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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mimi martel

Thank you Trina for those simple and efficient ways to observe where your tail point. During the YTU anatomy training with Dinneen recently, we observed how a shift in the pelvis can completely transform the posture of the person. As Dinneen asked the student to posterior tilt her pelvis (she was in deep anterior tilt – happy tail ) her spine grew a inch longer and everything else got back in a better posture (less extension in her back, hips and knee straight over hills, head got push back over shoulder) …simply by bringing her pelvis back in neutral. Proof… Read more »

Trina

Hi Pooja,
The stronger your postural muscles (local stabilizers) are, the easier it is to sit for long periods of time with good alignment. Unfortunately, we have not evolved to sit for long periods of time. We are meant to MOVE. If you are forced to sit for long periods of time, try to vary your position as frequently as possible. My favorite poster is from Katy Bowman. It shows about 50 different positions in which you can sit: http://www.katysays.com/your-position-in-life/

Trina

Hi Heather,
Yes, if the QL is short it can create an anterior tilt of the pelvis.Hope all is well with you! I miss you and Branford, CT!

Pooja

Hi Trina, thank you for breaking this down in a way that will surely stick in my mind!

If you’re in a happy tail position (seated) but are sitting for an extended period of time, it can be quite challenging to maintain that posture. I’m curious if you or others have found a way to train that posture so it is doable for long meditation sessions or classes.

Heather

Hi Trina! How are you? I am curious about the action of the QL in anterior and posterior pelvic tilt. Especially for people with an extreme anterior pelvic tilt. I have read that it stabilizes the pelvis but can it be the cause of the excessive tilt?

Thanks Hope you are doing well.
Heather

Carlos Savetman

Good article Trina! We are creatures of habit, and often reinforce what it is we’re most familiar with. I’m more of a “happy tail” myself, and often catch myself leaning on a counter, anteriorly tilted. As a result of the extra stress on the sacrum,, I often suffer from low back discomfort. Learning to train the body to become more “self aware” is a valuable tool, to help counter the often damaging self reinforcing tendencies of our daily life.

Jackie Carey

I love the happy tail, sad tail terms because I use the term tail or tailbone all the time. I think my students will relate to the visual and hopefully be aware of which position their tales are are in. It seems that sad tale individuals (at least in my classes) also have the shoulders medially rotated, so I invest some time doing various anterior extensors. What else could we work on to move them to a more neutral position?

Angela

Thanks Trina. This is a great article. I had an idea on the importance of a neutral spine and awareness of that while in a yoga class, but I didn’t consider my sad tail while at a desk behind my computer all day at the office, driving my car, etc. I too am guilty of core work and the philosophy of strong core impacts the abs and lower back. This is a new perspective to correcting my sad tail. 🙂

thanks!

Elizabeth Whissell

I really enjoyed your analogy to our furry friends! There is indeed a time and place for all orientation of your tail and cementing yourself in neutral may do less harm than immobilizing yourself permanently in the anterior or posterior pelvic tilt, but everyone still has to shake their tail feathers!

Eleanor

Hi Trina! Nice article! I was just working with my client on short box today emphasizing the difference of those two positions, sitting behind the ishial tuberoses vs sitting directly on top of them. I like the happy tail:) sad tail 🙁 reference!

Kayleigh

Good point- folks start in sad tail and stay in sad tail with the ab work they do! Hadn’t thought of it that way.

Nadjiba Medjaoui

My pattern is to have more of a sad tail…I became more aware of it with the practice of yoga but if for some reason i am not in a state of awareness I immediately return to my sad tail position that I probably inherited from my mother…

Trina Altman

Hi Barbie, Unfortunately most people aren’t interested in bio-mechanics and/or alignment unless they are a teacher who wants to keep their students safe, or they are injured or in pain. I changed my ways before I became a teacher because I was in pain, but I tend to be the type who has to learn things through experience rather than by being warned. As a teacher, I warn my students, and talk about my experience with injuries in order to persuade them to stay safe. The great thing about teaching YTU is that you can empower your students to discover… Read more »

Barbie Levasseur

I love your happy tail/sad tail terminology. I’ve had gymnasts come to my yoga classes, and they can be tough students because they’re used to doing such crazy stuff and aren’t always open to being instructed to back off into healthier alignment. As a former gymnast, do you have any tips for me as a yoga teacher? What finally convinced you to change your ways?

Stephanie

The connection between “sad tail” – a posterior tilt for a lot of people sitting all day and traditional spinal flexion posterior tilt core strengthening added a great mental note for clients and friends. Thanks!!

dana

Correction to the previous comment….
I meant supine position. Oops!
Laying prone tends to accentuate the anteriorly tilted pelvis.
One could work to find neutral there but it’s more challenging and you don’t reap the benefit of releasing the posterior body muscles.

dana

Pilates reformer classes first made me aware of my chronic anterior tilt (although throughout my life I believe I’ve gone through periods of both anterior and posterior tilted positions.)
The prone positioning for finding the level/horizontal bony landmarks is so beneficial to those who have no proprioception of this body part. The habitual inefficient support of spinal muscles can turn off. We can awaken transverse abdominis and allow the more intrinsic muscles of spinal support to take on their appropriate jobs.
In my experience this is the best way to discover neutral pelvis.

