Rita guides you through a most loving and sacred yoga practice. Her gentle nature and lightness allow for the most wonderful unfolding to take place in her class. As a fellow student and teacher I am always appreciative of her gifts and radiant smile she shares with others. ... Aarti Ganesh           Read more...

Yoga for Sciatica

Yoga is one of the most effective forms of exercise for Sciatica related problems. As with any spinal injury, great caution is required when attempting any form of exercise and this holds true for Yoga as well. First, let us understand what Sciatica is. The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the body. It starts from our spinal cord in the lower back and passes down through the hip into the back area of the lower leg to each foot. The sciatic nerve controls the movement of many muscles in the thigh and leg as also provides a means of sensory input to the brain. When the sciatic nerve becomes irritated and inflamed, it results in Sciatica. Patients with Sciatica may suffer from sharp pain through the lower spine, a stabbing sensation in the buttock, knee/ankle pain or even numbness in the leg. This usually happens only on one side of the body.


There are many causes of sciatica such as long sittings for desk jobs, pregnancy, dehydration, spinal degeneration etc. Once you experience the symptoms of Sciatica, get evaluated by your physician to determine the cause. Some more common causes of Sciatica include Herniated Disc, Lumbar Spinal Stenosis and Piriformis Syndrome.


Your backbone or spine is made up of 26 bones called vertebrae. In between them are soft disks filled with a jelly-like substance. These disks cushion the vertebrae and keep them in place. A herniated disk is a disk that slips out of place or ruptures. If it presses on a nerve, it can cause Back Pain or Sciatica. Herniated discs are the most common cause of Sciatica.


It is a condition in which the spinal canal narrows and compresses the spinal cord and nerves, which cause pain in low back as well as pain or abnormal sensations in the legs, thighs, feet or buttocks or loss of bladder and bowel control. This is usually due to common occurrence of spinal degeneration that occurs with aging.


The Piriformis muscle is one of the small muscles deep in the buttocks that rotates the leg outwards. It runs from the base of the spine and attaches to the thighbone (femur) roughly where the outside crease in your bum is. The Sciatic nerve runs very close to this muscle and sometimes even through it. If the muscle becomes tight, it can put pressure on the Sciatic nerve causing irritation and inflammation.


Yoga Poses that provide Sciatic pain relief are those that open the hips as also provide a gentle twist for the back. Some yoga poses for Sciatica that are particularly effective & easy to do are Supta Padangusthasana & its variations, Utthita Parsvakonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Bharadvajasan, Salamba Sarvangasna, Setubandhasana, Shavasna & Adhomukha Shavasna. Do all these Asnas under some qualified Yoga instructor because each specific condition may warrant a distinct approach to Asana practice. Use props such as a strap and bolster if you need the extra support. If you do not have all these then you can use a scarf or belt as a strap and a stack of blankets or towels as a bolster. Following are very simple stretching exercises to reduce the symptoms of Sciatica.


Sit with legs outstretched with feet little apart, place your hands on the floor to the sides & just behind the buttocks, keep the back straight, straighten the elbows & now stretch the feet forward & backwards as much as possible. Hold each position for a few seconds. Repeat 10 times


Sit in simple crossed legged position with the fingertips on the floor besides the hips. Place the palm of the left hand on the outer right thigh. Now inhale, press the right fingertips into the floor & stretch the spine upward. Exhale, press the left palm into the thigh & turn toward the right. Look over the right shoulder. Hold for 10-30 seconds. Come back & repeat on the other side. Change the cross of the legs. Do 3- 5 times each side.


Sit with legs outstretched in the front, cross the right leg over the left leg and place the right heel by the side of the left hip. Fold your left leg in and bring the left heel by the side of the right hip. Try to keep the knees together one above the other. Sit in this position for some time with normal breathing and then change the cross of the legs. If you are feeling good while doing it then repeat 3-5 times each side.

Lie face down on the abdomen on the floor or on the bed. Keep your legs apart about 2 to 2 ½ feet, toes out to the sides; heels are in facing towards each other. (If it is not comfortable then bring the legs slightly closer & the tips of the big toes should touch each other). Now form a pillow with the arms by crossing the arms (place your right hand on the left shoulder, left hand on the right shoulder) Rest your forehead on your forearms. Keep the upper chest slightly lifted from the floor by adjusting the arms. Do breathing slowly, deeply & consciously. As you breathe in, expand not only your abdomen but lower back & hips muscles too. As you breathe out feel total relaxation. Do for 5 minutes if possible.


