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Back to Basics - Finding Neutral Spine

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

NOTE - If you prefer, I have a YouTube video where I explain how to find Neutral Spine.

I participated in my first Pilates class about 20 years ago. I have always loved cardio type classes and I initially didn't like the idea of this slow, controlled exercise method; surely it was just for old people? But I went along as I was working in a private gym at the time and had access to a plethora of free classes and I was keen to hear what all the hoo ha was about.

I went in, listened to the instructor, who very quickly talked about pelvic floor (this was before I'd had kids, so the pelvic floor was totally new to me!) lateral breathing, the arches of the body, neutral spine and centering. I didn't have a clue what she was talking about and after an hour of looking at what others were doing, doing the exercises, but having no idea whether or not I was doing it right, I left the class basically wondering "what the hell was that all about"? I didn't go back to another Pilates class for five years.

As a beginner to Pilates, it can be quite confusing. There seems to be a lot to take in. You have to prepare the body before each movement and because a lot of it is inside the body and is more of a mind body connection, it's really hard for the instructor to visually see if you are doing it right. If you do a basic squat an instructor can see exactly if you are doing it right or wrong, but with Pilates, you as the participant, have to do a lot of it yourself!

It is tricky at first, but if you have a great instructor, I promise you will get there. It may take a few weeks, but after a while you will be setting your body up ready to start each exercise in seconds.

How do we set up in Pilates

So we are going right back to basics. First we are going to talk about finding Neutral Spine. In the coming weeks we will cover lateral breathing, centering and the arches of the body which we set up to find good alignment.

Neutral Spine

So the first thing we look at is getting our spine into a neutral position. We do this not only to protect our spine and the muscles around it, but also to get our spine into the optimal position for doing the work ahead.

Knowing how to find the neutral spine position is crucial for doing many Pilates exercises correctly. Making this subtle adjustment during your practice may help prevent injury and increase overall performance. It's also a great habit for us to get into so that hopefully we will start to naturally put ourselves into the correct postural alignment, not only in a Pilates class, but on a day to day basis.

Neutral spine is the natural position of the spine when all 3 curves of the spine - cervical (neck), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower)—are in good alignment. Each of us has a natural curve to our spine, but because of bad postural habits we can stand/sit and lay down without being in neutral spine.

Once you have achieved neutral spine, the big trick is to to maintain this spinal position as you begin your moves and change positions throughout the class. First of all though, lets find out how to find it!

How to Find it - Standing

Stand with feet slightly less than hip distance apart, lightly hold onto your hips and tilt the pelvis back and forth. Imagine the whole of your mid section is a bucket of water. Tilt too far forward and the water splashes out at the front, too far back, the water splashes behind. Tilt until the water stays in the middle with no splashing. Your ribs/chest should not be flared out/pushed forward and your bottom rib should be in line with your hip bones. Your neck should be long and your chin tucked in, eyes looking towards the ceiling. Shoulders should sit down, away from the ears and relaxed.

Lay Down

Lay down and again tilt the hips, but this time you have a bowl of water on your tummy. When you have found neutral position, your spine should not be fully imprinted onto the mat, you should have a slight natural curve to it. If there was a ribbon under your back, I should be able to pull it through easily. Your neck and shoulders should once again be down and relaxed.

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