Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Spine: What are they and why do we care?!
When I started in Pilates, all I heard was “There is no such thing as neutral pelvis”. Well, that’s not so. It was told to me and us as a defense against a bit of ignorance because my teacher didn’t know what it is and didn’t know why it would be so valuable. Neutral Pelvis and the opportunity for Neutral Spine certainly exists and is essential to the health of…well, your entire you! And…your clients
Neutral Pelvis is exactly the same thing in every human body: The alignment of the ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine – aka Hip Points) and the Pubic Bone in line with each other in the Coronal Plane. (Remember that the Coronal Plane is the plane that divides you in half creating front and back; anterior and posterior.)
You can create this alignment when lying down, sitting up, kneeling and standing up.
Everyone creates the same neutral pelvis. It’s just an alignment relative to these planes.
However, saying “just” doesn’t give it the value it deserves. Neutral Pelvis is precious! Why? Because it allows for the opportunity of Neutral Spine.
Neutral Spine is different in every human body; however it has the same elements: the natural and balanced curves of the spine when in Neutral Pelvis. When the pelvis is in its neutral position, it allows for the most amount of space between each vertebra as they are aligned in their natural curves. Coccyx – lordotic, Sacrum – kyphotic, Lumbar – lordotic, Thoracic – kyphotic, Cervical – lordotic.
Each vertebra is shaped with slightly angled tops and bottoms so that they fit against each other (with the discs in between) to create these curves. When they have their curves and great space in between, then the nerves that flow out of your spinal cord and spinal column through the foramen (openings on the side of the vertebral column) and out your muscles and organs without impingement or resistance.
We need as much space between adjacent vertebrae as possible. Discs help…a lot! But over time those disc degenerate and we need to use our muscles more than ever to separate our backbones.
We can achieve Neutral Spine when the seat of the spine, the pelvis, is in its neutral position: Neutral Pelvis
So, when you either remain in or pass through Neutral Pelvis, there is the opportunity to be in Neutral Spine and have lots of space between backbones aided by the sheer alignment of bones in their curves with those angled tops and bottoms working for us!
Now, while, Neutral Pelvis is exactly the same in every person (ASIS and pubic bone in line with each other in the Coronal Plane), Neutral Spine is different for each individual. Naturally, the curves of the spine will be of a greater or lesser degree from one person to another. We must not try to set a Neutral Spine. It’s the height of each individual’s vertebrae and discs as well as his/her particular angles of the tops and bottoms of those vertebrae that determine the curves. However, with some rare exceptions, nearly all human spines have these curves in and out when in Neutral Pelvis…to some degree or another. We don’t set the curves, they exist and we work, with balance of muscles and effort of opposition to open those curves on all sides.
Of course, life seems to push and pull and erase the curves of the spine. With all the imbalances of life that we develop over time and the constant pull of gravity, we end up tipping our pelvis one way or the other more often than not, tipping our shoulder girdle forward or back, smashing back in our knees or bending them all of the time…fighting to stay upright and eliminating the curves in our spine.
Anterior Tilt when the ASIS is tipped forward of the Pubic Bone in the Coronal Plane creates a hyper-lordosis (of small or large degree) that ultimately eliminates the curves of the spine into one straight line with the sacrum and coccyx tipped strongly (as they are the posterior of the pelvis as well as the base of the spine). The most obvious of this is a pregnant woman.
Posterior Tilt when the ASIS is tipped backward of the Pubic Bone in the Coronal Plane (tucked pelvis) with it’s habitually gripped rectus abdominus, and glutes erases the curves as well.
Now, in life, we move through Anterior and Posterior Tilt. Our pelvis and spine are supposed to be able to pass through all different tilts and curves. Absolutely! However, we must also be able to pass through and stabilize on command in Neutral Pelvis so our poor spine can have the spacial glory of Neutral Spine every once in a while…if not more often.
When you’re standing…Neutral Pelvis.
When you’re sitting…Neutral Pelvis.
Now, it’s Dynamic Stability we’re looking for. That is, we’re never anchored or holding but working with opposition in the action of maintaining Neutral Pelvis and allowing for Neutral Spine. And it’s not one set of muscles, but a multitude that must be in balance with each other to keep up this dynamic stability.