Mado

Trina, I love the descriptive terms of happy and sad tail. When I’m trying to get my students to create more of a posterior tilt, I’ve been instructing them to imagine they have a long monkey tail that is like a 3rd leg of support. When they imagine pressing the monkey tail straight down into the ground, boom – posterior tilt. I also appreciate the way you pointed out at the end that posterior, neutral, and anterior positions of the pelvis are all healthy depending on the situation. I would love to see another post addressing when to use anterior… Read more »

monica

thanks trina. i have become obsessed with proper pelvic alignment lately. for years i thought and had been told i had too much happy tail but recently realized i was a actually a sad tail because although i had a swayback and would thrust my ribs forward , i was leaning back which was bringing my pubic bone in front of my ASIS instead of keeping it stacked on same plane.

Macala

I love this article. First of all your happy tail/sad tail description is going to help me solidify anterior/posterior tilt!! Second of all, I love how you find undoing what you do. Finally, I have decided I must do anatomy with!! Thanks

Christopher Walling

As someone who also suffers from “sitting problems” like many of those that you have helped me identify as well as those who have shared here on your blog, I can identify with why there is indeed a time and a place for every mood of my pelvic tilt. Thank you for sharing your passion of the hips and pelvis to help us all have happier tails!

Trina

I find for me that he best way to determine if I am in neutral while seated is to make sure I am sitting on my sit bones (ischium bones). Once I get there, it becomes about finding the strength/endurance to stay there…gravity is not your friend in an upright position. The more I am able to find and maintain support of the transverse, pelvic floor, and multifidi, the longer I can maintain a neutral pelvis in a seated position. Hope this helps!

anastasia

Very cute! (and informative) I used to use “sad dog” reference until one day I kept repeating it to a client but nothing was happening I must have said it 10 different ways, but this whole time whenever I said “sad doggy” he pictured a sad puppy face lol no wonder I didn’t see any change in his pelvis, only his facial expression! so I now make sure to emphasize the tail part not the puppy face. I have a follow up questions, I naturally have a “happy tail” when standing/laying down, but sitting it’s looking kind of sad.. i’m… Read more »

Melinda Kausek

Great post! I especially like the way you wisely remind us that all of our tails/emotions have a time and place in our lives. Even though neutral marks a healthy baseline, who wants to be so neutral that we are stuck there.

Trina

My comment above should say “first” not “fist” :-).

Trina

Amalea: Yes, if your client is already in a posterior tilt, then doing some neuromuscular re-education with corrective exercises to get them back to neutral should be the first priority. Help them to propriocept a balanced posture by giving them exercises that take them there. Teaching them how to sit and stand with a neutral pelvis is a crucial fist step!

Amalea

Would you recommend non-posterior tilt ab exercises for sad tail? I find that I feel an inch taller when I do the Coregeous routines. Thanks for the cues as to how to access neutral pelvis.

Elise Gibney

I love this post. Neutral pelvis has always been a slightly mysterious concept to me – a personal blindspot of which I am becoming more and more aware (thanks YTU!). This post is so helpful – concrete ways to identify what neutral means! Thank you!!

ellen

Trina, Thanks again for sharing your wealth of knowledge in such a clear format. The education will lead to awareness in what I do and how I teach. Look forward to discussing with you!

Jenn

I appreciate the cures for each orientation. Neutral spine, core work etc are all terms that confuse most people and our daily lives don’t ask us to really tune into a healthy posture.

I will use these cues for my own health and the health of students I work with.

Michelle B

The visual of happy vs sad tail is helpful for me as I relearn neutral spine. I had too much posterior tilt based on some cues I learned in other classes. It is also a great way for me to think about proper alignment in my desk chair. Palpatating the bony landmarks is also a great way to get in touch with the ishium, ASIS, pubic bone and visualize their correct alignment throughout the day.

Colleen

This was so helpful. I don’t always know how to have a neutral pelvis and I am also breaking a lot of bad habits with the help of yoga. One of my yoga teachers calls it “the sorority girl” (sticking the butt out- “happy”) and the “old man” (the “sad pelvis”) and finding the middle between those two extremes as neutral. The back bend “happy tilt” can find its way unnecessarily into some of my poses, and I also used to “cheat” when doing an abdominal work by not having a neutral pelvis. Thank you for explaining in such clear,… Read more »

Sonya G.

