How twists can increase mobility

mobility twists Jul 06, 2023

How twists can increase mobility

With many exercise habits focussed 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 connection 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 body where forces move across and then reach down the side of the hips down the sides of the legs to the ankle.  At the back, they cross over at the bottom of the sacrum, the tail bone and then reach up either side of the spine to cross over and reach into the top, into the base of the skull.

When we walk and swing our arms with our strides, when this 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, whilst lifting upright from the ground. When we walk, forces are transferred from one sacroiliac joint (where the lumbar spine sits into the pelvis) to the other side and if our spiral lines are free, this can feel less jarring into 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 in 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; diaphragm nestled between. There is 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 organised and elastic.

The squeeze and release, compression and flood, created as we move in any direction, but particularly when twisting through the torso, creates the effect often quoted as ‘massaging the internal organs’. Healthy fascia has a slide-and-glide quality that allows mobility between the organs and reaches out from this centre point of the body.

As a review on the findings on fascia states, “The fascial continuum can also develop symptoms in areas which are far from the original dysfunctional point” (J Multidiscip Healthc. 2014; 7: 401–411).  Tightness in one area of the body ripples out into others and the site of pain very 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 sacro-iliac 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, as part of its working design to keep its continuum, communication and lymphatics flowing.  These can also occur as a result of physical trauma from accidents, abuse, surgeries, infection or radiation can create fascial distortions, where in self-protection, the tissues become seized and even unresponsive as scar tissue may form as repair. Conditions such as IBS, 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 under ultrasound, which has been linked to chronic pain that is not easily identified and transferred to other areas of the body (Surg Radiol Anat. 2014;36(3):243–253). This densification can eventually become fibrosis, the thickening and scarring of connection tissue, which is known to be caused by a chronically inflammatory environment, stress, trauma and immobility) and linked to conditions like fibromyalgia (J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2010;14(1):3–12.

Continually expanding understanding of the fascial web shows how movement and bodywork to affect tissues is not simply localised or mechanical. Fascia has ten times more sensory feedback than muscle and unravelling 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 programme 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.

Space into the shoulders out from the chest

Laying or supine twists relieve tension in the spine and shoulders as we do not need to stack them up from the ground. Many floor twists move the legs and are great for mobilising fascia, but this version moves the arms instead and so focuses on freeing the shoulders, where so many people feel the strain from chair-sitting and take into exercise as disordered breathing patterns.

  • Lay on one side, thighs perpendicular to the torso so the legs drop and all motion is through the upper body.
  • Support the head so that both sides of the neck feel even.
  • Settle into the shoulders here and reach the top arm forward.
  • Inhale to reach the arm directly above the top shoulder, lifting up through the shoulder and keeping the gaze on the fingers.
  • Exhale to reach the arm back, focus continually on the fingers means the shoulder and neck can move in tandem, as designed.
  • Inhale the hand back up above the shoulder and exhale back to the beginning.
  • Continue the movement, letting the breath guide the rhythm and pace for full body release.

Spine undulation to twist

This twist incorporates moving the spine with the rhythm of the breath and so frees tissues in all directions through the torso and viscera, to ripple out freedom of movement to the whole body.

  • Sitting on the floor, take your hands behind you, at least as wide as the shoulders. Allow some bend in the elbows, so you can drop the chin into the chest and let the back round.
  • From position one, on an inhalation, lift up through the chest to arch the back and lift up through the shoulders. Rather than just lifting the chin and compressing the back of the neck, keep length in the back and sides of the neck. Lift the heart and feel a squeeze between the shoulder blades. Exhale back into position one and move between the two, inhaling to arch, exhaling to round the back, creating suppleness through the spine, back and chest. Rest sitting to hug the knees, head dropping.
  • Then from position one, as you next inhale to position two, let the knees drop to the right to twist. You may feel more of a squeeze under and around the left shoulder blade, where we can commonly stiffen and which contributes to neck and shoulder pain. Exhale to centre and inhale knees to the left; alternating sides with each in-breath. Hug the knees to end and move the shoulders and neck in way that you feel you need.

Twisting from the hips

This twist starts sitting in ‘z-legs’with the left leg bent in and the right bent out in a wide seat. Sitting up centrally, lift the right arm, bent so that the lower arm is parallel to the ground. Inhale length in the spine and exhale to drop onto the left hand on the ground as you twist towards it. Continue this motion, inhaling back to take the weight off the left hand and create space in the spine, exhaling back in before repeating on the other side.

From the pelvis, the belly, then ribcage, then shoulders turn to‘move from the organs’. This also helps to illustrate that a true twist is not simply turning the ribcage, shoulders, neck or head, but originates from the lower spine. Also, here we let the hips move, the belly turning in arcs so that the pelvic unit moves to where needed to protect the lower back. If the pelvis is ‘pinned’ in place in twists, there is a risk of levering the lumbar spine out of the sacroiliac joints it sits in; a possible contributor to lower back pain when these become too loose or inflamed.

Standing twists

Standing twists include the fascial lines up the inner legs from the soles of the feet in the support for spine lengthening. They are important to include between and ending practices with very ‘forward and back’ motions to release potential tension in the waist, diaphragm and lower back, as well as engaging the side muscles of the torso.

  • In this wide-legged twist, the bottom hand can be raised up onto blocks or a chair for more height, especially if you need to hunch to come down. Length between the pubic bone and the breastbone is more of a priority than how far you get down. Ensure the outer edges of the feet are parallel to fully lift up through the inner legs and feel the natural pelvic floor gathering that allows spinal length.
  • This standing twist is a supported variation of a balance, but with a chair to place the lifted foot to create most length through the entire centre line to the crown of the head and feel the whole body revolve around this central axis.

Seated Twists

Seated twists allow us to observe how we lift the spine when rising vertically up from the ground. Whether we sit on the ground or on a chair (if tight hips don’t allow easy uplift from the pelvis or you are at a desk), drawing up through the back of the skull and opening the collarbones relieves compression in the lower back as we turn. Simply turning the chin around is not a twist, feel the whole movement from the belly up and you can also counter-rotate the chin over the front shoulder to open up the side of the neck and support lymphatic drainage under the collarbones.

Restorative twist

From the ‘z-legs’ position before (with right leg turned in), place a bolster or pile of blankets next to the right hip and place both hands either side of this support to lengthen the spine before turning from the belly to lie as comfortably as possible. This is a restorative position, meaning that we are held in place with no effort to be made. Adjust your arms do that your shoulders can completely drop and focus on the movement of breath in your body to stay focussed and attentive to body sensations.

This is a great pose to allow the nervous system to settle and tissues to soften after stronger exercise, especially if there has been little movement around the torso.

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