Whenever I have the chance to ask a group of yoga students about their physical concerns, sciatica is the most common answer I get.
Is yoga safe? Depending on what you are doing, some postures can alleviate while others will aggravate sciatica pain.
Unfortunately, what I often see is people doing exactly the opposite of what they should be doing.
Before we get into what helps and what hurts sciatica, let's quickly review some sciatica facts.
Sciatica is pain radiating through the sciatic nerve from the base of the spine through the leg. Usually, it's one leg, but it's possible to have sciatica in both legs.
Most of the time, it happens when the sciatic nerve is pinched either by compressed vertebrae in the lower spine (herniated disc, bone spur) or tightness in the piriformis muscle.
Usually, this happens due to age-related changes, obesity, or a sedentary lifestyle. Also, stress seems to make sciatica worse.
So let me go through the DOs and DON'Ts.
The most important contraindication that I see people ignoring all the time is lengthening the hamstrings. DON'T stretch the hamstrings! Forward bends will worsen sciatica.
What can you do to improve the condition?
DO your best to lower your stress level. Breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, meditation, and nature walks can help in that. Physically, strengthen the muscles around the pain, and the supporting muscles- piriformis, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, erectors, and abs- so they don't pull and cause compression of the sciatic nerve. Elongate the spine. Extending spaces between vertebrae will prevent the sciatic nerve from being trapped. Then stretch the piriformis muscle and the muscles of the lower back.
Here is a short daily routine that can help in sciatica prevention, and most of the time, will help with existing sciatica pain.
This is not medical advice; it doesn't replace medical treatment.
If you are experiencing any pain, including sciatica, please see a physician before practicing any of the exercises.