As a Pilates and Yoga teacher, the alignment and use of the spine is central to my teaching. Also a personal trainer the use of the spine is important in helping clients work the correct muscles and avoid injury. Neutral Spine is the alignment of choice for a healthy spine.
A quick definition of neutral spine would be –
“Maintenance of the 4 natural curves in the vertebral column”.
When correctly aligned, the spine can be safely loaded and pain free movement facilitated.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your spine should have two areas that do not touch the mat underneath you: your neck and your lower back.
To check slip one hand under the lower/lumber spine – you should just be able to get your fingers under! Then place both hands on the pubic abdomen – this should be flat! Another way to check standing up is to align the – earlobe > shoulder joint > greater trochanter (hip) and outer ankle bone.
Congratulations you have found neutral. This means that the shock of standing, walking, running and jumping can be safely absorbed by your spine. The say that when you are in neutral lying on your back, you should be able to balance a cup and saucer safely on the lower belly.
However please remember the spine is meant to flex, extend, rotate and move laterally – don’t feel you have to become a robot. However neutral is the safely position for the spine when it is loaded (ie weight placed through it), such as when lifting a heavy weight (this includes your own body) or when engaging in a high impact activity (eg running).
Many Yoga students have difficulty with getting into and maintaining a comfortable shoulderstand (shavangasana) and plough (halasana). Often there is a feeling of heaviness, the body drops and there is compression/pain in the neck.
The major reasons for these inversions challenging Yoga practitioners lies in the upper spine, neck and tight shoulders. Most healthy adults can only flex their neck to between 70o to 80o, this forces the upper back to round even more when in plough or shoulderstand. If we add in tight shoulders that reduce the ability of the arms/hands to lift the spine, we get the classic “droopy” shoulderstand or plough.
So what can we do?
First check do you need help. Dog pose is a good “indicator” pose, so ask yourself this question, “when in dog pose is my upper back straight or obviously rounded”. A rounded upper back in dog pose suggests you need help … so read on …
First we need to prepare
Folding two or more blankets/mats or use 5 blocks creates a raised surface for the shoulders to rest on – the head should rest off the lift. If the shoulders are very tight a looped belt may help.
Entering the Pose
Lie on the lift with your shoulders supported and head off the lift, then bend your knees and set your feet against the floor with the heels close to the sitting bones. Exhale, press your arms against the floor behind you, and push your feet away from the floor, drawing your thighs into the front torso, coming into plough (halasana) or half plough (ardha halasana). Take your hands to your mid or (preferably) upper back and begin to lift the skin towards the kidney area.
Either stay in plough or continue by lifting the legs to vertical for shoulderstand. Keep the elbows shoulder width wide or less. Press the tailbone forward and thighbones backwards. Relax the face and tongue.
Stay in plough or shoulderstand for up to 3 minutes.
Exiting the Posture
To come down, exhale, bend your knees into your torso again come into halasana/half halasana for 30 seconds before rolling down OR just roll your back torso slowly and carefully onto the floor. Rest on the shoulder lift for at least 30 seconds.
Contraindications – high blood pressure, neck injury, glaucoma, menstruration, detached retina.
Cautions – diarrhoea, headaches, lower back pain, RA, balance disorders, degenerative disc disease and pregnancy.
- Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression. Stimulate vagal tone.
- Stimulates the thyroid and prostate glands and abdominal organs
- Stretches the shoulders and neck
- Tones the legs and buttocks
- Improves digestion
- Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
- Reduces fatigue and alleviates insomnia
- Therapeutic for asthma, infertility, and sinusitis
YOGA/PILATES EVENTS AND WORKSHOPS
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