Can Yoga Cause Sciatica? 3 Important Mistakes to Avoid

Before you use yoga for DIY hip pain relief, discover whether yoga can yoga cause sciatica and the 3 mistakes to avoid so you do more good than harm.

pin to a post answering can yoga cause sciatica

You start a new exercise program that’s supposed to help you get stronger and feel better, but after a while, you notice your hips are killing you.

Sound familiar?

For years, I practiced and taught Pilates to help people build stronger bodies and relieve pain. But, at the same time, I noticed a horrible pain in my hips.

I wondered what I could do, what I should change. Was it vitamin deficiency? Was my body too weak? What could be causing this pain?

I never even thought to question whether my exercise routines could be the cause. So, if you’re asking yourself whether your Pilates routine or yoga flow is causing your pain, you’re light years ahead of where I was when my hips started hurting.

Since sciatica is one of the most common causes of hip pain, I decided to do a little digging to answer the question, “Can yoga cause sciatica?”

Here’s what I discovered.

Related: If you’re searching for a way to get rid of your sciatica or other hip pain; download your free copy of The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief.

Can yoga cause sciatica?

In order to decide whether yoga can cause sciatica, you first have to learn what sciatica actually is.

What is sciatica?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body.”

So, basically, if you have sciatica, something has happened within your body to compress or aggravate your sciatic nerve.

There are two main ways this can happen. First, you can have a structural issue like a bulged disc, misplaced vertebra, or natural narrowing of your spine (which is called spinal stenosis). Second, you can have tight muscles messing with your sciatic nerve.

Sarah Stockett answers if yoga can cause sciatica
Thanks,, for this sciatic nerve image.

If this is the case, the most likely culprit is a muscle called the piriformis. The reason this muscle is normally to blame is because it has an unusual relationship with the sciatic nerve.

In some people, the sciatic nerve runs under the piriformis. In others, it runs over the muscle. There are also some people who have a sciatic nerve that runs through the piriformis.

For the people whose sciatic nerve runs over or through the piriformis, this muscle could be causing your pain.

Related: Check out The Complete Guide to Do-It-Yourself Hip Pain Sciatica Relief.

So, can yoga cause sciatica?

Let’s just say that it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

For over 5,000 years (no joke), yoga has helped people learn how to relieve their aches + pains. It was the ultimate DIY practice for pain relief—way before people even knew they needed such things.

But now, we know. We know our bodies need certain exercises to keep them strong and flexible. And, many folks know that a well-balanced yoga practice offers just that.

However, yoga isn’t a guaranteed road to success. There are things that could happen to cause pain.

Well, that doesn’t sound like fun.

Pain is never fun—especially if you’ve just started yoga to get rid of pain in the first place!

When I first started learning yoga, I accidentally gave myself a hamstring injury that took over a month to heal. I was new and excited. I was young and determined. And, I had a teacher who was more concerned with her workout than with mine.

Unfortunately, I moved too deeply into a pose and hurt myself.

It was over five years later that a good friend of mine finally convinced me to give yoga another try. This experience was quite different.

This teacher taught me that it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

3 Mistakes to Avoid When Using Yoga to Relieve Your Sciatica

When you’re using yoga to relieve your sciatica, the last thing you want to do is make your pain worse. Luckily, if you avoid these three mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to find the DIY hip pain therapy that you’re seeking.

1. You think about life outside the class.

You set up your mat, take a seat, and immediately start thinking about what you’re going to do after yoga. I’ve gotta go get groceries. And I’ll have to walk the dog. Hey, what am I going to have for dinner?

Before you know it, the infinite to-do list and never-ending string of questions that don’t need to be answered right now take over.

You think about the future and completely ignore the present.

Gone is your attention to how your body moves. Gone is your enjoyment for the present moment. And in their place are stress and potential injury.

So, how do you avoid that?

The key to practicing yoga and not getting hurt is to pay attention to your body.

One of the main goals of yoga is to turn inward. All of your focus should be on what you’re doing and how it makes your body feel.

When you stay committed to yourself during your yoga practice, you are much less likely to get hurt.

In fact, I can say from experience that the only times I’ve gotten hurt in yoga have been when I’ve let my mind wander and lose focus on the one thing that matters in that moment—me!

This is the best opportunity for you to be completely self-centered, so use it wisely.

2. You compare yourself to others.

Whether you start to focus on neighbors or your teacher, there can be a point in time where the brain starts to try to control the body. You don’t look like that, it tells you. Try to make yourself look just like that.

But one of the keys to yoga is that it’s not how you look on the outside, it’s how you feel on the inside.