Which muscles? Well, any that connect to your pelvis! That’s a lot! Your darned right! All of your abdominals, psaos, illiacus, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, all of your glutes, adductors, gracilis, obturators, gemelli…keep going! If it’s attached to your pelvis…it’s included. How about your spinal extensors, quadratus lomborum…keep going!
Wait! That really is a lot! Yup.
How do we train each muscle to be strong enough? That would take eternity! Well, that’s why we don’t spot train in Pilates and why it’s a process to work on multiple times a week for a lifetime.
And it comes from Opposition. It’s all about the tailbone and sit bones reaching forward while the abdominals and lumbar spine reach back or down and up or whatever the situation…in opposition. This is not a held position. It is a constant balance of oppositional forces.
First, it’s really important to know: Intermediate and Advanced clients work with neutral pelvis in the following exercises…NOT BEGINNERS! A client has to have a solid connection to his/her abdominals before she/he can even attempt to find this opposition and balance. Without a solid connection to the abdominals, your client’s back will go into spasm. This is NOT a beginner action. This is an intermediate action. To be taught with good support first and later challenged with only their own built-in support.
DO NOT WORK NEUTRAL PELVIS WITH BEGINNERS. You will absolutely hurt your client. They cannot support their legs extended into the air with this pelvis placement until they develop good abdominal and back strength.
Is that clear?
With that, keep legs at a high angle when practicing neutral pelvis in the follow exercises…for a long time. Make sure there is good stability with opposition, first. Then, over time, lower the legs forward and work opposition more.
Take the exercise “The Hundred”. Get your intermediate client started just pumping arms and breathing with solid abdominals in an up. Then in the 2nd or 3rd rep, start to work on the opposition in the pelvis. Say something like “reach your tailbone forward to the front edge of the mat, reach your abdominals and lower back in the opposite direction…create opposition”. You clients will feel their sacrum in the mat and their lower back/lumbar spine off the mat to some degree. Some more than others…remember the degree of each curve of the spine is different in each person. However, you’re looking to see if their ASIS/hip points and pubic bone are level with the mat. It’s definitely trickier to see with some pants and with men. You’ll start to get a good sense of it. Also remember that in women, there is the pubis mons (fatty protective tissue over the pubic bone). So, take care that you’re not leveling the tissue with the ASIS (or you will be in anterior tilt), but the bone inside…use your x-ray vision…because, of course, you are not to palpate the pubic bone of another. You can figure it out on your own, in the privacy of your own home (don’t laugh at me for saying this here…I have seen some horrid things in other people’s studios and read some remarkable things on test papers. You never touch a client’s pubic bone or tailbone. ‘nuf said.)
So…opposition is the key! Opposition, making sure that the client is strong enough and that the client is finding this with his/her back body (sacrum on the mat, tailbone reaching long forward, lumbar spine reaching long back, but not bearing into the mat) while you look at his/her front body (ASIS and pubis in level with each other in the plane of the mat or wall…whether lying down or sitting or standing, etc.).
This is not simple stuff, is it? So…practice on yourself, first…and for a long time before you go teaching this to your clients. And as me questions. Come take sessions so that you can feel it and hear it in reference to yourself.
Where do we find opportunities to work in Neutral Pelvis in the Pilates workout:
I must remind you: Neutral Pelvis is absolutely not for Beginner clients. Only intermediate and beyond. They must, must have a strong abdominal connection first!
What do we do with Beginners? Just let them do what they do naturally: They tuck. They only have rectus abdominus available to them when they engage their abdominals…so they will naturally flatten engage that which will draw the pubic bone towards the sternum effectively tucking and flattening the lumbar spine. Fine. Great! This is what beginners do. Absolutely let them do it. Do not try to give them this refined opposition. Again…they will not be able to support it and will strain their backs. That’s for certain. Let your beginner clients tuck. Don’t cue them to…you don’t have to. They will do it naturally.
And what does this mean if you’re used to asking your clients to “flatten your lower back into the mat” or “don’t arch”. It means that you don’t have to do that…because it’s compressive on the front/anterior of the lumbar spine. It’s not good for you or your clients. Naturally, you will do this as a beginner and that’s fine. You’re not a beginner for long, but later on, this compression is not good for you. It will compress your lower back which is bad for your discs, nerves, bones and muscles, not allow you to strengthen your abdominals and back muscles in balance or at all and hide true stretch of hamstrings and, truly, all muscles attached to the pelvis.
