Today we look at the different shapes your spine makes in Pilates, including neutral, flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. Tune in to hear where these shapes appear in your Pilates classes, and why they are important for your daily life.
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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.
[00:00:46] Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we're going to be talking about your spine and all the ways that it moves this. Isn't going to be so much of a deep dive into the [00:01:00] anatomy of the spine, but really talking about the ways that we move our spine in a Pilates class, words you may have heard your Pilates teacher say that maybe you knew what it meant, maybe you weren't exactly sure what it meant, but you're following along. And just kind of deep diving into movements and your spine.
[00:01:20] We're going to be looking at specifically, uh, some spine shapes and that's neutral spine flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. Those are the ones and the main ways that our spine moves.
[00:01:37] Neutral, isn't really a movement, but it's a position of the spine. It's almost like if you think of the golden ratio of like, these are the correct, like proportions of things, neutral spine is like this mythical. Um, this is the, you know, pure neutral spine shape it's [00:02:00] in between flexion and extension. You're neither flexed nor extended. It's this like happy medium place.
[00:02:07] Our spine at rest in neutral has three curves. Okay. One curve in your cervical spine, which is your neck, one curve at your thoracic spine, which is your rib cage, and one curve in your lumbar spine, which is that lowest back bit of spine.
[00:02:26] At your neck, your spine is slightly what's called lordotic which means that it's in extension already. Just like it's neutral shape is in extension. Your thoracic spine that corresponds with your rib cage is kyphotic, which means that it is a rounded and it's in a bit of flexion it's neutral, but it's in flexion. You know what I'm saying? Or neutral, I guess, would be this slightly rounded shape. And then your lumbar spine is a lordotic as [00:03:00] well. So it's in that extension.
[00:03:03] And so if you were to Google a picture of a spine, like side view, you would see that it has these three curves. Neutral spine means that it has those three curves. You might think of it as if you were standing against a wall, the back of your head, the rib cage and the back of the pelvis would all be touching the wall. Those are all the points that are further back. And then the curves in, at your low back and your neck would not touch.
[00:03:29] Now that's not always what neutral spine is. And I do want to stress that everyone's neutral spine is a little bit different because structurally we are all a little bit different. Um, if you think about stuff that's going on in spines, spinal fusions or having scoliosis, like that can change the shape. And so your resting spine may not be this textbook, "this is what neutral spine looks like." No one has that. Or if you have, you know, more padding on your bones, your body may not [00:04:00] rest in neutral the same way. If you have different proportions or a different body shape, things like that.
[00:04:07] The way I think of neutral spine is it's that you're not putting in any effort to change the shape of your spine. You're not trying to, to round it more than it is or flex it more or extend it more than it is. You're letting it be.
[00:04:26] This is a shape of your spine that we find a lot in Pilates. You might think of it during foot work, that that spine that's resting on the carriage is neutral. Anytime we're standing, unless we're specifically changing the shape of our spine, you might be asked to find your neutral spine. When you're lying on your side and doing any sideline exercises you want to find neutral, but lying on your side. Same deal in a quadruped or on hands and knees. We're finding that neutral spine.
[00:04:55] The idea is that you have the least amount of pressure [00:05:00] on your spine when your spine is in neutral, because the pressure of gravity and your body weight is evenly distributed across the vertebrae. That's why it has curves anyways, to kind of shock absorb for us. So that's why when we do neutral spine, we do neutral spine.
[00:05:17] Flexion happens a lot in Pilates. It is that C curve shape, that round back shape. We do it in any of our rounding exercises. Rolling up, rolling down, rolling over, in our chest lift. It's characterized by shortening your front body and lengthening your back body and that's what gives us that C curve. Um, I like to say, see the C in C curved stands for cashew or candy cane because that's the kind of shape that you're making. This is a shape that pops up a lot in Pilates. It's your cat spine, or [00:06:00] cat spine when you're doing cat and cow stretches, it's that rounded shape of the back.
[00:06:05] And it's not a shape that is great for all bodies. There are certain conditions like osteoporosis that spinal flexion is kind of contraindicated. And we don't recommend that you do that. Because our rib cage spine is already rounded. It's already kyphotic. This is the shape that if gravity just works on us and we don't resist it, we'll end up in a more rounded flexed shape in our spine. Also partially because we work a lot on the computer and on our phones and at desks and sitting down, and that's just kind of like gravity pushing on us, but that's spinal flexion. It's that rounded shape.
[00:06:49] The opposite of flexion is extension. And that is all of our back bending. Any time we are lengthening the front of our [00:07:00] body and shortening the back of our body. So things like swan and swimming. You'll feel it in your single leg kick and double leg kick. You're in extension when you bridge, uh, when you're doing pulling straps on the reformer lying on your stomach on the box, and then doing that swan shape, all of that is spinal extension.
