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Pilates Basic Principle - Head and Cervical Area

Neutral Head and Cervical Area

When the head and cervical spine (neck) is in neutral position, which is what we are aiming for, there is a slight forward curve of the spine. The head then balances above the neck and shoulders. This maintains true when lying down, which is where us pilates-folk spend most of our time.

It is important to allow the cervical spine to continue the line that you are making with the rest of your spine to avoid injury. If you are in:

  • spinal flexion (curved forward) then the head and neck will also slightly curve forward
  • spinal extension (torso arcing behind back) then the head and neck will follow

Your baby blues… and greens and browns (i.e. you eyes)… will affect your head and neck placement. The easiest rule of thumb is when you are in spinal extension look forward and slightly up, and when you are in spinal flexion look slightly down.

Head Nod in Pilates For Protection

When we flex the spine starting with the head… a problem appears! Since we are so smart our heads have evolved over time to be heavier and heavier.

I’m not sure if that math adds up but what I do know is that our heads do weigh a hefty number. If we lie on the floor, with our stomach facing upward, and try to lift our head up, it hurts and puts strain on our neck.

Anytime there is flexion involving the head and neck, we do a little bit of neck flexion first, before the head comes off of the mat, to prepare our neck and head. Simply think of nodding your chin towards your chest.

Not too much nodding (for you type A people), the chin does not touch the chest. It is a very slight movement simply to have the head in a more comfortable place for lifting. We call this a head nod. (tutorial below)

Pilates Head Nod Exercise

pilates-pics-pinciples-025-edited-3.jpg

Above you can see that this person is:

  • In neutral head and cervical spine alignment
  • The chin is not tipped too far up or down
  • Standing up, the head would be balanced over the rib cage, shoulders, and neck

To prepare for your head nod exercise lie on your mat, on your back. You will have your knees bent with the feet flat on the floor and arms by your side. Try to incorporate all of the neutral alignments you have learned from reading about the other four principle areas.

pilates-pics-pinciples-025-edited-2.jpg

From the neutral head and cervical position, simply think of two things:

1. Gently nod the chin towards the chest

2. While thinking of lengthening the back of the neck

Things to remember:

  • The head stays on the mat for all of this… NO LIFTING!
  • The chin moves towards the chest, NOT touching the chest.

You can compare the chin movements in the circles of picture one and two above. The movement is quite small but is more than enough for you to feel the difference when lifting the head up in an exercise.

Try lifting your head up without a head nod. Then, try lifting your head up with a head nod first.

pilates-pics-pinciples-026-edited-2.jpg

Above: No thank you Sir!

The last picture above is a wonderful example of OVER flexion in a head nod. This over-works the cervical muscles. You will feel this, in not such a great way, the next day.

You Just Learned Head and Cervical Spine Placement for pilates

  • Why the head and cervical placement, in neutral, is important
  • How to create neutral head and cervical placement
  • What a head nod is and why it is important
  • How to do a head nod properly
  • Want to know more pilates principles? Check out this overview of the pilates basic principles.
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