Nearly all of us have been told we need to have good posture to avoid injury, but what does that really mean? It means that when the spine is in its natural position, all 3 curves of the spine, cervical (neck), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower), are present and in properalignment. In this position the spine is able to withstand the greatest amount of gravitational stress during our daily activities. It is also the position in which we can most safely exercise.
Are we harming our bodies by moving out of neutral spine? No. Throughout the day, we have to move within a safe spinal range of motion that will not always be neutral spine. Therefore, we need spinal extension, flexion, side bending and rotational mobility in our spines. The beauty of pilates is that we work on both neutral spine stabilization and controlled spinal mobility in all exercises. This is the primary reason pilates can be so beneficial in both prevention and treatment of low back pain.
How do we find neutral spine? Pilates instructors use many different cues to teach alignment and awareness. In my opinion it’s a matter of finding what's most successful for each individual. I find cueing for axial elongation, or spinal length, is a nice way for people to achieve proper alignment and decrease stress on their spine. Often finding a neutral pelvic position first will help clients to stack their spine appropriately. An exercise to find pelvic and lumbar spine neutral is the pelvic clock.
Once you have performed these tilts and circles, find neutral spine on the clock face by being balanced on the center of the sacrum and feeling minimal effort of the abdomen and lower back muscles.You can practice just the vertical pelvic tilt both in sitting and in standing to find neutral in more functional positions, and to practice throughout your day.
One of the most common things new pilates clients tell me is how much more aware they are becoming of their posture during functional activities. Finding better alignment during your daily life will not only help prevent injury, but will also allow for more efficient use of your muscular support system.