Piriformis Syndrome

The practice of Yoga has been a valuable activity in my daily life since September 2011.    I am taking a 200 hour Teacher Training Certification Curriculum while taking on extra-curricular classes taught by different instructors to learn all of the various types of Yoga asanas (poses).   Recently, a sciatic pain developed that was so intense that after getting out of bed from an 8 hour sleep,  my legs buckled from under me when getting out of bed.  This was remedied through trying different stretching positions on the floor until I was able to stand without shooting pain.

I mentioned this to an instructor who recognized this syndrome as “Yoga Butt”.  What a term for a diagnosis!  I had “Yoga Butt”!  The recommended remedy provided was to bend the knees during poses that place too much tension on the hamstrings.  OK, that made sense and so I implemented the intervention to no avail.

A few days later I told a different instructor about my diagnosis of  “Yoga Butt”.  She asked me to explain what I was feeling.  I told her that the pain was originating in the piriformis muscle and shot down to mid-hamstring level.   She identified this as a possible strain by overextending hip-opening poses.  She proceeded to assist me with modifications during the class and provided appropriate counter poses.  The end result is after a few days working with modifications and counter poses, I do not have the intense sciatic pain.

Anatomically, the sciatic nerve passes through the piriformis muscle.  The piriformis originates from the anterior surface of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th sacral segments of the spine.  The sacral nerve plexus is located on the surface of the piriformis muscle (Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards, 3rd edition).    When the piriformis muscle is stretched and taut it compresses the sciatic nerve.  Over extension or an intense Yoga asana may result in muscle spasms if a counter pose is not engaged.  This causes the radiating pain down the nerve pathway.

Aadil Palkhivala identifies asanas that stretch the piriformis are Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana), King Pigeon Pose (Raja Kapotasana),  Forward Bend, Ankle to knee pose, Staff Pose (Dandasana) (

Palkhivala recommends the best way to release the hip flexors or Counter Poses is by doing Back-Bending Series.  A few good asanas for this are the Bow Pose (Dhanurasana), Camel Pose (Ustrasana), Bridge Pose (Setubandhasana), Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)  and Fish ( Susan L. Smith, MYI, ERYT,  “Susan’s Power Flow Yoga”);  additionally,  One Leg Reclined Hero Pose (Eka Pada Supta Virasana) (  Aadil Palkhivala is a Master Yoga Teacher, Writer, Attorney and Rounder-Director of Yoga Centers in Bellevue, Washington.

Another good reference that I use in addition to the above instructors is “The Key Poses of Yoga”, “Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends” and “Anatomy for Backbends and Twists” by Ray Long, MD, FRCSC.  The acronym FRCSC stands for Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada.  Dr. Long is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon who has studied Hatha Yoga for over 20 years.  He studied in India with B.K.S. Iyengar and many other leading Yoga Masters.



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