The basic principles of Pilates: pelvic placement

Pilates can be a headache.  Especially for beginners.  There's just a lot to think of: breathing, rib cage stability, shoulder girdle movement and stability, pelvic positioning, head placement.  And then there's the actual choreography of the exercises!  It's no matter it takes years to perfect a practice and we could all use some gentle reminders from time to time.

So, in an effort to deepen your practice, I've decided to write a number of posts featuring the basic principles.  Each principle can be understood and imagined in a number of different ways.  Here are a few ways to think about the first important principle, pelvic placement:

  1. In general, the pelvis is in neutral when your feet are on the mat.  It is in an imprint when your feet are off the mat.
  2. How do you know if you are in neutral?  Lie supine on a mat, knees to the ceiling and feet on the mat, a ruler's distance from your butt.  Put the heels of your hands on your hip bones and the pads of your fingers on your pubic bone.  Rock the pelvis back and forth until you come to a point where all three points are on the same plane.  You've achieved neutral.  
  3. When lying on your back as above, gently raise your pubic bone to the ceiling in order to achieve imprint.
  4. Achieve imprint using the transverse abdominis.  If you feel pressure in your glutes or feet, you've engaged some other muscles to help you.  (Yes, dear reader, that's cheating!)
  5. Lie on your back with knees up to the ceiling, heels a ruler's distance from your butt (as above).  Put your thumbs on your bottom ribs and your fingers on your hip bones.  When you imprint the spine, the space between the hip bones and the bottom ribs shortens, when you return to neutral, it lengthens again.
  6. The transverse abdmoninis is a stabilizing muscle.  It is recruited at 30% maximum capacity.  Moving in and out of neutral calls for a gentle engagement of the muscles, so avoid a jamming action.  Rather, imagine you have marshmallows under the spine.  Gently press the marshmallows into the mat.  When you are done, the marshmallow should (in your imagination) easily spring back to their original shape.
  7. Put your pelvis in neutral.  Imagine you have a cup of tea sitting in the triangular area created by the lines between the hip bones and the pubic bone.  When you imprint the spine, just a drip or two will come out as it tilts gently, yet deliberately.
Do you have tips you'd like to share?  Please leave a comment below.

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