The Neutral Pelvis – Why Does it Matter?

Image of a pelvis and lower spine

Depending on what Pilates class you go to and where your teacher has studied will depend on whether or not you know about the 'neutral pelvis'. However, I'm 99% sure that if you have attended a Pilates class you know what a neutral pelvis is, but for those of you who don't, I'll explain. In order to do that I'll whizz through the anatomy basics.

Our pelvis is made of the bones: left and right ilia, a sacrum that is at the back of the pelvis, and a coccyx (AKA tail bone). It sits on top of our femurs (thigh bones) and our spine joins via the sacrum above it.

There's thick, super strong ligaments holding it all together; huge muscles cross it front and back, deep and superficial, up and down, down the sides and in diaganols; fascial connections between the muscles, bones and ligaments allow for force transferrence from the lower limbs and up to the spine and abdomen.

It can move in all sorts of directions because of the array of tissues (muscles, joints, ligaments, fascia) acting upon it and because of the orientation of the joints above and below it. If you move it in one direction, a kinetic chain of movements then occur and influence the rest of the body - including all the way down to the feet and up into the neck.

In Pilates you are normally taught about the pelvis when on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. It's easier to notice what's going on with your pelvis in this position because of the floor being there for support. You'll be taught a 'north tilt', 'south tilt', an 'east' and a 'west' tilt and then you'll be instructed to stay in 'neutral' - the middle. Ideally we can move and tilt the pelvis in all sorts of positions, but not just when on the mat.

 

In the video below I go through pelvic tilts. 

Why is it important?

Efficient movement requires muscle balance for effective load sharing across the body. We need excellent muscle timing (think reflexes), proprioception (body awareness), we need to put our bones in the right place at the right time for the muscles to work. The pelvis carries the trunk, it can only go where the pelvis takes it.

If we move consistently whilst maintaining a north tilt, for example, we are likely contracting our glutes and our deep abdominal wall. Our lumbar spine will be flexed and our hips will be extended. This means we have a group of muscles 'on', which is not functional. We are braced, stuck. We need our muscles to be available, to dial up and down whenever we need them, to be bouncy, to be timed in a way that supports us quickly and efficiently. If you are contracting a muscle all the time, that's flippin' tiring! Muscles fatigue, they become hypertonic over time and they do not function and support us well. You can say the same if you are 'stuck' in neutral, or rotated on one side, or in an anterior tilt..etc

I absolutely get that we are all different shapes, different morphologies, which is why it's soooo important to look at the individual as a whole. Someone may, for example, appear to be in an 'anterior tilt' of the pelvis but globally look very balanced. The problems can arise when we are stuck, which can occur because we've been told to fix this and stop doing that.
We need to be able to move and be dynamic in a fuller range, but we also need to be able to find a centre to be able to strongly push and pull from.

JEMS® teaches us is to notice and experience. In my classes I teach pelvic tilts by connecting with the feet and moving with ease. I offer people to explore the whole range and then land in the middle. It is not fixed. We then perform a few moves while 'leaving the sacrum behind'. This feels very different to 'fix your pelvis' or 'stick your pelvis'. These cues can create bracing = not functional = not efficient.

In JEMS® a perfect example of this is the Vertical Hip Release. In standing, you drop your centre, taking your sitting bones a little to the floor. It's a small movement, but one that consists of a little release into hip flexion (folding at the groins). It can be a tricky movement for some, but easily learned with the right cues. Often this little movement if coupled with trunk flexion, an anterior or a posterior tilt. But actually we want to be able to drop a soft neutral pelvis, by bending through the hips.

In this video, Joanne teaches how a VHR helps to off load the knees when walking downhill. However, a VHR also makes us stronger as the forces from our legs can transmit though the body more efficiently. Stand straight and throw a ball at a wall. Do it again in a VHR. Notice the difference?

All of this boils down to is, where are you in space and is your movement serving you well for the task in hand? By learning the full range and how it feels you can explore what is good for you rather than being told what you SHOULD be doing.

Fancy joining my Pilates classes to learn more about the pelvis? Contact me 🙂

Linda

Osteopath | JEMS® Practitioner| Pilates Teacher