If I had to pick one word to describe the spine it would be AMAZING! The spine supports the body, moves, protects the spinal cord, and more! I want to help you to understand and find your “neutral spine.” Why? Returning to neutral spine over and over helps protect your back from pain and potential injury, improves posture, and enhances movement. Our modern lifestyle means that caring for your spine is more important than ever!
Important spine facts everyone should know:
- The spine spans the distance from the base of the skull (right behind the earlobe) to the level of the hip joints.
- 24 vertebrae, 23 discs, sacrum, and coccyx comprise the spine.
- Viewing the spine from the side, its shape includes 4 natural curves.
- 2 internal: neck and lumbar (i.e. low back)
- 2 external: thoracic and sacrum/coccyx (i.e. tailbone).
- At neutral, the two internal curves curve 1/2 the depth of the body front to back. (WOW!)
Take a moment right now to familiarize yourself with your own spine. Stand in front of a mirror, use your hands to locate the top and the bottom. Notice just how long the spine is in your body. Move around and imagine how the long, segmented spine contributes to the movements.
So what is neutral spine anyway?
Neutral spine honors the 4 natural curves of the spine. Think of neutral as a place to return to over and over throughout the day, kind of like home. With the help of my excellent Pilates teachers I have learned to find and return to neutral spine, you can too…
- Lie on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on floor. Knees and feet – hip joint width apart.
- Place the meaty part of your thumbs on the two ASIS bones (the bony points on the left and right of your pelvis, found slightly below your belly button to the left & right.)
- Connect the thumbs in a straight line between the two ASIS.
- Next connect the tip of each pointer finger on the pubis symphysis. This is where the two pelvic bones meet in the front.
- Your fingers outline a diamond, imagine a teacup sitting on the surface of this diamond.
- Tip your pelvis forward and back. You are probably noticing that your spine and head move in response to this pelvic movement. Gradually make the forward and back movement smaller and smaller until you come to a rest with the diamond parallel with the floor, so that the teacup will not spill. Celebrate, you have found your neutral spine!
Ask yourself the following questions about neutral spine..
- Does neutral spine feel familiar or strange to me?
- Do I feel more or less curvature in the lower back?
- Has my breathing changed?
- What else do I notice?
- Make a note of the changes.
Now that you have experienced neutral spine lying down, you can use it to compare to standing, sitting, exercising, flying through the air and more. If you notice your spine isn’t in neutral, go ahead and restore neutral. If you cannot remember what neutral feels like, repeat the steps above. The more often you remind yourself about what neutral feels like, the easier it is to return to neutral!
When I began Pilates, my lumbar spine immediatley sunk down to the floor, similar to the picture on the left. The natural curves had diminished and my muscles were working hard and there was pressue on the nerves. With practice, the balance of my postural muscles changed and I naturally come to neutral, like in the picture on the right.
On the inside, my spine looks like this…
Discomfort and pain in your back and neck can be a signal to check in on your spine and restore neutral. Neutral spine beautifully supports the head, arms, and torso along with movement.
In terms of finding a neutral spine, your “body map” is your guide. This is your mind’s picture of the spine, and it has a lot to do with how you stand, sit, and move. Scientists have found that how we think we are designed (the body map) dictates how we actually move. The more you visit neutral, the more familiar it is, and the clearer your body map becomes. One of the great things about body maps is you can update and refine them throughout your lifetime, and that is what you just did. Bravo!
Go forth and return to neutral throughout your day! Don’t stop here, continue to learn about your amazing spine to uncover exquisite freedom and ease as you put an end to back discomfort. I would love to know what you discover.