Therapeutic Yoga for the Lower Back & Sciatica

Your ability to sit comfortably in a cross-legged position is one measure of hip flexibility.

Your ability to sit comfortably in a cross-legged position is one measure of hip flexibility.

If aches and pains make you move and feel like your grandmother some days, you may want to investigate therapeutic yoga. Think of this kind of yoga, also sometimes called yoga therapy, as a cross between proactive physical therapy and a yogic version of personal training. Sciatica and lower back pain respond particularly well to therapeutic yoga, which can often reduce or even eliminate pain that has persisted for years.

Understanding Body Connections

When you have your first session with a yoga therapist, she will ask several health history questions as well as ask you to perform simple movements so she can observe patterns in how you utilize your muscles. Often, she may determine that low back pain or sciatica is related to other issues, such as overly tight groin muscles and/or a lack of support in the abdominal region. Therapeutic yoga involves not merely stretching the muscles where you experience pain, but also looking at the body as a system. Teachers who specialize in this style of yoga have studied the ways in which you may unconsciously compensate for weak muscles, injury and muscular tension in one area by tightening another area of your body.

Hip Stretches

A therapeutic yoga teacher may tell you that you are "tight in the hips." This phrase has nothing to do with the size and shape of your hips -- it's yoga-speak for tight muscles surrounding the pelvis. One way to know if your hip muscles are tense and strained is to evaluate the ease with which you can sit cross-legged on the floor. If your knees are higher than your hip bones when you sit this way, or if you experience discomfort in this position, a yoga therapist will suggest that you need to gain flexibility in your hip region. She may instruct you in stretches such as Prone Frog pose and Pigeon pose.

Abdominal Strengthening

Aside from any concerns about how you look in a bikini, the most important reason to have strong abdominal muscles is that slack muscles in your core can result in pain elsewhere in the body. If your abs aren't doing the work they were designed to do in holding you upright, then some other part of your body will have to do extra work. Over time, this often causes muscular strain in the lower back and can put stress on the sciatic nerve. Depending on what conditions you have, your yoga therapist may teach you how to do Plank pose, Boat pose or other asanas to correct abdominal inactivity.

Leg and Spine Stretches

Muscles that never stretch tend to lose elasticity and length -- to the degree that many people report that after taking six months or more of regular yoga classes, they are actually taller. People at both ends of the fitness spectrum can have tight muscles; in this respect, an athlete who only does a cursory five-minute stretch before an intense workout is no better off than a couch potato. A yoga therapy session for lower back pain and/or sciatica is likely to include stretches such as Downward-Facing Dog and Reclining Straight Leg Stretch with a yoga strap.

 

References

  • Yoga for Wellness; Gary Kraftsow
  • Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing; Timothy McCall, M.D.
  • Structural Yoga Therapy; Mukunda Stiles

Photo Credits

  • Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images