The spine has three curves in it – one in the lower back called the lumbar curve, one in the upper to mid-back called the thoracic curve, and a curve in the neck called the cervical curve. These curves influence one another. If something is off-balance in one, the other two will also be out of balance. Since the spine rests on the pelvis, the curves of the spine are also influenced by the position of the pelvis.
What happens when you arch your back too much?
If the top of the pelvis is tilted forward (anterior tilt) the lumbar curve will be deepened—it’s more commonly called “arching your back” and, since the abdominal muscles are being underused, can make you look as though you have a bigger tummy than you really have. This also causes the other curves of the spine to deepen in response. When this happens, the individual vertebrae (bones that make up the spine) won’t be able to align with one another.
Excessive anterior tilt (arching) creates stress where the pelvis and spine meet as well as stress in other joints of the spine. The top of the pelvis tilting forward also increases the stress on the hip joint.
What happens when the pelvis is tucked under too much?
If the top of the pelvis is tilted back (tucked), the curve of the lower back is flattened. Since the curves of the spine are the body’s natural shock absorbers, when they are flattened, it limits the spine’s ability to absorb the forces it meets throughout daily life. Additionally, the flexibility of the hip joint is reduced and can decrease your overall mobility.
Learning how the ideal alignment of your pelvis looks and especially how it feels, can profoundly affect the health of your spine as well as your general wellbeing.
What is neutral pelvis?
When your ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine—the bony landmarks on the front of your hip bones) and your pubic bone are on the same level, or same plane, your pelvis is in a neutral position in relation to your spine.
A neutrally aligned pelvis allows the curves of the spine to operate in a balanced state with one another. This allows your spine to absorb the impact of the forces the body has to deal with in the activities associated with day-to-day life. But it’s not a position you want to stay fixed in constantly, or muscularly force yourself into.
The pelvis is comprised of three bones and each has its own, individual moving rhythm. Don’t think of the pelvis as fixed, or a single solid structure.
A neutral pelvic position is one you want to be able to find in your body and then, “…move from it, through it and back to it.” (Marie Jose Blom). And this is not meant to be a fixed state, but more like a dance that your pelvis moves through as you your body adapts and moves. Learning how to naturally maintain a neutral pelvis is important for the health of the body.
How to find neutral pelvis
Because no two bodies are exactly the same, one person’s ideal alignment is not going to look the same as another’s.
Here is a general guide to help you find your ideal alignment both standing and lying down. Use a mirror for the standing assessment so you can see and feel your current pattern of alignment, as well as what your alignment feels like when your pelvis is in a neutral position.
Stand sideways in front of a mirror with your feet hip distance apart and parallel. Find your ASIS on each of your pelvic bones and place the heel of each hand on them. Leave the heels of your hands on your ASIS and place your fingertips on your pubic bone.
Look in the mirror to see if these three points are on the same plane. If the pubic bone is in front of the ASIS, notice how this causes the pelvis to tuck under. If the pubic bone is tipped behind the hip bones, notice how this causes a deeper curve in the low back (anterior tilt).
Now line the the points up on the same plane. First, look in the mirror to see what it looks like to stand with the pelvis in a neutral position. Then close your eyes, while maintaining neutral, and allow yourself to feel what neutral feels like.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. Find your ASIS on each of your pelvic bones and place the heel of each hand on them. Leave the heel of your hands on your ASIS and place your fingertips on your pubic bone.
Look to see if these three points are level. If the pubic bone is closer to the ceiling, your pelvis is in a more tucked position. If the hip bones are closer to the ceiling, your pelvis is in more of an anterior tilt and the curve of your lower back is deepened.
If you find that your pelvis falls easily into a neutral position, that’s good news. If you discover that your pelvis is naturally either tucked or tilted forward, the careful positioning of towel (see the pictures below) will help you maintain neutral while you perform any of the Pilates exercises that involve lying on your back…
If you have any questions about finding neutral pelvis or maintaining it while you’re doing Pilates, Melissa will be happy to answer them. Why not have a chat with her about it next time you’re in class.
This article has been adapted from a piece featured on the Pilates Tonic website…from where the images too have been pilfered…yikes!…except the pic of Pelvis Presley which is by Iconcreations.