What the heck is a neutral pelvis and why do I need to have one? This is a question I often get from my students and private clients. In Pilates reformer classes, teachers are constantly reminding students to bring their pelvis to “neutral”. Understanding and embodying a neutral pelvis is imperative not just for your Pilates or yoga practice, but for everything you do in life.  This is because neutral is the most stable and shock absorbing position.

There are many ways to help students find a neutral pelvis with verbal cues.  I have found that facilitating an embodied understanding of this concept happens best by palpating some crucial bony landmarks.

So go ahead and touch yourself! Palpate these bony landmarks and you will be on your way to finding a neutral pelvis whether you are sitting, lying down, or standing up:

Seated: You are sitting on your ischium (sits) bones and your sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of your spine) is in a vertical plane. Palpate:  First touch your sits bones and feel them in contact with the ground. Then place the palm of your hand on your sacrum.

Palpate your bony landmarks and learn which way your tail tilts!

Lying down: The ASIS’s (frontal hip points) and the pubic symphysis (pubic bone) are in the same horizontal plane and parallel to the floor. Palpate: Place the heel s of your hands on the ASIS’s and your middle fingers on pubic symphysis)

Standing:  The xiphoid process (bottom point of the sternum) and pubic symphysis (pubic bone) are in the same vertical plane. Palpate: Place one palm or finger on each bony landmark.

The sad tail situation:

Many of my students sit at a desk all day BEHIND their ischial tuberosities (sometimes called sits bones) in a posterior pelvic tilt (which I frequently call “sad tail”). As a result, their low back muscles often become weak and locked long. After work, they “work-out” by doing “core” exercises.  During these “core” exercises done in spinal flexion with a posterior pelvic tilt, they utilize the superficial hip and neck flexors (the same muscles used  to sit and look at their computer)  in an attempt to lift their head, neck, and shoulders and legs off of the ground.

The result:  Bypassing the engagement of the TA, pelvic floor, multifidii, and internal and external obliques , and solidifying the dysfunctional postural position they live in all day, causing pain in their sit bones.

The happy tail situation:

The reverse happens when you have too much of an anterior pelvic tilt or “happy tail”. I was in this category as a former gymnast and super flexible yogi who loved her backbends but had no concept of the importance of strengthening and resourcing the local stabilizer muscles that support a neutral pelvis. Until I learned about the importance of maintaining a neutral pelvis, I would perform all of my daily activities in “happy tail” and then head off to yoga class and practice in the same pelvic tilt position.

The result:  Bypassing the engagement of the TA, pelvic floor, multifidii, and internal and external obliques, and creating a myriad of repetitive stress injuries, overuse, and joint instability.

As an embodied mover, make it your goal to enjoy the pleasures of all types of pelvic positions: Happy, Sad and Neutral.  Just like our human emotions and our furry friends with tails, there is a time, a place, and a purpose for all types of tilts.

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Trina Altman

Trina Altman E-RYT 500, is an Integrated Yoga Tune Up® teacher trainer, STOTT PILATES® certified instructor, and a graduate of YOGAspirit Studio's 500-Hour Yoga Therapy Program. While at Brown University, Trina took a Kripalu yoga class which ignited her passion for the practice. She teaches weekly Yoga Tune Up® and Pilates Tune Up™ classes throughout Los Angeles, and trains yoga teachers in anatomy and in Yoga Tune Up® across the country. She is an Rx Series teacher trainer for Equinox, is on the faculty of Kripalu, one of the nation's premiere yoga institutions, and is a regular presenter at yoga and fitness conferences such as ECA, Yoga Alliance, SYTAR and many others. Trina's teaching fosters body cognition and self-discovery, firmly grounded in anatomical awareness. She builds bridges between the mystical and the pragmatic, and specializes in helping others to access their body’s tissues and their heart’s purpose.

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Janeen Castillo

Dig the imagery ??. My happy tail needs to get to work!

Cammy Adair

Thanks, this helps me understand the predicament of two good friends of mine and their tail (sacrum) woes.

Mark Goldstein

Pelvic position while driving–help!

I have the Roll Model small (tennis ball size) balls I use for self massage. However, I need help while driving. It has been suggested that a soft, grapefruit sized Pilates ball placed under the perineum would be helpful to create the desired anterior tilt (rotation) of the pelvis. Is this a good idea? It doesn’t sound particularly comfortable, especially for a male.

Jolene

Some great ques to help identify the alignment of your pelvis. I’ve struggled with proprioception here and having multiple ways of identifying proper alignment is helpfull

Jenna

I believe when it comes to strength training, a neutral spine is very important. However, this dose not mean that we should avoid exploring all directions of movement with our spine.

Eva Martens

That’s so interesting as I struggle with my happy tail situation and thought that most people sitting also ended up with anterior tilts (or happy tails) as its always easy to apply your own experience to everyone else. Thanks for the great cues for getting back to neutral. For my Olympic lifting this neutral pelvis is key to a success lift, and is especially noticable in the jerk position.

Shai

WOW great accessible cues for getting students familiar with their bony landmarks.
These are valuable.
With Gratitude!

John

I definitely have a happy tail most of the time – flexing my lumbar spine is quite difficult, as I notice when I attempt to curl down to the floor one vertebrae at a time from seated. Thanks for the palpation tips.

