Sciatica and Tight Hips/Low Back —Your Pesky Piriformis!

Today I want to share some information with you about your piriformis.

It is considered one of the “six deep lateral rotators of the hip.”

Most of us can relate to having tight hips at some point, and for many of your future yoga students this is going to be a challenging area.

I have often said in my own classes that poses like pigeon are “most likely to introduce you to the experience of how emotional tension is held in the body,” so I think it is useful to have some knowledge about this key area!

piriformis

In 80% of us, the piriformis muscle sits atop the thick sciatic nerve that passes from your low back down to your lower leg, but in 20% of the population the sciatic nerve actually passes through the piriformis instead of underneath it.

When it is in chronic contraction, the piriformis can cause referred pain down the back of the leg and fixate the sacrum in a stiff and sore position.

The muscle runs at an angle across from the sacrum to the thigh bone and is deep in the buttock underneath the three layers of gluteal muscles.

Though sciatica (or referred pain down the back or side of the leg) is often caused by bulging discs in the lumbar spine, it is sometimes this tight piriformis muscle squeezing the nerve, or some combination of disc + piriformis creating the problem.

Even for those of us who don’t have sciatic pain, keeping the piriformis muscle out of chronic contraction allows for healthy range of motion in the hips and sacrum and is beneficial for the low-back. Of course, just as in working with the psoas, stretching the pirifomis should be combined with strengthening the core, especially the pelvic floor and transversus abdominus muscles.

That’s as technical as we will get for now – those of you who want a more in depth anatomy understanding in terms of yoga postures and sequencing are enthusiastically invited to the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Teacher Trainings.

My clinical experience as a 20+ year yoga teacher and bodyworker tells me this muscle often holds unexpressed anger or fear when in chronic contraction. Practicing yoga or receiving bodywork in a supportive space that values inner work and emotional awareness can be key in releasing this tension and bringing awareness to the mind/body issues it may represent.

In our TT, we focus on the low-back, hips and legs as we explore first and “second chakra” themes around being grounded, pleasurably alive, sensually and sexually empowered, standing up for yourself, trust, and intimacy.

Here is a free short video for anyone wanting to work with their piriformis. Please proceed carefully, breathe deeply and practice self-compassion!

~Julian Walker

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