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How to Find Neutral Spine Position in Pilates

A common phrase you'll hear in Pilates classes is "neutral spine." Understanding how to find your neutral spine position is a fundamental part of correctly performing certain Pilates exercises. "Neutral spine" refers to the position of your spine when it is naturally curved throughout the neck, middle, and lower spinal regions. The three spinal curves are the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), and the lumbar (low back) regions of the spine. When these three curves are naturally aligned, your spine is in its strongest position, whether you are standing, sitting, or lying down.

To maintain a neutral spine, do not flatten your back or press your spine into the floor. Instead, keep the natural curves of your back throughout the exercise. This works the back muscles and the abdominal muscles simultaneously, which strengthens your entire core. You can maintain neutral spine position in exercises performed on your back, but also in those requiring you to stand, sit, or be on your hands and knees. Take note that when you're performing moves on your back with both legs raised, such as the Hundreds [link], your spine should not be in neutral position. Rounding your spine in those positions helps to protect your back. Follow the instructions below to help you find your neutral spine position.

Instructions

  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart. Rest your arms at your sides with your palms facing down. Align your heels, toes, knees, and hips.
  2. Relax your shoulders. Balance your weight evenly across your shoulders and hips. Breathe deeply, letting your ribcage, neck, and jaw relax with every breath.
  3. On an exhalation, tuck your pelvis and press your lower spine into the floor. Use your abdominal muscles to press your spine down.
  4. Inhale and come back to your relaxed starting position.
  5. Exhale as you tilt your pelvis in the opposite direction, lifting your lower spine off the floor.
  6. Inhale and come back to your relaxed starting position.
  7. Your body should now be in correct and balanced alignment. Your neutral spine position is in between the tucked pelvis and tilted pelvis positions. Your belly should be flat and there should be a slight, natural curve in your lower back.
Hot Tip: Don't Spill the Water

When you're on your back in your neutral spine position, imagine that you are balancing a cup of water (or hot coffee) on your lower belly, a few inches below your belly button. If you tuck or tilt your pelvis, your cup will spill! Instead, let your abdominal muscles drop toward your spine to keep your belly flat. This is how your belly should feel when your spine is in its neutral position.

Modifications & Tips

Maintaining a neutral spine position will help reduce any fatigue or tension when performing certain moves. Keep the following information in mind when you're finding your neutral spine position:

  • Keep your shoulders, neck, and legs relaxed.
  • The apex (the uppermost portion) of the curve in your lower back should be even with your belly button.
  • The two areas that should not touch your mat are your neck (cervical spine) and your lower back (lumbar spine).
  • You can also practice finding your neutral spine position by standing with your back against a wall, or even while sitting in a chair. Tuck and tilt your pelvis as you would in the floor exercise. Your standing and sitting neutral spine position is halfway between a tuck and a tilt. Your head, mid-back, and pelvis should all be aligned.

Naturally Neutral

You can practice finding your neutral spine position throughout the day. Whether you're standing in line at the coffee shop, sitting on the bus, or lying down after a long day, tuck and tilt your pelvis a few times to find your balancing point. Maintaining a neutral spine can help prevent any back pain caused by misalignment and it will power up your Pilates practice!

Holding your spine in a neutral position is an important technique required to perform Pilates correctly. Check out this guide to learn about neutral spine position!
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