How to Find Neutral Spine Position

Knowing how to achieve it is crucial for doing pilates properly

Woman lying on back on yoga mat with hands on abdomen

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Knowing how to find the neutral spine position is crucial for doing many Pilates exercises correctly. Making this subtle, yet powerful, adjustment during your practice may help prevent injury and increase overall performance.

Overview

Neutral spine is the natural position of the spine when all three 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, as it allows our body to move in the most natural way.

Finding Alignment

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

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Watch Now: How to Find Your Neutral Spine Position

  1. Basic positionLie 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 the 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 TiltExhale 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. Having proper alignment and a neutral spine position can ensure that tension is released and excess energy is not exerted.

Be sure that, as you do this exercise, your shoulders, neck, and legs are relaxed and not getting involved in the movement.

Tips

Many people habitually have their spine in one of 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.

You can use the following imagery practice to help 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, though, that you don't want the water to spill, so your pelvis cannot be tipped forward or tucked under.

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

During Exercise

Once you have achieved neutral spine, the big trick is to maintain this spinal position as you begin your moves and change positions throughout your practice.

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, and maintaining neutral spine. Repeat this process with each leg.

Once you can lift each leg with ease, test yourself with both legs. Exhale deeply and lift 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 and away from neutral spine position.

If you have difficulty doing this progression at first, keep practicing until you are able maintain neutral spine throughout. Once this basic progression feels easy to do, you can try moving on to additional progressions and positioning.

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Article Sources
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  2. Eickmeyer SM. Anatomy and physiology of the pelvic floor. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2017;28(3):455-460. doi:10.1016/j.pmr.2017.03.003

  3. Byrnes K. Is Pilates an effective rehabilitation tool? A systematic review. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2018;22(1):192-202. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2017.04.008

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