Alison Quinn

Thanks for sharing a few different bony landmarks in a variety of orientations to become more acquainted with pelvic positioning. I sometimes struggle with sensing whether my tail is happy or sad depending on which orientation I am in so this information is really useful for me personally but also for my students. Thanks!

Nadia

Great article! I love the detailed cues for neutral pelvis in different relationships to gravity. This is very helpful both personally and for teaching. I’ve already started to adjust my position as I’m writing this comment. Thank you!

Poirsha

This alignment gave me great visuals. Great cuing for Tadasana. I have not had my students palpate themselves, but what a wonderful start to learning our bony landmarks! I will implement this Monday, thank you for sharing this information!

Laura

I love your break down of neutral pelvis palpation from lying down to standing. That’s super helpful. The situation of the sad tail posture, mixed with the locked long and weak posterior musculature and strengthening habits that perpetuate the imbalance is a dynamic I discuss with my massage clients all the time. It’s so important and plays such a big roll in our chronic pain patterns. Thanks for sharing!

Julie Cadorette

Thanks for explaining how the pelvis is neutral in different positions. I didn’t know, before I read your article, how to assess it with bony landmarks. What a great “tool” to have now!

Trina Altman

Hi Jessica,

To correct an anteriorly displaced ribcage with an anterior tilt of the pelvis you need to do exercises that strengthen the spinal flexors, transversus abdominus, adductors and deep pelvic floor . To correct a posterior tilt of the pelvis with lumbar flexion you need to strengthen the deep and superficial lumbar spine extensors.

It is possible, it just takes time. I am a former rib thruster with a too happy of a tail that has arrived back in balance.

Good luck:) You can do it!

Jessica Haims

Trina thank you so much for an incredible and insight full article – especially in regards to finding a neutral pelvis. I have struggled with this for years as a dancer my anterior tilt is VERY excessive and is something I am constantly working on (along with my rib thrusting!). How do you suggest “correcting” a sad tail vrs a happy tail? I am going to practice on myself and my willing friends on how to find that neutral pelvis and begin to embody this on a much deeper level. Do you also have any recommendations for core work that… Read more »

Évelyne Paquin

Ces repères tactiles sont très efficaces pour aider à la compréhension de l’alignement neutre du bassin.
J’aime beaucoup l’image Sad Tail versus Happy Tail pour représenter les basculements.
C’est déstabilisant de constater l’effet négatif à long terme d’une posture maintenue dans un alignement non optimal. Il faut définitivement revisiter notre façon de bouger au quotidien pour éviter d’accentuer des débalancements musculaires.

Suzanne Drolet

Great post! Not enough emphasis is placed on finding neutral and so many of us are very far from it! I also tend toward a happy tilt and have the corollary rib thrust to go with it – I’m constantly working to find neutral, especially in yoga poses. Driving cars is the worst because almost every car has bucket seats now…really have to incorporate good alignment ALL THE TIME. And just like dieting, it’s hard to do at first but becomes a way of life – every movement matters!

Wendy Melville

My new neutral is giving me ease in my spine. I’m just unraveling the effects of pregnancy on my pelvis now.
So many body blind spots are being addressed for me in the Roll Model training. Thankyou.

Jessie Dwiggins

I’m an over-tucker. It’s a recent discovery and one that desperately needs my attention because I’m in pain. Sad tail! I love these bony landmark cues, particularly line up ziphoid process with pubic symphysis. The next thing I need to learn is un-clenching gluteus maximus!

Sharon

Thanks Trina. As a Classical Pilates instructor as well as Yoga teacher, I often find there is a misunderstanding in many circles that says Pilates exercises are too tucked under (posterior tilt.). Pilates is in fact extremely focused on balanced musculature at the core and beyond. Even in the Classical community, I find Pilates instructors are very knowledgable about anatomy and skillfully evolving the work to suit our culture and our specific clients. This is indeed following the intentions and inspiration of Joe Pilates himself, who was endlessly curious and creative. I believe Joseph Pilates and Jiller Miller are kindred… Read more »

Loretta Zedella

Thanks for this clear series to align the pelvis.

Karen

Thanks for the post! I like your easy to follow descriptions of pelvic position – the common ways we misalign our spine from the base of the pelvis on up. I especially can relate to the posterior tilt and how it affects those common core exercises we do! The more we are each aware of our postural positions throughout the day the more likely we are to take responsibility in utilizing the correct tail position for our activities throught the day! Thanks for the easy tips!

Claudia Blasimann

For the “lying down”, I have used the cue to put together the thumbs and index fingers, thus forming a triangle, placing this on the lower belly and adjusting it parallel to the floor (fingers pointing towards the ceiling would mean posterior tilt of the pelvis, fingers pointing towards the ground would mean anterior tilt of the pelvis). But I think the bony landmarks you point out are more precise, plus I now also have cues for seated and standing position. Thank you!

Elaine Cheong

Great tips. the bony landmarks described here helps students take responsibility on and off their mat. Thank you for the tips.

Marsha Marsha Marsha L.

Hi Trina! That’s so funny. I like how you put into scenarios what people do, like work all day, and then go work out their core… because uh, yeah, that would be me. As I’m going through YTU L1 Training with Jill, I already knew that I should be more aware of my daily habits and standing postures from Lilee Chandra’s Embodied Anatomy training back in April, and that’s when I discovered that my left ASIS was higher than my right ASIS. Aggh! But I’m really being embodied in this L1 training, discovering that D-Dogs aren’t healthy for my shoulders… Read more »