5 Steps to a Neutral Spine - dummies

By Larry Payne, Georg Feuerstein, Sherri Baptiste, Doug Swenson, Stephan Bodian, LaReine Chabut, Therese Iknoian

Your spine is meant to curve in one direction or another, to one degree or another, in different places along your back. Having more or less curve can mean that your spine doesn’t handle impact well, your vertebrae have more pressure put on them, or certain muscles and ligaments are pulled tighter or looser and can offer more or less support than you may need.

Therefore, when practicing yoga, you want to achieve a neutral position with your spine and pelvis so that you don’t fall into postures both painful and harmful.

Most folks either tuck their buttocks under too much, eliminating the low back curve, or sag their bellies out to the front, over-emphasizing the curve. Years of either posture can lead to injury, especially basic low back pain or strain.

If your body is used to standing around with less-than-perfect posture, your muscles have adjusted to your stance by becoming either tighter or looser than they should be. You may have to work on stretching and strengthening the muscles first to get yourself realigned.

Follow these five steps to achieve a neutral spine:

  1. Rock your buttocks back to create a big curve in your back.

    You may stick out your chest to compensate for the weight shift and end up looking like a Barbie doll: chest puffed out, back swayed, buttocks sticking out behind you, and, often, shoulder blades pulled back too far — a posture that can put pressure on your lower back and tighten the front of your hips.

  2. Tip your belly forward and try to tuck your buttocks underneath you.

    You may sink your chest to compensate for this move and end up look like a Neanderthal: chest caved in, shoulders rounded forward, buttocks tucked under you, and head poking forward — a posture that can flatten out the curves in your lower back, making it more susceptible to impact injuries.

  3. Rock back and forth between these two exaggerated positions, allowing your shoulders to move in response but not focusing on their action or making it any larger than required by the pelvis shift.

    Slowly lessen the swing until you find yourself coming to rest sort of in the middle to a neutral position that doesn’t over-curve or over-flatten anywhere.

  4. Test your position.

    Place your hands palm down on your belly, with the base of your palms on your hip bones, your thumbs reaching inward, and your fingers pointing toward your pubic bone.

    Your hands should be perpendicular to the ground. If your fingers are farther ahead of your thumbs, your hips need to tip backward a bit more. If your thumbs are farther forward than your fingers, you need to tighten up your abs and pull under a bit more.

  5. When you find what seems to be neutral, take away your hands and see how this feels.

    Are you feeling forced to bend your knees or as though you’re straining to stay in position? If so, you need to work on your leg and hip flexibility to help you along. You may also need to work on low back or front-of-hip flexibility to help you stay there, too.