April 20 2017 – Hana Difrawy
By definition, sciatica is tenderness and pain anywhere along the sciatic nerve, typically showing up on one side of the body. There are two sciatic nerves—one for each leg. These are the longest nerves in the human body. Each originates from several nerve roots that exit from the spinal cord, then thread through apertures in your sacrum and merge to form the main body of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve passes between layers of the deep buttock muscles (gluteus medius and gluteus maximus), through the deep muscles of the back of the thigh, and down through the outer edge of your leg to your foot.
The Basic Piriformis Stretch: Ardha Matsyendrasana
A simple half spinal twist (ardha matsyendrasana) gives the piriformis a mild stretch that encourages it to release and lengthen, and the intensity can be progressively increased as you approach the full pose. Stretching the muscle too aggressively can provoke sciatic pain, so it’s important to proceed carefully, using the following variations and adjusting the pose so that you feel minimal discomfort. The descriptions are intended to stretch the piriformis in the left hip; be sure to repeat on the other side.
Prep for Spinal Twist
Sit on the corner of a folded blanket with your knees bent and your feet on the floor in front of you. Take your right foot under your left knee and around to the outside of your left hip. Your right knee should point straight forward. For the mildest hip stretch, place your left foot on the floor to the inside of your right knee, so that the left foot is roughly in line with your left hip; for a stronger stretch, place your left foot to the outside of your right knee. It’s likely that your left sit bone is now lighter on the floor than your right. Lean onto your left sit bone to balance the weight between the two hips; this is the beginning of the stretch. Steady yourself by holding your left knee with your hands, and from this balanced foundation, inhale and lengthen upward through your spine. If the stretch is too intense or if you feel pain radiating down your leg, increase the height of the padding under your hips until the stretch is tolerable.
If you don’t feel a stretch in your left hip, gently pull your left knee across the midline of your body toward the right side of your chest, keeping your sit bones equally grounded, and resist your thigh slightly against the pull of your hands. This action will help keep your sit bone grounded and increase the stretch to the piriformis.
Stay in the pose anywhere from 20 seconds to a couple of minutes, then repeat on the other side. Do two to four sets at a time. As your piriformis muscles stretch out over time, gradually decrease the height of your blankets until you can sit on the floor.
Place a chair against the wall. To stretch your right hip, stand with your right side next to the wall. Place your right foot on the chair, with your knee bent to roughly 90 degrees. Keep your standing leg straight, and steady your balance by placing your right hand on the wall. Lift your left heel up high, coming onto the mounds of the toes, and turn your body toward the wall, using your hands for balance. As you exhale, lower your left heel to the floor, maintaining the twist. Allow your right hip to descend, keeping your hips relatively level. Hold for several breaths.
Standing Hamstring Stretches
Put your right foot on a support such as a chair, a table, or a bench. Your foot should be at or below hip level, with your leg straight, your knee and toes pointing straight up, and your quadriceps engaged. If your knee tends to lock or hyperextend, protect it with a microbend. Make sure the hip of your raised leg is not lifted, but rather is releasing downward (without the leg or foot turning outward). Hold for several breaths, repeating on each side. For a deeper stretch, bend forward over your leg at the hip crease, with your spine and leg straight and your quadriceps firm.
Thanks to Jim Filipski /Guy Cali Assoc and Doug Keller (Yoga International) for the photos and content.