30 Jul Beginners Online Pilates Course: Day 2 of 10
Online Pilates Course: The Spine and Pelvis Connection.
This is part two of ten. If you’ve missed part one, you can still find it: click here.
“Everything’s connected!” is not just some New Age mantra, but everything really is connected! Considering the relationship between our pelvis and lower spine is a fundamental part of Pilates practice.
Do you remember the Pregnant Cat exercise from part 1? There is a cue I gave: “Try to separate out your soft bits from your bony bits”. What I meant by that is as you pull in your abdominals, don’t allow your spine to move as you do so.
This section is directly related to that idea: keeping our spine stable whilst other things are moving around, and the more they move around, the greater the difficulty in maintaining that stability. That control is one of the central pillars of Pilates, or Contrology as it was first called.
What is Pelvic Neutral Position?
The position of our pelvis relative to the floor (the floor is useful to use as a reference because it’s fixed) has a direct impact on the shape of our lower spine. If our pelvis is tipped forward (using the hip bones as our reference point), our lower spine will arch excessively. Similarly, if our pelvis is tipped back, our spines will assume a flat position. Neither are considered to be healthy, and can often giving rise to backache and or more serious injury in the long term.
Examples from our Pilates Repertoire
There are many examples of exercises that work and build on this idea of a Neutral Spine. Footwork on the Chair is a good example. As the legs push the pedal down, we tend to lean backwards and “fall off” our sit bones. Using the spinals we can counteract this tendency, promoting a more stable spine. As we lift the pedal up, our spines have a tendency to go into extension and using our abdominals can help to correct this.
Here is another example: “Feet in Straps”. As the legs lower down, we need to activate the abdominals to maintain a stable spine and as the legs lift up, we need to engage the spinals.
… and why is it so important?
The importance of being aware of our spinal position is important because it helps us to find connection to both the front and back part of our bodies. Finding and being aware of these connections helps us to feel both our spinal muscles and our abdominal muscles. Using this awareness, we can then be sure that we are working both the front and the rear of our bodies, creating a more balanced body.
… how do we find this neutral position?
There are two ways that we can use to find our neutral position: using bony prominences of the pelvis and by feeling the muscles activation or connection. Both are equally valid but have a different focus.
Using the techniques described in the “bony prominences” videos are often more useful if you are at the start of your Pilates practice and feel especially disconnected from your body. You can align these bony points up with the floor, check in a mirror and experiment with the sensations that are produced by connecting with, or activating the different muscles groups either at the back or front of our bodies.
The “muscle activation” of muscle connection” method is more useful if you want to maintain the flow in your practice: you can feel the different muscles groups work and have learned how to balance the sensations produced when both the front and the back are working together to balance the body.
Finding Neutral Using Boy Prominences (supine): Pelvic Rocking
Is a good exercise to explore the relationship between lower spine and pelvis. Additionally it is also an excellent way to reduce tension and help stretch tight lower back. Here it is used to practice finding our neutral spinal position.
Finding Neutral Using Boy Prominences (quadruped): Cat / Cow
The idea of finding a “neutral pelvis” reoccurs in every position: standing, lying on our back (supine) and also on all fours (let’s call this the “attitude” of the body. Notice that the pelvis does naturally want to sit in a slightly different position depending on the attitude of the body.
Finding Neutral Position Using Muscle Tension: Pelvic Rocking
After you have become accustomed to finding your neutral position using the bony prominences, you can begin to use muscle tension to gauge the correct position so that you feel equal effort through both the front and back of the body as in pelvic rocking.
Finding Neutral Position Using Muscle Tension: Cat / Cow
Now try the techniques in the video above to find your neutral pelvis using muscle tension on all fours!
What to do if the Neutral Position bothers your back …
Here are two solutions if your get tired holding that neutral position for any length of time. The first is using a supported spine and the second is an imprinted spine.
Finding Neutral Position: Side Lying Pelvic Pushes
All of the exercises that we’ve looked at so far have looked at the interaction between the front and the back of the body. Now, we’re looking at the sides. Finding the “sides” of the body is essential not only for our Pilates practice, but for keeping our waists open. Imagine for a minute a person with an elderly skeleton: the ribs have come closer to the pelvis than they should be. This causes not only the waist to collapse but helps the chest and shoulders collapse too!
This video shows how to position your body and opening out the chest for better breathing in side lying exercises in the Matwork. Remember that we all do have different shapes and you might find that you can’t achieve the space between your waist and the floor.
Pelvic Stability: Holding that neutral position …
Once we’ve identified the neutral position, we can work towards maintaining it whilst other bits of the body are moving around.
There are two objectives here:
- keeping your pelvis from rocking backwards and forwards as you raise each leg. This means you are preventing the back of your body from moving.
- Keep the abdominal muscles pulled in so that they don’t pop out. You can do this is standing against a wall and sitting in a (hard) chair.
Imagine that helium balloons are attached to your legs as they float up.
Imagine you have a bowl of hot soup in your abdomen – don’t spill it as you legs rise up!
In this more difficult variation, both legs are held in tabletop position simultaneously! Maintain a stable pelvis and don’t let the abdominals pop out!
Opposite Arm & Leg Reach
Have a friend place a roller or a dowel along your spine. Take note of the sensations as you line up the back of your head, shoulders and pelvis as you reach out your arms and leg. Try to recreate those sensations without the dowel.
Focus on lengthening out your arms and legs rather than lifting them up.
Q. I’m frustrated! I want to get on and do some exercises in a flowing sequence!
Currently we’re just learning individual exercises, but if you want to try them in a sequence with flow, why not try this flowing sequence that uses the exercises we’ve learned up to now.
You can download the PDF: Click Here
Q. I get really confused by the neutral pelvic position. Can’t I just do the exercises without worrying about this?
A. It takes time to assimilate and learn how to do Pilates exercises. You might hear Pilates nerds use the phrase: “you have to get it in your body”. This means that in order to perform an exercise properly we need to take time to understand it, not just on an intellectual level, but also on a physical level. So, just because you can’t access something right now, don’t give up, keep on trying and slowly, over time it will come. Learning the relationship between our spine and pelvis is really useful when we come to other more difficult exercises like Short Box Abdominals. This attention to detail is one of the things that distinguishes Pilates from other exercise methods: it takes time to learn the exercises.
Q. When I try the Side Pelvic Pushes I fall over.
Keep your spine in line with the rear side of the mat and your heel towards the opposite corner. that starting position should give you added stability. If it’s not enough and you still experience instability use your upper hand as a support in front of your body.
Q. I can’t control my abdominals when I do the Toe Taps – they balloon out. What should I do?
Keep practising the Marching which is easier than the Top Taps exercise. Remember that in Pilates we’re focussing on the quality of the movement and developing that, rather than increasing the number of repetitions. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect. Also, you could try this: lift up one leg (left) as in Marching, then lift up the other (right) as you would for Toe Taps. Then, replace the left leg then the right so that both feet are on the ground. repeat, starting this time with the right leg.
Q. My wrists hurt and I can’t support my weight on them. Should I skip these exercises?
No, don’t skip them, but find a way to get your wrists stronger. Use a Push Up Handle (I have some in stock if you want) or rest your hands on a rolled up towel. There are wrist exercises that we can do in the studio to help. If you have a problem with your wrists, see an orthopaedic specialist.
Q. My arms aren’t strong enough to support myself in the Opposite Arm and Leg Reaches.
Just lift up on arm or leg at a time instead of simultaneously. Keep practising and don’t give up!