Yoga and Sciatica - 7 Things I Do when it flares up
I've been asked a ton by my yoga students about sciatica. It happens to most of us, pain from lower back down to the hip, down to the hamstring, and sometimes down to the foot or toes. I won't pretend the feeling of sciatica doesn't suck, but it doesn't have to stick around with us forever. Here's what I do if my sciatic nerve asks for attention:
- Rock - Somewhere between Tai Chi, Belly Dancing, and Modern Dance, I wiggle and wave. I try to melt my body with movement. Neck rolls. Shoulder shrugs. Whatever the movement, I try to be a flag flapping in the wind. I try to move all of me in fluid and sometimes funny ways, . I draw circles with my knees and hips. I point and I flex, I hang and I bend, until I feel soft and relaxed.
- Roll - Oh sweet pain of the foam roller. I roll both I T bands focusing and pausing on knots or points of tension. I also roll my piriformis on a yoga massage ball, if you like firmer you can try a lacrosse ball. Both of these provide instant relief.
- Twist - I start with gentle twisting movements and work my way up to twisting warrior focusing on hollowing my belly and pressing through by back foot to decompress my spine.
- Love Your Spine - I move up and down my spine and search for holding. I search for stress. I search for emotions. I breathe into and sit with all the troubled spots. If I am holding tension in my jaw and neck, or between my should blades, it eventually works its way down to my lower back. If I can sit with it and find a relaxed upper or middle spine, it helps to take pressure off my lower spine. My stress is often related to holding something in. There is fear in speaking your truth, but when you are able to speak your mind or do what you need to do in whatever expression. A lightness quickly follows the heaviness of that fear.
- Cold Bath or Shower (Not So Relaxing) This is truly mind over nervous system. Want your nervous system to calm down? Take an ice cold bath. For me the time is somewhere between 3-5 minutes. When I first get in, it burns and I breathe like crazy. I know when the burning stops and my breath has calmed that my nervous system and stored lactic acid are all starting to release. If I’m feeling it I’ll submerge my head for one minute too. For the the result feels like a double shot of espresso, an anti inflammatory drug, and a shot of whiskey. Anything that was bothering me before, no longer bothers me. Check out Wim Hof Method, pic below.
- Long Held Stretches - Forward bends with a completely hollowed out belly and relaxed pelvic floor: Prasarita, Janushirasana, Pigeon (for a really long time!) Paschimotanasana. Hold them forever. You are creating new neuro-pathways. If you come up every couple of seconds you are telling your nervous system “this is not ok.” Twice a day find a stretch you can hold for at least 3 minutes for 3 sets.
- I Check My Long Held Beliefs and Patterns - Nothing keeps me in pain longer than believing that “this is just the way it is” or “that old back injury will always bother me.” Old patterns in stretch always kept me from going further. The Belief that I was just a certain muscle type, means I’m just tighter than most people. Believe that you can heal yourself and you will. The truth is sciatica is happening now, it’s a signal to bring awareness to parts of your body that need it, to emotions that need your attention. It doesn’t mean that this sciatica is here as a persistent and pervasive part of your practice. It’s just a signal for now. Face it and thank it for helping you evolve to a higher state of awareness.
Foam Roller, Massage Balls, and Cold Bath Wim Hof version.