[00:07:22] Because our thoracic spine that ribcage spine is kyphotic, extension can be a really great thing for us to do because it's the opposite of the muscles that we tend to strengthen during our day. So I know that the classes I teach, I always want to put some extension in there because you know, variety is the spice of life. And I want your spine to move all the ways and not just the one way that it gets to practice doing a ton.
[00:07:48] This is your cow shape in cat and cow, and it is also a shape that doesn't feel good in everyone's body. It is contra-indicated for some [00:08:00] conditions. Um, it occurs to me that literally every movement is contra-indicated for someone, but it is a really nice addition to your movement because it is the opposite of what we do most often in life.
[00:08:14] Coming up after the break, we'll be talking about lateral flexion and rotation, as well as how this really applies outside of the Pilates classroom. That's coming up next.
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[00:09:32] Before the break, we talked a little bit about neutral spine, about flexion and about extension. Now we're going to talk about lateral flexion, which as you might be able to guess is you're flexing laterally or to the side. Um, so this is our side bending exercises. There are some side bending exercises in Pilates. There aren't a ton, but it is things like mermaid, side [00:10:00] bend on the mat as well. But there are a lot of ways that we can sort of throw side bending into existing exercises, I'd say, as well.
[00:10:12] When you are doing a side bend, you're shortening one side of the torso and lengthening the other side of the torso. And that's how we get that bend to one side or the other. Unlike flexion and extension, which happened in the sagittal plane, our lateral fluxion happens in the frontal plane.
[00:10:33] And just like a little breakdown on planes of movement. A sagittal plane would be if you had a plane that bisected you right through the center of your forehead, your nose, your chin, your, the center of your chest, your belly button, front of the pelvis, and kind of cut you in half that way. You would be moving on that plane. So it would be that rounding [00:11:00] forward, you would see that you're not breaking that plane and then extending backwards. You would still be able to move in that plane.
[00:11:07] The frontal plane would cut you in half, separating the front and back sides of your body so that you, the only way you could stay on that plane would be to go from side to side. You can think of the sagittal plane as cutting the right and left sides of your body and the frontal plane cutting the front and back of your body into two pieces.
[00:11:30] The last plane of movement and the last way that our spine can move. So first of all, how cool is that? We can move our spine in all planes of movement. Um, but that last plane is the transverse plane, and that would be cutting the top and bottom of you in half. Um, and not necessarily like the plane only exists in your belly button. It could be having a top and bottom half of you at any point, but it's this idea that you're rotating. So rotation is a twist that happens in the transverse [00:12:00] plane.
[00:12:01] We have rotation in lots of exercises. We have it in our crisscross from the ab series. We have it in twist or snake on the reformer. There's lots of exercises that we throw a twist in the same way we could throw in a side bend with a lunge. You could throw in a twist with a lunge.
[00:12:19] Our spine doesn't really twist evenly. We have certain spots in our spine that are more mobile than others with regards to any of these movements, but also rotation. And even though I'm talking about these movements kind of discretely as it, as their own parts and pieces, that's kind of how we approach them in Pilates. A lot of the exercises have one spinal movement in it. You know, if you're doing the roll-up on the mat, you're going to roll up. You're going to roll back down. You're moving in spinal flexion from neutral to flexion, and then back to neutral.
[00:12:55] Occasionally in more complicated exercises, more advanced [00:13:00] exercises, I would say because of this added layer of complication, you might be doing two movements at the same time. Things like corkscrew, where you are both flexing the spine and in a little bit of rotation. Things like twist on the reformer where you are in extension and rotation, also a lateral bend, I would say.
[00:13:25] And more complicated movements are great because they most mimic what we're going to be doing in our life. It's good to, you know, kind of be introduced to these movements one at a time, but in our life, if something drops on the floor, you're not going to think to yourself. Okay. I'm only going to side bend to pick it up. Like, no, you're going to rotate a little. You're gonna flex a little, you're gonna, you know, side bend, if that's where the thing fell.
[00:13:50] And we don't even think about it, we just do that, which is really awesome. So Pilates, once again is a laboratory and it allows us to break [00:14:00] moving in our life, which is actually like extraordinarily complicated into these lovely bite-sized digestible pieces that we can really play with and then build on and build up to. And hopefully you see that happening in your life as well.
[00:14:14] Thank you so much to all of my supporters on Buy Me a Coffee. That newsletter just went out this week. So I'm really looking forward to seeing you soon for a zoom chat for August. I hope you have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.
[00:14:38] Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you [00:15:00] listen to podcasts.
[00:15:01] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.