I talk about neutral spine often in Pilates class. I’ve come to realize, however, that some are still not quite sure what that means. Neutral spine is so important to your Pilates practice. It’s how we ensure we keep your spine safe, happy and healthy. Let’s take a few minutes to dive in and better understand the all important neutral spine!
Neutral Spine is the position or posture your spine naturally wants to hold with the least amount of stress on the body and spine. So what does that look and feel like? Our spines when left alone – naturally are not straight or flat. We have a posterior curve in the spine at the thoracic (about where your bra strap lies). When you are lying on your back – you should be able to feel your scapula and upper back connecting with the mat or floor. We also have an anterior curve of the spine at the small of the back – our lumbar vertebrae. When you are lying on your back you should feel a small space that is not connected to the mat or floor. In both cases we are talking about the bones – not any extra body mass you may have.
Another way to check your neutral spine alignment is to look at your pelvis. When lying on your back again – you should be able to lay the palms of your hands across each hip bone and extend the fingers to your pubic bone. These bone surfaces should all three be level. If you pubic bone is tilted higher than your hip bones, you are more than likely flattening your lumbar spine against the floor. If your hip bones are raised higher – you back is most likely arched higher than normal. Once again, it’s important to remember we are using the bones as our guides – not any body mass that may be over the bones.
So now that we know what neutral spine is – why is it so important to our Pilates practice? Neutral spine is the optimal posture for breathing, circulation of body fluids and maintaining healthy movements of our joints and muscles. Our bodies are most prepared to respond to exertion or exercise from the neutral position. When we begin an exercise with a comprised spinal alignment, we are exerting effort before we even begin our movement!
Some individuals can tolerate postural deviations better than others. Dancers tend to have more flexibility in their spines. If you have taken a Barre type of class, you were probably asked to perform exercises with a tucked pelvis. This posture can be harmful to some while tolerable to others as it requires holding your spine in an unnatural alignment with tailbone tucked forward.
Neutral Spine is safe and not harmful to the masses – flexible, inflexible, injured or top shape. The goal of Pilates is to create healthy, lean, mobile bodies and neutral spine is one way we can guarantee you are working safely and effectively.