circle for 10-20 cycles of breath.
- Slowly stop circling the leg. Lengthen the leg toward the sky, again pressing out through the heel, and use the strap to guide the toes to the forehead. Keep a soft bend in the knee so you are not hyperextending.
- Breathe here for 10-20 cycles of breath and imagine you could breathe into the back of the leg as you soften the shoulders, hands and jaw.
- Grab both straps with the right hand and open the leg out to the right. Go to the first place of resistance but not into pain. The closer the leg is to the torso, the less intense. The more the leg opens, the more intense. Pause here and breathe into the stretch, 10-20 cycles of breath. Draw the leg back to center on inhale after your breaths.
- Grab both straps with the left hand. Lengthen the left leg and draw the right leg over to the left on exhale. Feel free to roll onto the left hip. Hover the foot over the earth or bring the foot down to the earth if it’s accessible. Move the feet closer together for less intensity, and spread the feet further aPart for more. Breathe 10-20 deep breaths.
- To release: Draw the leg back to center. Bend the knee and remove the strap. Hug the left leg in and follow these instructions for the other side.
Supported Bridge with Bent Legs
- Place a bolster or firm pillow by your side and lay flat on the back.
- Bend your knees so the feet are flat on the earth.
- Ground the feet into the earth and lift the hips up. Place the bolster or pillow under the low back/sacrum area and lower the hips back down.
- Keep grounding the feet into the earth as you allow the hips to rest on the support.
- Walk the tips of the shoulder blades close together, then let them rest naturally. Arms open out like wings, resting on the earth.
- Breathe deeply into the belly, ribs and chest for 20-30 cycles of breath.
- To release: lift the hips up and remove the support. Slowly lower the hips back down and hug the knees into the chest to lengthen and release the low back. Arms can also cross over or under the knees.
Back Release Pose
- With both feet flat on the earth, cross the right ankle over the left thigh.
- Strongly press out through the right heel to protect knee and ankle joints.
- Bring the right hand to the right knee and gently press away, opening the back of the hip. Breathe 10-20 cycles of breath.
- For more intensity, grab the right heel with the left hand and lift off the thigh, drawing it in toward the chest.
- Keep the ankle straight and the foot flexed as you draw the foot in toward the chest, while pressing the knee away.
- To release: uncross the ankle and bring both feet flat on the earth. Follow these instructions for other side.
Final Resting Pose
- Place a blanket or pillow under the head and a bolster, pillow or rolled blanket under the knees.
- Lengthen the legs out over the support, allowing the feet to flop open.
- Rest the hands on belly or bring the arms out to the side.
- Close the eyes and take a deep breath into the nose, then exhale out through the mouth.
- Continue with deeper breaths to bring on the relaxation response in the body, clearing away any remaining stress.
- To release: take a deep breath and make small movements. Stretch the arms overhead and hug knees into the chest or bend the legs and rock the knees side to side.
- Roll onto your most comfortable side and pause for a few more deep breaths.
- Press up to a comfortable seated position, lengthen the spine and breathe fully. When you are ready, integrate back to your day with ease and clarity.
MY BOOK: YOGA FOR LOW BACK AND HIP HEALTH
You can find more instruction like this in my book, “Yoga For Low Back and Hip Health”. In it, you’ll find easy gentle and restorative yoga instruction that anyone can do. You’ll be feeling better in no time, without drugs or surgery. No experience needed: it’s perfect for beginners and advanced yogis alike.
What’s in the book?
- Over 200 pages of in-depth and appropriate instruction
- 43 restorative and gentle yoga poses
- 15 practical and unique yoga sequences. Practice at your convenience—no pressure to get to a packed studio class at an inconvenient time!
- Includes over 300 high-resolution images to help you along