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Stacking your tin cans

Jenni van den Berg - Certificate III and IV in fitness, Pilates matwork and reformer

So what is alignment all about? Well I like to think of it as stacking tin cans, one can being your ribcage and the other being your pelvis. If the cans are stacked vertically on top of one another like in your pantry, well they stack right. But if the top or bottom can were tilted, the tins would end up on the floor, right? Well thankfully this isn't quite what happens in the body when our alignment is a little off, but what does happen is muscles are under additional strain every day to 'hold' us in that position. And well, they get fatigued, tight and just generally angry.

So if we are aiming for stacked tin cans what does that give us, it gives us 3 gentle curves in our spine which puts the least amount of stress and strain on our spine. These gentle curves are our natural shock absorbers but in order to function the vertebraes need the correct amount of spacing. When we have excessive or diminished curves in our spine this squashes the jam donuts of the discs in our spine... ouchie.

One aspect that defines whether we in fact can achieve 3 gentle curves in our spine, which is referred to as neutral alignment, is the positioning of our pelvis. If our pelvis is tilted forwards we accentuate the curve in our lower lumbar spine and look a little bit like a duck. This is known as an anterior tilt of the pelvis. If our pelvis is tilted backwards we diminish our lumbar curve and our spine becomes very flat. This is known as a posterior tilt of the pelvis. Neither of these extremes are where we want to be.

But lets have a go at this, hop up on your feet and try this. Bring your awareness to the weight in your feet, shift your body weight to the front of the feet and then the back. Then settle yourself so your weight is evenly distributed.

Then bring your hands onto your hips and tilt your illiac crests (tops of your hip bones) forwards and stick your bottom right out behind you. This is an anterior tilt, can your feel your lower back getting squashed? Not so comfortable right?

Now time to take it the other way, tilt your pelvis backwards and slide your bottom beneath you. Have a look in the mirror is your back super flat? Have you got a flat butt now that doesn't fill out your jeans? This is a posterior tilt.

So if neither of these extremes are where we want to be, how do we find the holy grail of neutral? Slide the heel of your hands onto your hip bones and finger tips deep down onto your pubic bone – so you have 3 boney landmarks underneath your hands. Now tilt your pelvis forwards and backwards and settle into the point where these three landmarks are vertically stacked. This is your neutral pelvis.

Keeping your pelvis in neutral, bring your awareness up to the ribcage, take your hands to the base of your ribcage – have a feel. Can you feel your lower ribs popping towards the front of the room? Or are they in line with your pelvis? In our neutral alignment we are aiming to have our ribcage stacked vertically above our pelvis.

Then with our shoulders we are aiming for equal broadness from the front to the back, so aren't jamming the shoulders back and down nor are we rolling them forwards (but in reality that's where we all are due to computers, tablets, driving and mobile phones). As you start to fatigue in exercise your shoulders will start to creep up like giant earrings, just think about melting your shoulders down and away from your ears.

Now for the head and neck – think about looking directly out towards the horizon and drawing the chin back lightly to find full length through the back and base of the neck.

So lets have a practice of good alignment. Bring your feet hip distance apart. Bring your feet into parallel. Bring your body weight forward into the front of the feet and then the back. Settle yourself so your body weight is evenly distributed across both feet and from front to back of the feet. Eyes of the knees are facing forwards. Pelvis is neutral. Ribcage is vertically stacked about your pelvis just like two tin cans. The shoulders are broad. Draw your chin in lightly to facilitate full length from the back and base of the neck. Lengthen the sides of the neck. Beautiful, now just commit to memory and practice regularly!