Great article! One of the many excellent points made is that modern chairs are ruining people’s bodies. I believe that modern chairs were invented by the devil to cause back problems. Ok, maybe that is being a bit too dramatic… But on serious note: The fact is humans were NOT designed to sit in chairs! We evolved to squat! For thousands of years humans squatted while preparing food or making tools. They also squatted while eating, pooping, and giving birth. But today’s average modern homosapien can barely approach a healthy squat for more than a few seconds. That is why… Read more »

Anna-Marie Lawrence

OMG! I think you may have solved my unsolvable issue that has been plaguing me the last couple of years. I was diagnosed about a year ago with a chronic inflammatory issue that likes to hide out in my sacral area and gluts. I know that some of it is caused from food intolerances but that added strain I have be putting on my poor anterior backside might be the key to releasing tension I’ve feeling. Thank you so much for you insight!

Veronica

I don’t think i will ever look at a body the same way after learning about posterior, anterior and neutral pelvis – the power of being aware of its rippling effects on your posture, walking – gosh just about every move – its quite mind boggling.

Psoas Balancing – The Road To Recovery | Yoga Tune Up

[…] Learn how to re-align your pelvis by clicking here. […]

Murray Arnott

Short comment on another great article, Trina.

For me, because I work at a computer a lot, moving from sitting while I work (and the locking long), I went to setting up a computer station where I stand, although I sometimes find my tail goes ‘happy’ here, so I do need to be mindful and stay neutral.

Emily Sonnenberg

I keep thinking about what Jill says in almost every pose “Find Tadasana” I love my backbends too and it takes a lot of effort to not make everything into one. I think for many people the challenge comes in keeping the neutral spine throughout day to day activities like waiting in line at the bank. How badly do you want to elevate that right hip just thinking about waiting in line? I believe if we can find Tadasana repeatedly in our daily life, our pelvis would truly feel as though it were being addressed fully in all axis.

Allison McCready

Sad tails and happy tails! 🙂 love it! I have found that the placement of the pelvis is really hard for students to understand. I find that sometimes students will over correct and those with happy tails become sad tails and vice versa. With what I’ve learned in my YTU level 1 teacher training and the helpful information in this article, I have new ways to talk about the pelvis (and the whole body for that matter!) that I’m excited to share with my students!

Kirsten

Thanks for this! We should be bringing this to our students’ attention and remind them that the “ballerina tailbone tuck” is not a healthy position.

Jennifer

Finding neutral is such a foundation for everything we do and your article will help so many students build the proprioception needed to call it up in so many yoga poses and in life. When you call out that this is the most shock absorbing and stable position it really highlights the negative impacts on your body over time by simply walking through life with a sad or happy tail!

Barb Voss

Like Donna, I have had a very sad tail with bulgy discs for quite some time and so I really appreciate your explanations and visualizations on how to find a neutral spine. I also appreciate your references to the major postural (core) muscles necessary to tap into in order to find spinal stability and good posture. I have read that the TA is the body’s natural corset– well worth discovering!

donna

My tail was also sad for a long time due to bulging discs at L4/L5 and a cranky right SI joint. I love the description of using the bony landmarks to help determine a body’s neutral.

Marc

I like the term happy tail, sad tail. My tail was sad for a long, long time and will still fall into unfortunate bouts of depression. I either never understood the concept or it wasn’t effectively pointed out to me early on. I spent years of frustration in my forward bends ignoring the main driver of the pose. I admit, it’s an ego kill to realize your forward bend exist half way up from where you may think you are. But following that proper alignment WILL get you the results you seek AND keep your low back safe, supported and… Read more »

Linda Webster

Thanks Trina for a great blog and explanation of a neutral spine. I need to practice all your recommendations in every position. This Uzis a very hard concept for many of my students to understand. I think that this is a great way for them to learn on their own bodies how to find a neutral spine. It is also a great teaching guide for me.

Heidi Knapp

Trina, as I was reading this I was walking through the anatomy in my head and could being to think of how Yoga Tune Up can help with specific engagement. I am so happy to have this resource as I try to bring myself back into alignment. As you know I am working on my standing posture, which is harder than I thought. It takes conscious awareness at all time. I am also on this quest to figure out what exactly did my mom mean when she said “stand up straight?” For those who had parents like this who stated… Read more »

Don’t Just Tuck Your Tailbone, Tune Up Your Tadasana! | Yoga Tune Up

[…] that the external rotators of my shoulders were in a state of overuse at the time (see my blogs:  “Happy Tail vs. Sad Tail: Which Way Do You Tilt?” and “Are Your Shoulders in Your Back Pockets?”).  Was I a “bad student” if I didn’t open […]

Vrinda Liza Eapen

Thanks. I will try finding neutral with my students tonight. The lower back is almost like the suspension on a bicycle. Alignement needs to be in order or the impact is extreme and compounded.

Alexa

Great blog! I love the concise anatomy lesson and logical pointers. Finally, someone who can explain “neutral.”

Dagmar Khan

Oh my god Trina,you have nailed it.What an incredible article and so very needed!I am going to share your fountain of knowledge with my own body and my students and honestly-I love your writing style!
It should our mission for all of us,movement educators,to find our way to most stable alignment of pelvis so we minimize the wear and tear of our bodies and tap into the highest moving and healing reservoir.