Now, before you think I’ve gone all soft and waxed poetic on you, let me explain.

We’re all made up of muscles and bones. And, to a very large extent, our muscles and bones all work in approximately the same way. However, that doesn’t guarantee that your body will work just like your neighbor’s or your teacher’s.

What separates us and makes us unique is our injuries. Whenever you have to heal from an injury, it slightly alters things on the inside of your body.

This is why you shouldn’t compare yourself with your neighbor. They don’t have your unique experiences, and you don’t have theirs.

Give yourself grace and give your body permission to practice a pose to the very best of its ability without judging whether it looks like the picture.

3. You let your ego take the reigns.

Your attention is inward. You’re really feeling your practice and moving through the poses. Then, all of a sudden, you feel pain.

When this happens, it’s often because you let your ego take charge. What many people don’t realize is your ego isn’t just the little voice in your head that tells you that you have to compete with someone else. It’s also the voice that tells you you’re not doing a good enough job.

Your ego is that overly critical family member who suggests not-too-subtly that what you’re doing isn’t good enough.

Didn’t you go deeper into that pose last time? I think you held that longer last week. Are you going to be a quitter and move into a rest pose?

Whatever your ego tells you, let me reassure you, Your ego is an idiot! Don’t listen!

Like a pompous buffoon who has no idea what’s going on but keeps giving advice anyway, your ego starts to control your mind and fill it with misinformation.

How do I control my ego?

One of the most wonderful parts of yoga is that you get to practice self-care.

Your ego can say whatever it wants. Then, it’s your job to sweep the thought away so you can get back to the work you really need to be doing—taking care of yourself!

Eventually, as you keep brushing your ego aside, it will speak up less and less. Before long, you will be able to have an ego-free practice. Once your ego quits getting involved in your yoga, you should be able to practice a pain-relieving sequence.

So, who are you? And why should I trust you?

Sarah Stockett

I’m Sarah Stockett, a certified Pilates instructor and yoga teacher, and I’ve been teaching people how to relieve their aches + pains with simple exercises since 2002.

It wasn’t until I started having kids that I discovered that I needed to put my skills to the test and work on myself. Pregnancy and nursing left me with constant back and hip pain.

I researched and tested exercises. Then, I took the best, most effective exercises and used them on my clients with hip pain. After just a few months, all of us were pain-free!

For years, I worked with clients, helping them relieve their hip pain. Finally, I realized I wanted to help as many people learn how to completely relieve their hip pain themselves, so I created an online course called Spinal Rejuvenation.

This easy-to-understand course teaches you everything you need to know to relieve your hip pain right now and stay pain-free in the future.

Can I do yoga for sciatica pain relief?

You betcha! Yoga is perfect for sciatica pain relief. I know because I’ve used yoga poses to relieve hip pain for myself and my private clients. Here are three of my very favorite hip pain-relieving poses.

1. Sleeping Pigeon Pose Prep

There are many choices you can make when choosing which version of Sleeping pigeon pose prep is best for you. Follow the directions below, and you should find the perfect match!

woman doing the yoga pose sleeping pigeon prep

Getting Set Up

  1. Use ujjayi breathing by inhaling and exhaling through your nose only.
  2. Begin on your back with your pelvis in neutral, knees bent, heels in line with your SITs bones. (Your SITs bones are those bones you can feel pressing into the ground when you sit cross-legged.)
  3. Take a moment to exhale and hug your abdominal muscles around your abdomen and low back. This will help support your hips and low back so you’ll get the optimal stretch.
  4. Lift your right leg and cross your right ankle just beneath your left knee on your thigh. Make sure the right ankle is off the left thigh. This way, the ankle bone doesn’t press into your thigh muscles (quadriceps).
  5. You have just made a “Figure 4” of sorts. When I was a personal trainer, that’s what we called this stretch, so you may know it by this name, too.
  6. If you feel a stretch, hang out here and breathe.
  7. Hold here for 5-10 breaths.
  8. When you are finished, keep muscular energy as you lower your leg and reverse sequence to do the other side. Be aware that the flexibility of your right side and your left side may differ dramatically.

Choosing What’s Best for Your Lower Body

If you don’t feel a stretch in this position, don’t worry. There are some subtle things you can do with your lower body to produce just the right amount of stretch.

