How to Do the Pilates Head Nod Exercise

Head nod is a fundamental Pilates exercise. You can use it as part of your warmup and as a stress reliever throughout your day. Head nod is easy, but it's not just a beginner Pilates exercise. It is the first obvious move (after breath and abdominals) in many of our most advanced exercises.

Because it is so simple, people forget to do head nod properly. But head nod protects the neck and is an essential part of the spinal curve in all rolling type of exercises — up, down, and over. You will find that getting exercises started right makes a huge difference. Now nod your head in agreement and we will get started.


Begin in a Neutral Position for the Head Nod

Young man relaxing on exercise mat, side view
Scott Kleinman/Photodisc/Getty Images

You can practice head nod standing or sitting but it is best to practice it lying down, as you would at the beginning of a Pilates session.

Begin: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

Your legs should be parallel with your hips, knees, and feet in one line. Your arms rest along your sides, palms down. Your spine is in a neutral position — all 3 natural curves are present.

Make sure your face is flat to the ceiling so you don't start tipped up or down.

Mentally scan your body, letting go of unnecessary tension. Take a few deep breaths in this position. 


Head Nods Down

Pilates Neck Exercise
Head Nods Down. (c)2009, Marguerite Ogle

Inhale: Use your breath to enhance a feeling of length in your spine so that the space at the ​back of the neck — just under the base of the skull — opens up, releasing the chin downward.

Feel this as a lengthening and opening move rather than pulling the chin down from the front. Be sure to avoid jamming your chin down.

This is the actual head nod position.

Exhale: Return to the neutral position


Head Tilts Back

Pilates Exercise
Head Tilt Back. (c)2009, Marguerite Ogle

Inhale: Tilt your head back. This is just a small move.
Again, keep length in your neck. You want the back of the neck to feel supported. The breath can help with that if you think of it traveling the length of your spine and filling up the area behind your neck.

Exhale: Return to the neutral position

We don't use the head tilted back a lot in Pilates but it is important to train yourself to recognize how you are using your head and neck. (Having the head tilted back in a compressed way is a habit for many of us as we accumulate stress through the day.)

Repeat the Full Head Nod Exercise

Repeat the exercise several times, moving with the breath.


Integrate Head Nod into Your Pilates Exercises

standing Pilates
Head Nod Starts Many Exercises. (c)2007, Marguerite Ogle

Head nod is part of many Pilates mat and equipment exercises. Do some of the following mat exercises, experiencing head nod as an extension of the curve of the spine.

Now you are nodding like a Pilates pro!

Was this page helpful?