It’s pretty much written in the script when teaching Pilates to talk about a ‘neutral alignment’. Less common in Yoga (unless you come to my class). It can be useful in Yoga to play around with neutral in/out of neutral to see what you experience yourself.
The simplest way to explain neutral spine is where your spine is positioned in it’s own natural curve. If you imagine the pelvis is a bucket, if you tip it forward, you spill out the front, if you tip it back, you spill out the back. Holding the pelvis in neutral keeps it level.
Then you have your skull which slots on top of the spine , I often liken it to a lollypop sitting on a stick, the skull should have some movement without always needing the neck to move it. The skull sits in a neutral position dropping and tucking the chin just enough to lengthen the back of the neck.
The spine slots into the pelvis as a series of alternating C shaped curves – Cervical spine (neck region), thoracic spine (from top of the shoulders to the bottom of the rib cage), lumbar spine (from the bottom of the ribcage to the pelvis and sacral (top of the pelvis to the tip of the tailbone).
The spine is made up of the bones (vertebrae) and cartilage discs with a network of ligaments holding the structure together.
The shape of the curves is slightly different in each of us, so getting to know your shape is really useful when it comes to doing Pilates & Yoga (or any exercise for that matter).
When we are in a ‘neutral position’; skull, spine, pelvis, our spine is at its strongest and most supportive position. Check out the video on neutral alignment in the programme for a demonstration.
Other than the support a neutral position gives your spine, it can help alleviate pain and discomfort in your lower back, hips, knees, shoulders and neck. Your pelvis is in one of the most central positions in your body, if it’s off centre, everything is off centre, and over time your body will make noise to tell you it’s not happy. Ignoring these messages could contribute to issues in the long term in the joints such as osteoarthritis.
In a standing position, if you could see yourself in a mirror side on, your ear would be over the shoulder, over the hip, over the knee, over the ankle and your ribs would be over your pelvis (if you chopped your waist out, the ribs would sit directly over the pelvis) and avoiding thrusting the ribs forward.
In a lying position, you can find this standing by lying on your back, knees bent, place the heel of your hands on the hip bones and finger tips in towards your pubic bone. When they are level, that is your neutral spine*. The curve in everyone’s lower back is different depending on bum size, spine shape and posture.
*The important thing is to not feel pressure or discomfort in the lower back. If a neutral position is causing pain or discomfort there is likely a muscle imbalance which may need to be addressed in 1:1 sessions or possibly even with a physiotherapist depending on what is going on in your body. I would encourage you to speak to me (or your teacher) about your experience. When you are moving in exercises it is important to keep engagement through the core to support and maintain the pelvic positioning.
The Pilates fundamentals course goes in to this in detail check it out www.iamjenwilson.com/pilates