The Pilates Neutral Spine Position
Neutral Spine is one of the most subtle yet powerful principles in Pilates. It belongs to the less-is-more approach to movement, like most of the fundamental concepts underlying the Pilates method. Although it’s best to have a firm mat under you, Pilates mat work can be done anywhere you have a soft but supportive surface under your spine.
Here’s how you can feel Neutral Spine: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your spine should have two areas that do not touch the mat underneath you: your neck and your lower back (the cervical spine and lumbar spine, respectively). These natural curves in your back function to absorb shock when you’re standing, running, jumping, or simply walking around town. When you sit, it’s important to maintain the natural curves in your spine to prevent lower back and neck strain. Neutral Spine is basically universal proper posture.
You often work in Neutral Spine when performing stability exercises in Pilates in order to maintain and reinforce these natural curves in the spine. Many people are taught to flatten the curve of their lower back when doing exercises or when standing. This method is no longer thought to be correct or your posture; instead, the natural curve is indicated. Note that Neutral Spine can be called for even when you’re not on your back. Some Pilates exercises may call for Neutral Spine when you’re on all fours, for example.
When lying on your back with Neutral Spine, you should be able to balance a teacup on your lower belly. If you tilt your pelvis forward too much (by arching your back off the mat), your teacup will spill forward. If you tilt your pelvis backward (by flattening your back on the floor), you’ll spill your teacup backward. Neutral Spine (also sometimes called neutral pelvis) is when the teacup doesn’t spill!