Yoga Therapy For Sciatica

Hello there, wellness entrepreneur. Welcome back!

Today, we’re going to be talking about a practitioner skill of utilizing yoga therapy for sciatica. This is the perspective not from a therapeutic intervention, but also from a wellness perspective. We’ll talk about exactly what sciatica and what you can do as a wellness practitioner to help your clients and students heal from sciatica.

This is through the lens of the Yoga Kosha Layers for sciatica, as well as my own experience working through sciatica myself over a decade ago, and when it flares up mildly on occasion these days, as well as my expertise and knowledge from gaining my doctorate in physical therapy. We’re going to combine it all together so you have some knowledge, information, and modalities to help your clients with sciatica.

Are you ready? Let’s go

What Is Sciatica? How can yoga help?

Anatomically, sciatica is one nerve that actually starts from the spine, so it exits the spine out of two nerve roots. So it exits the spine from two levels. And these two nerves then join in the back of the hip, the buttocks region, to form one giant nerve that runs the back of the leg right next to the hamstring. So it travels right next to – in a small amount of cases, usually less than 5% of the population, through the piriformis.

For most people, the sciatic nerve travels alongside piriformis, alongside the hamstrings, down the back of the leg. Well then, it bifurcates into smaller nerves through the calf and all the way down the foot to the toes.

Here's What Happens When Sciatic Nerve Gets Injured

So essentially, this is one long nerve traveling down the back body region to the foot, to the toes. And when the sciatic nerve gets injured, or “pinched,” an individual can experience different sensations like pain in the back of the hip, a deep knot ache in the buttock region, shooting pain down the back of the leg, irritation when sitting that starts in the low back and goes all the way down the back of the leg.

It can sometimes feel like a hamstring strain or a deep gnawing ache right there at the sit bones. Sometimes it can be a feeling like electricity going down the back of the leg. It can also be numbness and tingling at the bottom of the foot. Sometimes there can be weakness in the lower leg.

How You Can Differentiate Sciatica From Other Nerve Issues

There tends to be confusion at times between sciatica, sciatica syndrome, nerve root issues, and piriformis syndrome. Disc irritation can be involved as well.

The experience for the individual really varies from person to person in terms of sensations, pain, discomfort, weakness, what makes it better, what makes it worse. These can really lead to be confusing for the individual, especially if they Google search, they go to a yoga class, they watch YouTube, because they’ll get conflicting advice from teachers and practitioners.

So today we’re going to clear it up in terms of how to help the individual, whether you are a healthcare provider, yoga teacher, or a coach, so you have the ability to help the person in front of you live the life they want to live.

I’m working on an application actually right now for a pain summit. The whole focus of my application really is shifting from focusing on the pain to focusing on living life and wellness. And that’s what this perspective will take today. Not to say that what the individual is experiencing is not real, is not debilitating, is not impacting their life, but to help them find the ability to live their life while they heal. And for me personally, this was the biggest shift that allowed me to not put pressure on my own healing of sciatica, which sometimes takes a while for me as it took over a year and a half to fully heal.

How The Five Layers Of Kosha Healing Help Patients With Sciatica

For a lot of patients that I work with, sometimes they come to me and they put off living their life – I’ll wait to do this, I’ll wait to be happy, I’ll wait to sign up for this, I’ll wait to experience that until my back pain, my sciatica is fully healed. And this puts a lot of pressure on the healing.

It can also keep these individuals up at night with worry. Just worrying that their problems going to get worse. Will they ever fully heal? Is this is what their life is going to be like for the rest of their life – living and dealing and managing with this discomfort, and all of these will delay the healing process?

When instead, if we focus on the five layers of Kosha healing, coming right down to the bliss layer to start, to begin with, helping the individual find contentment, acceptance, and peace for where they are, which essentially creates a feeling of sufficiency, of safety in their own body, so they know that they are okay, even though it might not be ideal, they are okay where they are. They can find gratitude for where they are. They can still live their life no matter what they feel and they experience, even if they have to modify things, is huge.

Especially for the ambitious adult, this is very challenging and at times they can even throw up resistance to it – but I can’t do this, but I can’t do that, but my body’s not normal, which is true. However, they do have a choice to focus on the buts or they can focus on what they do have and helping them lean into the resistance, not force it away, but just lean into why the resistance is occurring, what thoughts are creating the feeling of resistance, can be very eye opening.

So then we work from the center out, and I’ll explain this layer by layer.