Lie face down on the abdomen, keep both the legs straight & slightly apart, raise the head up & rest the chin on the palms of the hands with the elbows on the floor. Bring the elbows together & closer towards the body. Now from behind, bend alternate legs towards the hips with natural breathing for some time. Then do the same with both the legs by bringing the feet together


Lie face down on the abdomen with the fingers locked under the head. Turn your head to right side. You can adjust your arms if it is not comfortable. Then draw the right foot near the left knee & bring it closer to the right elbow Place your left hand by your left side & left leg straight. Do normal breathing as long as possible.

Lie face down on the abdomen on the floor. Keep your leg straight. Bring your palms either under your thighs or by your sides. Rest the chin on the floor. Inhale, raise your right leg up, exhale, bring it back very slowly. Repeat the same with the other leg. Do 3 times with each leg.

Same exercise as mentioned above now with the other side of the body.

Kneel on the floor. Let your right big toe overlap the left big toe, heels apart, sit down between the heels, knees together, hands on your thighs. Sit peacefully for 20 to 30 seconds with normal breathing.

Inhale, raise your arms, while exhaling bend down forward & place your arms, elbows, forehead on the floor/ the block. Breathe normally for some time. Remain in this position for at least a minute. Allow your body and mind to relax.

From Shashank pose, stretch the right leg out straight backward. Hold it for some time with normal breathing. Then come back & try to do the same with the other leg. Repeat 3 times each side. (If you do not feel comfortable, then stretch that leg out behind in which you do not feel pain).

Sit in Vajrasana. Raise your body from your heels & stand on your knees. Lean forward and put your hands on the floor in front of you. Keep your knees & feet together. Inhale and raise your head up and stretch your neck backwards. Hold it for a while. Then exhale & look straight. Repeat it 4-5 times.

From cat stretch asana lift the knees off the floor, forming a nice V shape with your legs. Hold the position for a few breaths. Make sure that your feet are in line with your hands and the same distance apart. Hold the position for a few breaths. Consciously stretch your legs & arms. Exhale and then rest your head on the block if it is possible. Stay in this position for some time with natural breathing then come back. Exhale & get into Vajrasana. Then rest in Shashankasana.

Lie down with the back on the Yoga mat. Keep your eyes closed. Arms are little away from the body with palms upward. Legs are apart about 3 to 4 inches. Keep the toes in the outer directions. Heels are facing towards each other. Keep the whole body relaxed part by part mentally. You can lie down in this condition as long as you desire.

Lie down on your back with legs straight and together. Bend the knees & bring the feet closer to your hips, keep your feet & knees together and flat on the floor. Interlock your fingers below your head. Without lifting the elbows, inhale and start moving your head and knees in the opposite direction. Stretch the spine to the maximum. Come back to the center & exhale. Then do the same with the other side. Do 5 times each side.

Lie on your back with the legs outstretched, soles of both feet touching the wall. Bend the right knee towards your chest. Place a Yoga strap around the ball of the right foot. Hold both ends of the belt with the right hand or with both the hands. Slowly start straightening the right leg up toward the ceiling till wherever you feel comfortable. Simultaneously keep pressing the sole of the left foot more firmly into the wall and the left thigh on the mat. Feel the stretch in your right calf. Initially, stay in this position for 20 -30 seconds. With practice, increase the time to 1 minute. Repeat the pose on the other side. Do 3-5 times with each leg.

After you raise your right leg (step 1), exhale, then lower your leg with the right hand to the right, keeping it straight. Place your right foot on the block if you want. Keep your left arm sideways at your shoulder level. Pull on the belt so that you can feel the stretch in your leg. Press the left foot against the wall and the left thigh on the mat. Hold the pose for 20 - 30 seconds. Repeat the pose on the other side. Do 3-5 times with each leg.

· Before you start a yoga practice while suffering from sciatic pain, consult your health care provider and a qualified yoga instructor and make sure you follow their advice diligently.
· When performing the postures, be careful not to overstep your pain boundaries. If you experience pain, back off. You must find the program that best suits your body. Listen to your body.
· Do not sit for long periods and avoid activities that worsen your pain especially if you've been diagnosed with a herniated disc. When you do sit, always use a lumbar support. In most cases, extensive walking is also not advisable.
· Be sure that you are adequately hydrating yourself with at least eight glasses of water each day.
· The key to prevent sciatica is to prevent any damage to your lower spine. Maintain a good posture while sitting.
· Finally, remember to continue with these poses long after the symptoms have disappeared.

Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna
Aum Shanti


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