  1. Lift your left foot straight off the ground. Your left knee should be angled at your left shoulder.
  2. Make sure your pelvis has not shifted, rocked, or tilted so you can bring your leg up. If it has, lower your foot to the ground and get your pelvis back in neutral. The next time you lift, only lift up part way and place your foot on a prop like a block. (Keeping a neutral pelvis is crucial.)
  3. If you want a little less intensity, place your left foot on a prop like a block or a fat book. For folks with good hip flexibility, you could also place your left foot on a wall. (Make sure your foot is in line with your knee.) Using the wall helps open your hips a little deeper in addition to providing support.
  4. If this feels like a good enough stretch, stay here.
  5. Hold here for 5-10 breaths.
  6. When you are finished, keep muscular energy as you lower and reverse sequence to do the other side. Be aware that the flexibility of your right side and your left side may differ dramatically.

Choosing What’s Best for Your Upper Body

If lifting your legs feels like a good enough stretch, don’t push yourself. There’s no rule that says you have to use your hands.

But, if you want to use your hands to intensify your stretch, here’s what you can do.

  1. You can lace your fingers behind your left thigh so your arms are helping pull your legs toward you. Or, you can place your left hand on the heel of your right foot and your right hand on your right knee. Press your hands toward each other. This should help you get a deeper stretch into your hip.
  2. Also, you can lift your head and upper body to further increase your stretch.
  3. Hold here for 5-10 breaths.
  4. When you are finished, keep muscular energy as you lower and reverse sequence to do the other side. Be aware that the flexibility of your right side and your left side may differ dramatically.

More of a fan of videos?

If you’re more of a visual learner, you can use this video to walk you through how to do Sleeping pigeon pose prep.

2. Warrior 1

I love Warrior 1 for both hip and low back pain relief. However, when not done correctly, it can stir up issues in either or both areas.

Lower body set-up

  1. Use ujjayi breathing to inhale and exhale through the nose.
  2. Stand up tall with your feet about a fist’s distance apart in Tadasana.
  3. Put a soft bend in your knees, and send the right leg back into a lunge. The bent knee should go no further than ninety degrees.
  4. If you have tight hips or issues with your low back, sacrum, or SI joint, you should have your legs on tracks that are wider than hip-distance apart. For example, I have SI joint issues so when I send my right leg back, I scoot it out to the side of my mat. When my toes lower, they touch the outside edge of my mat.
  5. Spin your right foot to a forty-five-degree angle and anchor your foot to the ground. Feel your toes, heels, and the outside edge of your foot press into the mat.    
  6. Put your hands on your hips, and hug your belly button toward your spine. Make sure your pelvis is level and encourage it to face the front of your mat.

Upper body set-up

  1. Feel your rib cage lift away from your pelvis.
  2. Bring your arms up to Cactus, with your elbows in line with your shoulders and your hands directly above your elbows.
  3. Soften your upper back to curve backward. Make sure that you only feel movement from the part of the spine in line with the shoulder blades and up. Also, make sure that your head stays in line with your spine.
  4. Reach both arms straight toward the ceiling with your palms facing each other. Your biceps (front part of your upper arm) should be right by your ears.
  5. Broaden your collarbones and feel your shoulder blades slide down your back.
  6. Hold this position for 5-8 breaths.
  7. Exhale your arms down.
  8. Step your right foot up by your left foot.
  9. Switch sides.

More of a fan of videos?

If you’re more of a visual learner, you can use this video to walk you through how to do Warrior 1.

3. Hero’s Pose

Hero’s pose normally has some intensity. Be kind to your hips as you practice, and you’ll feel like a hero afterward!

hero's pose from the back
  1. Come onto your hands and knees with your knees together and feet separated. The goal here is that you will have such open hips that you could sit on the floor with your feet on either side of you.
  2. Lift your hands off the floor and cross your hands at the wrists. Grab your thighs to help rotate your legs medially (toward the center of the body).
  3. Grab your prop if you think you might need it and rotate your pelvis so that your SITs bones are pointing out and there is a nice curve in your lumbar spine.
  4. Sit back on to your prop or the floor.
  5. Feel your SITs bones press down into the floor or prop beneath them. As you feel that grounding, feel how the energy goes up through the crown of your head, giving you a nice long spine.
  6. Broaden your collarbones.
  7. Make sure your head is active in line with your spine and that your chin is not sticking forward.
  8. I like to take my thumbs and massage my feet while I sit here. You should hold for several long, slow breaths.

More of a fan of videos?

If you’re more of a visual learner, you can use this video to walk you through how to do Hero’s pose.

Want to learn more?

If you were asking yourself Can yoga cause sciatica? today because you have some hip pain you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.

Or, if you want a free taste of what you’ll learn in Spinal Rejuvenation, click here to download The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief.

So, what do you think? Can yoga cause sciatica? Leave your comments below.

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.