You can read more about the Kosha Layers for healing in this blog: https://igniteurwellness.com/holistic-healing/

How Do I Know This Is Possible? How Do I Know This To Be True?

Because I experienced it myself. About a decade or so ago, I had a disc herniation, which led to debilitating sciatica pain. And for a couple weeks I was in the acute phase, meaning it was very difficult to just move off the bed to move off a couch. And I was very limited to what I could do in my life. I definitely couldn’t practice yoga. Even going for my normal walks was challenging at the time.

Sometimes you work with people that in this acute phase and during that time, gentle movement rest and just working with the body’s inflammatory process is key. And sometimes it takes about a week to 10 days. Typically three weeks is the maximum amount of time, unless the individual is completely ignoring their acute phase and pushing through it, then usually the acute phase can take a little bit longer because they’re continuing to aggravate it.

But I personally experienced at that time was my back locking up. Sometimes this is called a slip disc, but it was one of those experiences where you’re, “Whoa, oh, now I can’t move, my body’s frozen and I’m feeling extreme pain in the back and down the leg and back spasms.” Which when I moved through the acute phase into more of a healing and repair phase, the symptoms shifted. It was less of an acute pain and the muscle spasms, those began to calm down. Where then I felt constant numbness and tingling in my foot, especially in my pinky side of the foot and in my lower calf region. And sometimes depending on what I was doing and when I would test certain movements, because sometimes part of healing is testing your boundaries, figuring out what helps your body and what makes it worse, I would feel sharp pain down the back of my leg, a gnawing, aching pain right in my SI region.

I also had some sacroiliac dysfunction at the time. Mine was multi-layered, which I do find is true for a lot of sciatic patients. It’s not just one thing typically. And aching pain in the back of the hip in the piriformis region. For me, what made it worse, what made a lot of these symptoms worse were deep back bends. So extending along the spine and deep forward bends. So bending forward to touch my toes, pigeon pose in yoga, even figure four would flare it up at times. So I had to, for a number of months, stay in what’s called neutral spine, meaning limiting myself from deep twist, deep side bends, deep forward bends, deep back bends.

Now in more of “an old school mentality,” when an individual was going through this, they would go to the primary care provider or their doctor and they would tell the doctor this and the doctor would say, “Oh, okay, well just avoid forward bending and avoid deep twisting.” And they wouldn’t give a limit of time when this could end. A lot of the patients I saw would come to me and say, “Well, the doctor just told me to not forward bend and not,” and they were supposed to live that way for the rest of their lives. Now I find this happening less and less as more primary care providers and just western medicine is really understanding more and more about sciatica in a general sense where they’re realizing that this is not helpful for the individual when they lock their body up in this way. Eventually they have to forward bend or twist for example. They just don’t realize it and unconsciously twist in their car to get something in the back seat, or they bend forward to reach and grab something for a fast moving toddler, things like that where life just happens.

If they don’t have that mobility, then they end up setting themselves up for a worse flare or a worse injury in the future. So as an individual heals, it’s gradually restoring that mobility with stability. And also, what’s not talked about in the western medicine model too much is working with the fascia where it can really adhese and cause more restrictions, especially along the fascia surrounding the nerve root,

fascia surrounding the sciatic nerve as it exits the spine in the back of the hip and the back of the leg. And sometimes I find that fascia around itself sometimes attaches to the fascia in the hamstring and in the piriformis. This causes a lot of tugging and pulling, which when the person is coming into the remodeling phase where they continuously have sciatic flareups, meaning it does okay for a period of time, but then they go back to their favorite yoga class or they go back to being a very active mom where they’re picking up their kids or sitting on the floor and moving more frequently, the sciatic nerve just becomes a continuous annoyance.

Where's Your Zone Of Genius as a Wellness Practitioner?

A lot of the times when this is the case, I find that fascia layers are involved as well. So as we move into these Kosha layers and how to work with sciatica, first close your eyes. Think of yourself as the practitioner. What are your skills? What’s your expertise?

Some of you are movement specialists, meaning your expertise is more in the yoga side of things or maybe physical therapy side of things – you’re movement specialists. Some of you are manual skills specialists, meaning you work with the fascia, you address the fascia, you work with massaging and body work. Some of you are mental health specialists, emotional specialists, energetic specialists. There is no right way, all are needed at times, but where’s your zone of genius? Make sure you keep this in mind as we work through the Kosha layers because you might be able to help the individual with all of these kosha layers. That’s great. Or you might help an individual with one, two, or three of the Kosha layers and you refer out for the rest, that’s fine as well.

