A pain in the butt, low back, hips or back of the legs may be sciatica. Our sciatic nerves — we have two of them, one for each leg — run from our lower spine down through our glute muscles, down the back of our thigh to the outer edge of our foot. When the nerve, the longest in our body, gets pinched it can cause pain, numbing and tingling throughout the lower body. It can be caused by injury, pregnancy or tight muscles.
To ease sciatica, practice hip openers and gentle backbends, which strengthen the low-back muscles. Be careful with forward folds, which can put a strain on the low back and make sciatica worse. If you have sciatica, avoid seated forward folds and be cautious in standing forward folds.
These poses help loosen your hips, lengthen your spine and relieve sciatica.
HALF LORD OF THE FISHES
This spinal twist gives the piriformis, a common culprit of sciatica, a mild stretch.
The move: Sit on the floor or the edge of a blanket with your legs extended. Cross your right leg over left so your right knee points to the ceiling and your right foot sits outside your left knee. Keep your left leg straight with the foot flexed. Try to keep both sits bones on the ground.
Inhale, elongate the spine and stretch your left arm overhead. Exhale and twist to the left, releasing your left hand to the floor behind you. Inhale and stretch your right arm overhead. Exhale and twist, bringing your right elbow to rest against the outside of your right knee. Continue to find length through the torso with each inhale, being conscious not to collapse through the chest. Take 5–10 breaths and switch sides.
SUPINE BIG TOE POSE
Tight hamstrings team up with a tight piriformis to exacerbate sciatica pain. Gently loosen the hammies with this stretch.
The move: Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and knees bent. Hug your right knee into your chest and loop a strap or towel around the ball of your right foot. As you inhale, start to straighten the right foot pressing the right heel toward the ceiling. Keep the shoulder blades on the floor and gently walk your hands up the towel. To deepen the stretch, extend the left leg straight out on the floor. Take 5–10 breaths and switch sides.
This pose really stretches the piriformis, groin, glutes, hip flexors and psoas.
The move: Lie on your back and make an L shape with your legs so your knees are over your hips and your feet are even with your knees. Cross your right foot over your left thigh, just above your knee. Hold onto the back of your left thigh and gently pull both legs toward you. Flex both feet and keep your left foot at knee height or higher. Hold for 5–10 breaths and switch sides.
If your hips could use a little extra love — and whose can’t — lizard is for you. The pose opens the hips, hip flexors, groin and hamstrings.
The move: From down dog, step your right foot forward between your hands. Walk your foot to the outside edge of the mat and turn your toes out slightly. Bring both hands and arms inside your right leg. You can stay up on your palms or deepen the stretch by lowering down to your forearms. If you’re on your hands, make sure your palms are directly under your shoulders. If you’re on your forearms, make sure your elbows are under your shoulders. You can keep the back leg lifted and engaged or lower the knee to the ground. Hold the pose for up to a minute. Then heel-toe your right foot back to center and press back to down dog. Repeat on the other side.
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Strengthening the back muscles can help relieve sciatica. Locust, a gentle backbend, does just that.
The move: Start lying on your belly with your forehead on your mat, arms by your sides and legs extended behind you. As you inhale, lift your head, chest, arms and legs up. Concentrate on lengthening your spine rather than how high you can lift. Keep your gaze forward to avoid compressing your neck. Hold the pose for five breaths and lower down on an exhale.
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