With many exercise habits focused on movements forward and back, our natural ability to rotate around the central axis can be overlooked. Yet twisting motions are a key part of our movement and how our central body connects to the periphery, torso to limbs.
Twists are not simply isolated turns of the spine, but are dependent on the entire story of the breath and the body. Incorporating different twisting motions in varying planes and to changing relationships with the limbs and ground helps us to feel that in all movement, the whole body is involved.
Within Thomas Myers' myofascial meridians system, Anatomy Trains®, the spiral lines of our connective tissue in the torso cross over at the front just above the navel. These allow us to twist and express rather than be shut down and hardened around the waist. They cross over at this midpoint, our mechanical line of function between the top and bottom of the body, where forces move across and then reach down the side of the hips, along the sides of the legs to the ankle. At the back, they cross over at the bottom of the sacrum, the tailbone, and then reach up either side of the spine to cross over and reach up to the top, the base of the skull.
When we walk and swing our arms with our strides, when this movement is most effortless, we are occupying our spiral lines to their full expression. Their fascia meets the erector spinae muscles holding us up through the spine and the abdominal fascia drawing us up through the front body. This allows us to shift our posture, rotate and compensate for any weight changes continually while lifting upright from the ground. When we walk, forces are transferred from one sacroiliac joint (where the lumbar spine fits into the pelvis) to the other side, and if our spiral lines are free, this can feel less jarring in the lower back.
When we have too little rotational capacity through these lines, our organs can easily become fused and have no differentiation, even become collagenous like tendons. Every organ in the body is encased in its own fascial sac, with the digestive organs in the abdominal cavity, reproductive organs in the pelvis, and heart and lungs in the chest cavity, with the diaphragm nestled between. There is a continuum between all of these 'bags,' including communication between the nervous, digestive, immune, cardiovascular and endocrine systems—creating rhythms and harmonic or dissonant responses. Fascia showing trauma can become less organized and elastic.
The squeeze and release, compression and flood, that is created as we move in any direction, but particularly when twisting through the torso, creates the effect often described as 'massaging the internal organs.' Healthy fascia has a slide-and-glide quality that allows mobility between the organs and reaches out from this center point of the body.
As a review of the findings on fascia states, "The fascial continuum can also develop symptoms in areas which are far from the original dysfunctional point."1 Tightness in one area of the body ripples out into others, and the site of pain is often transferred from its point of origin, so a lesion in the abdominal, pelvic or diaphragmatic region can easily transmit out to the hip or sacroiliac joint, or even further afield, like the shoulders, upper and lower back, legs and ankles.
Lesions and adhesions can form in fascia that does not have regular fluid movement, which is part of its working design to keep its continuum, communication and lymphatic fluid flowing. These can also occur as a result of physical trauma from accidents, abuse, surgery, infection or radiation that can create fascial distortions where, out of self-protection, the tissues may become seized and even unresponsive as scar tissue forms. Conditions such as irritable bowel, endometriosis and other digestive or reproductive issues can add inflammation, scarring and held responses to pain into the mixture.
When tissues cannot easily slide, they show up as a fascial thickness on ultrasound, which has been linked to chronic pain that is not easily identified and can be transferred to other areas of the body.2 This densification can eventually become fibrosis, the thickening and scarring of connective tissue, which is known to be caused by a chronically inflamed environment, stress, trauma and immobility and linked to conditions like fibromyalgia.3
Continually expanding our understanding of the fascial web shows how movement and bodywork to affect tissues are not simply localized or mechanical. Fascia has 10 times more sensory feedback than muscle, and unraveling held trauma through motions like twisting not only increases our embodied awareness but also enhances our ability to feel safe via the autonomic nervous system.
The practice here is not simply to be followed in order (although it can be), but shows where we can add in twists to any exercise program to encourage our full range of motion out from the central axis. In any twisting motion, space between the vertebrae (sections of the spine) is more important than how far we can turn. Simply turning without length in the spine can create compression in the discs, with pain and even exacerbation of any nerve impingements. When twists are executed with quality over quantity, they can help to relieve such issues.