Neutral spine Part 1

When sitting or standing in neutral, the body is most stable, strong, and free so the limbs can be used effectively without restriction.

– Peggy Cumming in “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up”

Human skeleton side view (S curve)

Normal spine has an S shape

Tada = A Mountain
Asana = Posture

Mountain pose, Tadasana, is the foundation for all of the standing yoga postures. Tadasana pose is standing with a “neutral spine” where the spine has the natural 3 curves. If you sit or stand up against a wall in neutral spine your head, mid back and pelvis should touch the wall. The outward curving of the spine are called “kyphotic” curves. The inward curving are called “lordotic” curves. In yoga transitions the Mountain Pose will be a position to re-centering and relaxing before moving to another pose. The body as it moves will come in and out of neutral spine and neutral hips.

The bones and muscles in the body are all tied together and affect each other. Over tight muscles can pull the body out of position. This may be from emotional tension or because the muscles have not been properly stretched. Other muscles may have become over stretched.  Imbalanced muscles will pull the body out of position and out of balance putting strain on the spine and joints. Understanding what the neutral position looks like and how the bones align is an important first step to making changes to posture. Stack your head, over your mid back, over your pelvis.

  • The head position affects the spine and the hip position. In neutral spine the head sits evenly balanced over the spine with eyes looking forwards. Imagine a string pulling the spine upwards from the top of your head to lengthen your body.
  • Lift the breastbone.
  • The shoulders are  relaxed and arms hang naturally by the side.
  • The hips can swivel independently from the legs by tilting forwards, sideways and backwards. A tilted pelvis alters the back’s alignment, such as with a flat back or sway back. Neutral spine has a neutral pelvis. In neutral spine the pelvis is in a neutral position. If you imagine the bones of the pelvic girdle as a bucket carrying water, then the hips  in neutral pelvis would not spill the water. The hips are not tipped front or back or to side. A neutral spine is not a rigid position, but is a point of centering and balance.
  • The knees are kept soft, not locked, but straight.
  • How the feet and legs are positioned can affect the tilt of hips and thus the spine. In neutral spine the legs stand under the hips with straight ankles and the feet pointed forwards with body weight evenly carried on them. The body is relaxed. It is important to have proper foot support, so that the feet do not roll inwards or outwards and have a proper foot arch. There are special foot supports that can be inserted into shoes to help.

  • Military posture has a very straight spine.
  • Too much kyphotic curving causes round shoulders or hunched shoulders.
  • Too much lordotic curving is called swayback.
  • Sideways curvature of the spine is called “scoliosis”.

Detailed explanation of muscles used in Tadasana from “Yoga Mat Companion 1: Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses” by Ray Long, MD, FRCSC.

I found it easier to note the rocking of the hips and feel of neutral spine while lying down.

Finding Neutral Spine – Supine

When you’re in Neutral Posture, your pelvis is neither tipped forward nor backward; your pelvis is aligned over the middle of the seat bones (ischial tuberosity) whether you are standing, sitting on a chair, or on your horse’s back.

– Peggy Cummings in “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up”

Finding Neutral Spine and Neutral Pelvis – Standing

Sally Swift suggests a standing “Teeter Totter” exercise. Tip forwards and try to hold the position. Tip backwards and try to hold the position. Let yourself come back to center and feel how much easier it is to be in proper alignment and balance.

Take time to imagine the significance of this contrast on a horse.

– Sally Swift in “Centered Riding 2”

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Filed under Anatomy and Physiology, Human health, Yoga

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