But it’s important to know this so you can help the individual get the best results, the seamless and quickest way possible. And to understand that is to understand your zone of genius where you can really help them. So take a moment and really examine this for yourself in relation to sciatica specifically.

The First Kosha Layer

The first Kosha layer is the Anayamaya Kosha, the physical layer. Even if someone comes to me with a lot of stress and tension and I can tell that can be contributing to why they’re sciatic flares, I typically will still start with this physical layer because most of the American population anyways, depending on where you are in the world, you can see if this is true for where you live, but here in America, most of the population will think that their sciatica is mostly a physical issue and what’s needed is a physical exercise.

And the two common ones I feel that people come to me thinking that we’ll solve their problem are figure four, pigeon, and core strength, which may or may not be true. I like to meet the individual where they’re at. So I discuss with them what is really aggravating their sciatica, what their day-to-day triggers are. I figure out what is the true cause of the sciatica. Is it mostly disc? Is it SI contribute? Is it nerve root, irritation, lack of space in the spine? Is it lack of space in the back of the hips where the sciatica is getting compressed? Is it getting tugged and pulled in the hamstring region? So what is the sciatica, then it’s tracking down also the why.

And from a physical viewpoint, I look at mobility. What’s lacking strength, what that individual does well, what’s their day-to-day movements like? Are they mostly in static positions sitting at a desk, for example? Or maybe they’re a practitioner? I work with a lot of healthcare providers and yoga teachers where they’re moving throughout their day, what movements aggravate their pain. So we start on that physical layer and often the homework I do give for that first session does address this layer.

So for you, write down questions that you can ask to figure out the why from your perspective, from your zone of genius, from your field, what questions can you ask to figure out the root cause of why the individual may have sciatica? Now this might bring you to deeper layers. We’re going to get to those, but what can you give them on that first day that can meet the person where they’re at? If they’re feeling like they do need more core strength, except when they do their core strength exercises, for example, it flares the sciatica.

I find that happens quite frequently or they think that pigeon pose or a figure four pose would help their sciatica, but what they’re doing with their figure four pose is constantly re-flaring the sciatica. So how can you walk that individual through their day-to-day to really get into the nuances of patterns of how they’re living their life, which may be helping their sciatica or maybe making it worse?

The Second Kosha Layer

The next layer is that Pranamaya Kosha layer, which here we’re talking about their life force, their chi, their energy.

So I’m really noticing and almost feeling into a patient, a client’s energy, noticing how the sciatica is really impacting their life. Are they having lower energy both emotionally, mentally and physically? What’s their breath like as they describe their worries and fears? Are they triggered into a nervous system response and their breath constricts? Are they living most of their day-to-day in this trigger nervous system response, or are they able to regulate their nervous system, taking pressure off themselves – physically, emotionally, and mentally?

This is really a wonderful area to spend a lot of time in, especially if you’re a yoga teacher, Reiki practitioner, perineal sacro practitioner. You work with the chakras or are clairvoyant in some way, I think that’s the right word, where you can see into their different energetic layers. And notice where there might be some heaviness, some stickiness, some holes that are really contributing to energy leaks, quote unquote, for this person.

If you are an empath or sensitive, then you can really pick up a lot of things the person might be saying in front of you, but also what they’re not saying, how they’re just being, how they’re showing up their entity, how they’re sitting, their facial expressions again, their breath, how they’re holding themself, how they’re showing up, whether they’re taking up space in the world or not, how they describe their issue and problem.

These can all impact whether their healing will be smooth or if it will be delayed. And how can you prevent that delay in healing? And again, depending on my client, my patient’s perspective, their open mindedness, I may or may not describe all of this to them. For some people it just might be too out there, too esoteric, and that’s okay. Again, I’ll meet them where they’re at.

Usually in the first few sessions I will start to give some poses and some breathwork techniques and sometimes meditation, again, depending on where they are, if they’ve meditated before. I do work with a lot of yoga teachers, so sometimes I can jump right in. But to help downregulate their nervous system to help bring more energy and improve that life force, sometimes I even work on meditations right off the bat, cleansing their energetic field or sealing themselves in creating energetic boundaries for themselves, releasing any chords. Sometimes I do a lot of this work right off the bat.

