The World of Spirals

Karen Kirkness pic

by Karen Kirkness

What is spirality?

You might have been hearing more about spirality in the anatomy world recently, but what is spirality and why is it important for bodyworkers to know about it? Spirality in biologic structure, including fascia, refers to the appearance of spiral form throughout nature. Spirality is an emergent property of tension-compression balance, emerging in the way things grow. For example, we can easily see the curly shapes of pea tendrils, the horns of ruminant animals such as rams, and the spreading of whirling weather patterns.

Macro to micro

In the very largest sense, we see the stuff of galaxies spiralling out into the cosmos. And when we zoom into the microscopic view, we can see spirality everywhere in the building blocks of life here on Earth. Spirality shows up in proteins as the helical conformation of particles that make up our tiniest building blocks, such as collagen. Collagen is the structural backbone of the Extracellular Matrix of complex life such as ourselves. Its helical conformation into a braided rope-like structure endows it with incredible resistance to tensile load; gram for gram, Type I collagen is stronger than steel. (1)

The spiralling body

The helical twisting structural motif we find in collagen is also present in other filamentous tissue in the body and influences its physiological behaviour. For example, spirality occurs in the crawling of myosin around the ‘spiral staircase’ of actin, so that the contractility of muscular tissue is spiral in its form. Structure and function are co-creators of our experience of having a body! Examples of spiral structure and function are just about everywhere you look, from the helical muscle band of the cardiac pump (aka the helical heart), to the helical cross-ply arrangement of uterine muscle. The spiral growth pattern of human development can be traced through embryological development as well, as we dance our way around the primordial axis of the notochord through the journey of somites. 

Further reading

If you’re fascinated by the spirality of tissue and spiral patterns of force transmission through the tensegral fascial body, read Spiral Bound: Integrated Anatomy for Yoga. This book takes a deep dive into the origin of spirality in human tissue. This conversational work offers readers an introduction to spiral movement, its structure and function as seated in the fascia, and an easily digestible movement map for working with spirality in motion called the Five Filaments.

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Reference:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21582/

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Karen Kirkness

Karen Kirkness MSc is a PhD candidate in the Health Professions Education Unit at Hull York Medical School. She is the author of Spiral Bound: Integrated Anatomy for Yoga from Handspring Publishing and holds a masters degree in Fine Art and another in Human Anatomy from Biomedical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. She is the founder and owner of Meadowlark Yoga, a not-for-profit yoga studio, and has been teaching yoga and anatomy internationally for two decades.

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