OK…the exercises in Classical Pilates that are eventually 100% in Neutral Pelvis (other exercises pass through Neutral Pelvis or start there and end there, etc…but these are 100% of the time in Neutral Pelvis at the Intermediate or Advanced levels:
One Leg Circles/Single Leg Circles
Abdominal Series of 5 (all 5 of them)
Spine Stretch Forward
Corkscrew (when hips are on the mat)
Single Leg Kicks
Double Leg Kicks
Side Kick Series
Balance Controls Facing Front
Balance Controls Facing Back
Kneeling Side Kicks
Side Plank/Side Arm
Reformer (Please note this is the Full Order with First and Second Long Box):
The Footwork (all 4 positions)
Rowing: From the Chest, Shave, Hug
First Long Box:
Pull Straps I, II
Long Stretch Series
Corkscrew (when hips are on the mat)
Balance Controls Going Off Preparation
Second Long Box:
Side Sit Ups
Leg Circles and Frogs
Balance Controls Facing Front/Down
Jump Board (remember this is a Post-Mr. Pilates set of exercises)
Shoulder Roll Down (except when you are rolling up and down)
Mermaid (any of them)
Long Back Stretch
Standing Arm Springs (all long standing variations)
Push Ups I, II, III
Going Up Front
Going Up Side
Every exercise on the high chair
Stretch with the Bar
Swedish Barre/Runner’s Stretch
Ballet Stretches (all sides)
Side Sit Ups (all variations)
Side Leg Lifts
Every exercise on the ped-o-pul
Standing Arm Circles
Did I miss any? Of course I did! There are 500-600 exercises in Mr. Pilates method that we call Classical Pilates and surely if you do Contemporary Pilates with someone else’ exercises in there…there will be other exercises This is a solid guideline.
Practice, study, ask questions!
Saturday, April 9, 2011
NYC – Real Pilates
Creative Spine Corrector with Shari Berkowitz
In this workshop, you’ll learn how to transform your Spine Corrector into one of the most useful piece of apparatus in your studio! You will learn how to do and teach an entire flowing workout/session on the Spine Corrector as well as how to use just a handful of exercises to enhance a full workout. With over 40 exercises, there’s a lot to work on and discover. You will also learn how to organize the exercises, how to position the clients on the apparatus and where to be to spot and cue the exercises as the teacher. It’s surprising how special and important you’ll find Spine Corrector.
Register atwww.realpilatesnyc.com Go to the option “Browse our classes” and then click on “Workshops”. You’ll see it there! If you prefer, you can just call 212.625.0777 .
May 6, 7,8, 2011
SPAIN – Fuengirola/Marbella
International Pilates Day 2011!
I will be teaching many workshops and workouts at this conference that will be full of many great Spanish teachers, doctors and other fitness/health professionals! I hope if you’re nearby at all, that you’ll come on over and take workshops and play!
For more information, contact Universal Pilates System –email@example.com
Sunday, June 12, 2011
(PMA credit information to follow!)
9-10am – Thematic Mat Class
Archival Mat and Standing Exercises:
There are many more version of Mr. Pilates’ exercises than we see today. Variations, modifications, combinations of multiple exercises in one! Fascinating, challenging and all the rest! These versions should not just live in the memories of those of us who had access to them years ago. They ought to be living, breathing exercises for those who need the modification or challenge! Experience this material, then teach it so we never lose track of these great exercises!
The World of The Chairs: High Chair and Wunda Chair – Your Body’s Best Friends!
You didn’t know if you should invest in a high chair, but you did…and you hardly use it. Or maybe you haven’t bought one and wonder if you ought to It’s an amazing tool! You deserve to learn how to use it to it’s fullest for you and your clients 0 from Session 1 to Session 4001. Then there’s the wunda chair, the “home reformer”. So many exercises, it’s almost overwhelming to pick and choose…and you pick the same 3 or 4 over and over again. Let’s open the doors to the World of The Chairs! Let’s work to understand the purpose of each exercise on each chair and make it come alive for you and your client!
For registration and pricing information, contact Elaine at Rhinebeck Pilateswww.RhinebeckPilates.com
If you’re in NYC and want a Pilates session e-mail me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com
If you’d like a workshop and/or semi-privates at your studio, e-mail me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com I travel all over the world and would be thrilled to come to you!
If you’d like to set up a meeting on the phone or in person to ask questions about the teaching or building your business, e-mail me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com
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