Neutral spine possibly the most difficult thing to understand in a Pilates class, but understanding what it is and why it matters is key to your practice! Usually us instructors will ask yo to imagine your pelvis is a big bowl of water. We’ll get you to shwoshh the water to the front and then to the back; then make the movements smaller and smaller until the remaining water lays flat in the bowl. I’m sorry to say that in my first experiences of Pilates when I was too busy thinking about pulling my tummy in, bending my knees a little and breathing, oh the breathing! I had no idea why I was shwoshhing water around in an imaginary bowl or what it was doing for my pelvis, in all honesty I just felt a bit lost and a bit stupid.
Let’s define Neutral Pelvis:
Neutral Pelvis is exactly the same is every human body: it is the alignment of the ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine – in class I call the the two boney bits of you hips) and the Pubic Bone. In neutral pelvis we are bringing both the pubic bone and two boney hip points into alignment with the ‘Coronal Plane’. The coronal plane is simply a plane that divides us in half vertically creating front and back: anterior and posterior. We can create this alignment when standing, sitting, kneeling and lying down.
Everyone can create neutral pelvis, it is just the alignment of these points relative to the coronal plane. Neutral pelvis is what allows us to find our neutral spine – that’s why all that swooshing is so important and why us instructors spend so much time visualising things that don’t always seem quite practical or relevant.
Neutral Spine is different in every body but follows the same equation if you like – so despite being different in every body it follows the same system achieving natural balanced curvature of the spine when we find neutral pelvis. When we are in neutral pelvis it allows the most space between each vertebra and for the body to function efficiently being balanced in terms of strength and flexibility.
Each person will have different shaped bones and vertebra which means we will all have slightly different shaped curves within the spine. In Pilates we are concerned with elongating the spine and putting as much space between each vertebrae as possible. We aim to do this to reduce any resistance or impingement on the nerves that flow out from the spinal cord and column to our muscles and organs. (In my mind I am simply trying to not squash any nerves between my vertebra as they leave my spine.) Over time our spinal discs degenerate and so it is imperative that we use our muscles to support our posture and prevent our back bones from sitting one on top of another.
Neutral Spine is achievable when the seat of the spine is in neutral: Neutral Pelvis! Each time we pass through neutral pelvis there is the opportunity to lengthen the spine into Neutral Spine. In Pilates we aim not to set neutral spine but to respect the natural formation of our own spine and work with the angles and measurements we have been blessed with rather than contort ourselves into positions our bodies in ways they just don’t want to move. Life generally brings about imbalance, we constantly work again gravity. Continually have to lug heavy handbags and hold ourselves in ways that are not conducive to neutral at all. As I write this blog, my laptop is far too small! My neck is jutting out just to see the screen and my back is hunched, my chest is squashed.
Whilst ‘neutral’ is all very important we must appreciate that we will move in and out of neutral all the time, we are not aiming to hold or brace a position to maintain our posture rigidly. Our aim is to work with life and our given structure and aim to find dynamic stability. Dynamic stability is where we are not holding but working with opposition in the action of maintaining Neutral Pelvis which in turn allows for Neutral Spine.
And that my friend is where Pilates comes in – strengthening your core means strengthening all the muscles in opposition to create physical harmony and balance. We need not brace and hold but train ourselves to function efficiently in constant balance of oppositional forces.
Photo Credits with thanks to; Breise Breise Leigh Goleire, Low Back Pain Program and the chronicles of my own adventures.