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Neutral Spine

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In Pilates it is important that all exercises are performed in either a neutral spine or imprinted spine. This involves the spine in its most natural position, and not necessarily, the position which feels most comfortable. Simply explained, this is the position whereby the spinal vertabrae and the pelvis are aligned and maintained with the least amount of stress placed on the supportive tissue. Finding a position with a neutral spine can be challenging but it is important that it is maintained  at all times. If the body is not adopting the neutral spine then the benefit is lost, and could lead to muscular imbalance

How to adopt the Neutral Spine
Lying on the floor tends to be the easiest way to find your neutral spine as the foor can offer some support.

Neutral Pelvis
To help find your neutral spine, lie on your back with with your knees bent to 45 degrees, your feet flat on the floor, and your body relaxed. Keep you arms down by your sides with your palms facing the floor.

Place your hands in a triangle over your stomach, with you thumbs forming the base of the triangle at your naval, and your fingers splaying towards the pubic bone to form the point. Visualise your pelvis as a bowl of water. As you rock or tip your pelvis forward the water will trickle over the front rim. Tip your pelvis backward and the water will tip out the back. Gradually tilt your pelvis forward and backward until you come to a position where the bowl (pelvis) is level.

Another method is to lie in the same position but gently arch your back so that the gap between the mat and your spine increases by exagerating the arch in the back. Then slowly flatten your spine so that all the vertabrae are in contact with the mat. The neurtral spine is somewhere in the middle with your thumbs just being able to squeeze between your lower back and the floor.

Activating the Transverse Abdominal Muscles (TVA)
In pilates we only need to engage the TVA muscles to 20-30% as the muscle itself only support bodily movement and does not initiate it. One method to correct engage these muscles is to imagine you have a belt around you waist which is as tight as possible. This position means the muscles are contracted to 100%. Imagine on the belt that this position is on the 10th notch, slowly visualise yourself releasing the belt through the notches until you reach the third from last notch. This can equate to contracting the muscles to 30%.

Engaging the Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor muscles play an important role in stabilising the spine and should always work in conjunction with the contraction of the TVA muscles. However, it is important to note, that beginners may find it easier to focus on the TVA muscles before attempting to introduce pelvic floor engagement. A gentle contraction is sufficient to activate the pelvic floor. A simple visualisation is to imagine that your the muscles in your pelvic floor are like 10 levels of a lift. A fll contraction results in the lift going to level 10, a small activation would result in the lift going to level 1. The aim is activate the pelvic floor so that the lift goes to level 3/4, as you do this you will also feel your TVA muscles contract.