How To Find Neutral Spine Position

Knowing how to achieve it is crucial for doing Pilates properly.

Woman lying on back in deep abdominal yoga position
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Knowing how to find the neutral spine position is crucial for doing many Pilates exercises correctly.

Neutral spine is the natural position of the spine when all 3 curves of the spine — cervical (neck), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) — are present and in good alignment. This is the strongest position for the spine when we are standing or sitting, and the one that we are made to move from. 

How to Find Your Neutral Spine Position

Use the following exercise to help you find the neutral position for your spine.

  1. Basic position. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Make sure that your legs are parallel with your heels, toes, knees, and hips all in one line. Let your arms rest at your sides.
     
  2. Melt into floor. Relax your body, including your shoulders, neck, and jaw. Allow your back to rest on the floor, without effort. Your rib cage is dropped with the lower ribs released to the floor as well.
     
  3. Breathe deeplyBring your breath all the way into your body, allowing it to move into your back and the sides of your rib cage, and all the way down to the pelvis.
     
  4. Pelvic tilt. Exhale and use your abs to press your lower spine into the floor in a pelvic tuck. Inhale to release.Exhale and pull your lower spine up, away from the floor creating a pelvic tilt. Inhale to release.

One of the hallmarks of Pilates exercise is that we don't use excess energy or tension. Be sure that, as you do this exercise, your shoulders, neck and legs are relaxed and not getting involved in the movement.

Mind Tricks to Keep the Spine Neutral

Many people habitually have their spine in one of these two positions, tucked or tilted. To be in neutral spine, you want to be in between these positions, with the lower abs flat and just a slight, natural curve of the lower spine off the floor.

Use the following images to establish neutral spine.

Balanced Pelvic Placement. Imagine that there is a cup of water sitting on your lower abdomen, just a couple of inches below your belly button. Allow your abdominal muscles to drop in toward your spine, making your belly flatter. Remember that you don't want the water to spill, so your pelvis cannot be tipped forward or tucked under.

Body Scan. You should now be relaxed with your body in a balanced alignment on the floor. Your breath is deep and full, and your abdominals drop toward the floor. The natural curves of the neck and lumbar (lower) spine, however, are away from the floor. Be sure that your lower spine is not pressed into the floor. That would be a pelvic tilt.

Maintaining It During Exercise

Now the big trick tis to be to maintain this spinal position as you begin your moves.

Start by lifting your right leg up and placing it back down without letting your hips move. Then repeat the motion with the left leg. Engage the abdominal muscles to help stabilize the pelvis making sure it doesn't move.

Can you do both legs with ease? Now test yourself with both. Exhale deeply and left your legs up while keeping your core and pelvis stable. Then lower them back down. As you do this progression you may find that you want to release the abs and let the back arch. This will take you into your tuck and tilt. If you have difficulty doing this progression, practice. 

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