Often I work with individuals for three or six months, years, and this work is sprinkled in the more and more the individual trusts me or begins to learn more about their physical experience, their body, and as they evolve as a human being, realizing that they’re more than just this 3D experience, that there’s more out there. Then we sprinkle in layers of this as they’re ready.

Some people that I work with, we never move beyond just some diaphragmatic breathing techniques, some basic startings of meditation, and that’s okay as long as they heal. I’ve done my job. Maybe they return back to me in a few years. I almost said in another lifetime, which may or may not be true, but sometimes they return back to me and they have a new problem or their sciatica comes back in a completely different way, then maybe we add more of these additional layers over time, it doesn’t matter. I’m always working with the individual in front of me and remembering that these Kosha layers, it doesn’t have to be a linear progression.

The Third Kosha Layer

The third layer is the Manomaya-Kosha, the emotional layer. Now typically, whether an individual is ready to examine this or not in their lives, the third and fourth layers are big contributors to sciatica issues, and when we really work with these layers, especially depending on how open an individual is, they can heal much quicker.

So this third emotional layer often has to depend on whether they’re storing emotions in their body, specifically anger, frustration. Do they live their lives under pressure? Most of the time they’re in an anxious state? Do they store a lot of tension in their body? Are they always continuously stressed out? Nothing is really ever working out in their favor or good enough meaning that they are very ambitious, they hit their goals and are already onto the next goal before they even realize that they hit that first goal, let alone even celebrate it. Is this individual open to feeling emotions throughout their day or do they block and resist them or just store them internally? Are they able to name and experience both positive emotions and uncomfortable emotions?

I know for me personally, when I was healing from sciatica and part of my sciatica prevention work is learning how to feel all the emotions on all the spectrum, for me, I really stuffed anger in. I was anxious most of the time, and I stuffed in as well, like frustration and annoyance. And because of my unwillingness to even experience or feel those emotions, I think I just thought I didn’t have the capacity to handle them in a mild mannered way, I guess you could say. I also limited my experience in life of feeling happiness and joy, which, when looking back now, why would I want to go through life not feeling happiness and joy?

It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was out of fear or thinking that if I did experience happiness, then the next shoe would drop. So this led to a lot of internal pressure in my body. And then when I tried to practice yoga or do all the “things, healthy things” for my body, it just increased the amount of pressure. And the body can only withstand so much pressure and nerves and discs do not like a lot of pressure. So that can really contribute to pain.

What an individual might say or experience though, is that they feel weak. They feel that they need more core strengthening, which may be true, but it’s just how they’re doing it and they have to relieve some of that tension first.

So again, this may be your zone of genius, helping others to process through emotions, helping them to regulate their nervous system so then they can more efficiently address the physical body. Maybe it’s not, you can decide and refer out as needed work within a team. This is especially helpful for individuals with sciatica.

The Fourth Kosha Layer

The next layer is the Vijnanamaya Kosha, the wisdom layer. And often, this is the unconscious patterns of thinking, moving again, the energetic boundaries or lack thereof, the shocker layers, what’s going on behind the scenes that leads to someone living their life a certain way, how they’re thinking their unconscious or conscious beliefs and values, which then drive how they show up or don’t show up in the world.

For example, are they an over doer and hustler? And this is stemming from scarcity mindset, a lack of an abundant relationship with money. Or is it stemming from root chakra issues, a feeling of unsafe or that they’re not having their needs met. Nothing is ever good enough. They don’t really ever feel sufficient. So they’re always going, going, going. Maybe it’s a second chakra issue where they’re forcing and always doing and trying to fit certain molds or certain box. So they’re blocking their own creativity and they’re pelvis area is compressed and restricted.

For example, maybe their past experiences in life are stored deep down in their nervous system and are unconsciously triggering them throughout the day. There is a ton of work that can be done here through journaling, coaching, self-coaching, meditation, breath work, just pausing throughout the day to become aware of thoughts an individual is thinking and how that influences the emotions, beliefs, how that influences actions and again, feelings.

I do have podcast episodes in relation to this. For example, the podcast episode, I think it’s back in the 40s, The Practice of Self-study, a more recent one, Five Reasons Why You’re Stressed Out, just goes into some examples of journaling and self-coaching techniques, meditation, the root chakra one, these are all in the perspective of the wellness practitioner. However you can think of that person in front of you.

How can you apply that knowledge to them. This layer is all about awareness, noticing what’s serving the person in terms of thinkings, beliefs, values, patterns of movement, patterns of thinking, what can be let go of pausing, redirecting the mind, re-entering, recreating neural pathways. So much can be done here.

