Now that we’ve learned why good posture is so important, this post will explain precisely what correct alignment entails. Finding neutral spine, engaging the shoulder blades, squaring the torso, rotating the leg from the hip joint, and scooping the stomach are all key concepts in the Pilates method but may be applied to any exercise, including those in Balance on the Ball.
Spine: As I explained in my previous post, neutral spine involves maintaining the natural curves in your spine, finding a balance halfway between rounding and arching your back. I have found the best way to teach neutral spine is while lying down, when we don’t have to fight against the forces of gravity.
To find neutral alignment of the spine, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Try to feel that your spine is as elongated as possible yet very heavy and weighted into the floor. The areas you should feel touching the floor are the back of your pelvis, the back of your rib cage and shoulder blades, and the back of your head. This should create a natural curve in your neck and lower back. Your hip bones should be level with your pubic bone and your head in line with the rest of your body. If you have trouble with this, try following these cues:
- To maximize the space between your vertebrae, visualize lengthening from the top of your head to your tailbone.
- For proper alignment of your head and neck, increase the space between your ears and shoulders. Your chin may be lower than you think it should be, in order to really elongate the cervical portion of your spine. (When sitting, a good cue for this is to imagine that you are wearing long earrings.)
- Imagine a triangle on top of your pelvis between your pubic bone and two hip bones. Place your hands flat on this area and alternate between a posterior and anterior tilt as shown in the illustration. Now bring this triangle into a level plane, trying to increase the distance between the sides of your rib cage and your hip bones.
Shoulder Blades: Engage the shoulder blades by squeezing them together and pulling them downward. This will open out your chest, but be careful not to arch your back while doing so.
Ribcage and Pelvis: Keep your hips and shoulders square, with the space between your hip bones and rib cage equal on both sides. Unless directed, do not twist or let one side drop lower than the other.
Hip and Ankle Joints: Turn out your leg from the hip joint only, not from the knee or ankle. Make sure that your toes always stay in line with your ankle and knee.
Abdominals and Back: Your abs and back are used in all exercises for stability, so keep your stomach “scooped,” or hollowed out and contracted. Imagine that all your abdominal and back muscles are wrapped around your torso like a corset, while pulling your navel in toward your spine.
My final post in this series will give you some specific exercises to practice that will help strengthen the muscles needed for good posture.