In Pilates you will hear reference to the term “neutral” regularly and in most instances the teacher will be referring to the position of the clients pelvis. As teachers we talk a lot about the bodies nuances and differences and how it’s important not to compare and compete with other class members. HOWEVER, a neutral position of the pelvis doesn’t have any discrepancies – it is the same in every body. If it is different, quite simply, it is not neutral.
So what constitutes a neutral pelvis? Technically, it is the alignment of the ASIS (hip bones) and the pubic bone on the same plane. In layman’s terms it can be explained in a few ways and I find images help.
For the purpose of this blog I am going to describe neutral in the context of a supine position but please be aware that neutral applies to all positions – sitting, standing, lying etc.
When lying supine in neutral position it’s helpful to imagine a full bowl of water resting on top of your pelvis. In a neutral position this bowl of water will not spill, your pelvis will act as a flat table so the bowl can rest on the hip bones and pubic bone and remain upright.
Typically when finding the correct neutral position your weight will be on your tail bone and you will have a small arch in your bower back.
The benefit of a neutral pelvic position is simply that it allows the spine to fall naturally into its own neutral position with the optimum amount of space between the vertebrae. Every “body” will have a neutral spinal position (when the pelvis is neutral) but unlike neutral pelvis, not every “bodies” neutral spine will look the same.
When a pelvis and spine are in neutral it’s a beautiful thing and your body will thank you for it. It allows all the supporting postural muscles to work in the way they are intended – none will be overworking or underworking because of the stresses of the skeletal positioning.
There are a gazillion ways that the pelvis can creep out of neutral but for the purpose of this piece I will cover the most obvious two and the others will become clear.
Anterior tilt of the pelvis
This position happens most commonly in pregnancy when the weight of the pelvis is being pulled forwards and an exaggerated arch appears in the lumbar spine. As before when supine you will see this curve and the effect that would have on the bowl of water – very wet legs!
This position is often exaggerated by pregnancy but can also occur naturally when the abdominals are weak. The effect is a vicious circle where the abdominals become lengthened, weaker and harder to activate – often this displays as a “pot belly” or the dreaded pregnancy look – ever been offered a seat on the tube when your not expecting…?!
The lower back may become tight where the muscles are shortened and having to take on ALL of the postural work of holding up the spine.
Posterior tilt of the pelvis
An exaggerated connection in the glutes and or rectus abdominals can press the tail bone under creating length in the lumbar spine.
Often displayed as a very flat lower back, a posterior tilt can weaken the muscles connected to the spine holding them in a consistently lengthened position. Rectus abdominals conversely will be shortened and will be drawing hips and ribs together, thus rounding the spine forwards.
Imagine that bowl of water again and this time a very wet belly!
The pelvis is designed to move in a multitude of directions including, but not limited to the above. However the hope is that it can consistently return to a neutral position to remove stresses from certain muscles and to allow the spine to sit in its preferred neutral position.
We as human beings are a huge chain of muscle, skeleton and connective tissue and no one section can work alone or in isolation of another. We have in our lives a huge array of external factors which effect our bodies ability to move efficiently and so in the case of all injury or postural anomolies, when something goes wrong it is a “chicken and egg” situation. It’s not enough to address one muscle group but instead look at the “whole” starting at the pelvis!
This is a simplified description but you start to get a sense of how these small changes in the pelvis can have an effect throughout the body. Please remember this is not meant to be academic research into the efficacy of neutral. It’s a simplified description of the what’s, why’s and how’s of a neutral pelvis which I hope will appeal to those who practice Pilates but never before understood the importance.