The Fifth Kosha Layer

The fifth Kosha layer is the bliss layer. So through this process of working through all these layers, it’s having the individual learn how to live and love life. Now, even though they might feel that their body’s not perfect, even though they might experience injury, pain, discomfort, it doesn’t mean they’re not a whole person, doesn’t mean that they still can’t be happy. Think of all the people in the world that may have a disability in some format, may have a limitation in just how they were born into the world, and yet they’re able to live life to the fullest.

So a lot of my work sometimes is helping that ambitious adult to begin to feel acceptance and gratitude for their body, for all that it’s done, and shifting the focus from the limitations in what they can’t experience. A lot of times they compare, well, I used to be able to do this and now I can’t and I want it back. Sometimes it’s from a place of entitlement – I should be able to do this. My body should be able to do this. And they tried to force that adds to the pressure, and it’s from a very unconscious place. So compassionately helping the individual let go of that entitlement of forcing their body or expecting their body to be able to do certain things and extend loving their body for where it is, it really releases the pressure.

For example, personally I remember in the beginning I was really frustrated like I couldn’t practice my yoga practice the way that I really wanted to, the way that I thought my body should move and comparing it to how my body moved prior to injury, I wanted to get back to that place. Instead, I had to learn how to love my body for where it was, to be grateful for all that I could do and just allow whatever progression would look like as my body healed.

So I had to be grateful, for example, all the fancy yoga poses I did in the past, but not expect my body to be able to do them in the future. I had to essentially surrender them, let go and say goodbye to that old identity of me and embrace where I was currently, truly be present and just be from a very loving and accepting place of my body now. And that really still out of the pressure, it actually freed up a lot of the tension in my fascial tissues and throughout my day, and this is not often talked about in western medicine. I don’t know if there’s currently studies on this, but how the fascist system can get very sticky, restricted, and bowed down through nervous system pressures, through forcing and through stress of expectations.


Regardless though, I think it is really healthy and can be such a beautiful thing for the person to just find happiness and contentment in the non-perfect, whether it’s proven by science or not at this current time, I believe it will be in the future. This might be an area for you as the practitioner and you helping and guiding another person to help them to love their life in this place of an ideal. Because then when they do heal, because often this is the doorway that unlocks the final phase of healing, it’s just a bonus. When I got there, I was like, “Ah, yeah, I can do these fancy poses now again.” And it was nice, but I realized it wasn’t the key to my happiness. I could create happiness anytime I want, and that was so freeing. It released this expectation of having to practice a certain way for a certain amount of time each week and forcing my body to show up on the mat. Even though I might be tired and exhausted, I was able to find a bit more flow, ironically, in my life, it through my physical practice and my physical workouts, and this helped me to have more energy.

It just showed up in all the layers, all these Kosha layers where I did have more energy. I was experiencing more happiness, I could flow through anger much quicker. I changed the patterns of my thinking. I got into certain beliefs that didn’t no longer serve me. Stories I let go of. I created new ways of thinking, new ways of showing up, and it just created a lot more content in in my life. And that’s currently where I am now.

So sometimes because I have some certain structural issues in my body that I guess you could look at and say, where my body is not perfect, and on occasion I do experience some mild forms of sciatica where pops up on my radar, it doesn’t keep me up at night. I’m not worried because I know I can still be happy and I know my body will heal and whatever version of healing looks like I’ll get through it. In fact, that’s the mindset that has helped me through a lot of the recent surgeries I’ve had in life. And yes, my body has shifted, my yoga practice has shifted, but that does not dictate my happiness. I am still grateful for the yoga practice and just being able to get down on the map.

So there you have it some ways to work with sciatica beyond just the physical body, which is a really wonderful place to start. And you still have to address those physical layers of mobility, stability, stability with mobility, all that kind of stuff. But there is also so much more, and that physical body can be just the

beginning. So get out there, help more people, because sciatica is a very common problem and there’s a lot of misconceptions on it, and there’s no one right way as is true for many things.

All right, I’ll see you next week. Bye for now!

And if you want more, I’ve got a new free resource for you. It’s a five-day training. You can get it here:


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If you feel stuck helping your clients with sciatica let’s get on a call to talk about it. You can book your call here:


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Alison McLean

"I help the Entrepreneur reduce stress and live a more fulfilled and balanced life."