The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, originating from the sacrum and traveling down the back of the legs to the toes. Compression of the sciatic nerve can cause one sided numbness, tingling or pain in the sacrum, buttock and back of the leg. The nerve can become compressed for several reasons, most commonly from a herniated disk in the lower lumbar spine. Inflammation, stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) and tight piriformis muscles (deep muscles in the buttocks) are other common causes of compression.
The pain, compression and inflammation of sciatica can be reduced through a gentle yoga practice. Focus on postures that lengthen and align the spine (mountain, puppy dog, bound angle), back bends (bridge, camel, cobra), postures that stretch the piriformis (knee down twist, revolved triangle, prayer twist), abdominal strengthening poses (boat, half boat) and inversions (shoulder stand, down dog). Engage in the postures slowly, carefully and for short durations and avoid any movements or postures that create or intensify the pain. Slow deep yogic breathing will encourage the body to relax as well as decrease inflammation and pain.
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Practice good posture and body mechanics throughout your day. Take frequent breaks to breath, stretch and relax. Avoid sitting for long periods and rest on your back with your knees bent.
Remember to always speak with a physician before beginning any type of physical exercise. If the sciatic pain is acute, resting for 1-2 days is recommended before addressing the pain with yoga. Forward bending poses are contraindicated; side-bending poses are cautioned. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience loss of bladder or bowel control, or increasing weakness or numbness in the legs.
A complete list of postures for sciatica and a pose sequence for healing sciatica are available on our membership site.