What is a pandiculation?

If you Google it, pandiculation comes up loosely defined as stretching and yawning, usually when upon waking up. But it's so much more than that.

What is a pandiculation?

When your dog or cat (or any animal) wakes up and looks like they are stretching they are actually pandiculating.

You do it too, if you ever wake up, and reach your arms to the ceiling, yawn big, and then relax.

Humans (and all other vertebrates) are genetically programmed to pandiculate. By doing so, our nervous systems reset our muscle length so we can easily move after being sedentary (sleeping, sitting, etc) for a extended period of time.

When an animal or human pandiculates they are resetting the feedback loop between the sensory motor cortex part of the brain and the receptors in their muscles, to release built up tension.

Where does all my tension come from?

We humans accumulate tension as we sleep, sit for long periods of time, arch our backs in an effort to work hard. Even things like repeatedly putting a baby on a hip or jutting our heads forward to look at our devices, are putting our bodies into patterns of tightness. Any pattern — or shape we put our body into — repeatedly becomes habituated. Our 24/7 world of external stimuli (social media, work, traffic, family and work obligations) also create full body contraction patterns.  Our brains and nervous systems are learning to contract into tightness. Habituated tension results in Sensory Motor Amnesia. 

What is Sensory Motor Amnesia?

The brain controls everything your body does, including how your muscles contract and lengthen, specifically the sensory-motor cortex. This part of your brain controls voluntary movement of our bodies, making the body move and sensing what it feels like to do those movements. If you repeatedly contract your muscles into patterns of tightness, without fulling releasing them to rest, the brain keeps contracting. You've pretty much learned how to stay tight.

So, I should stretch and strengthen my body to get rid of that tension, right?

The typical approach to our tightness and pain is to stretch the tight areas, and strengthen the "weak" areas. But neither address the brain and receptors in the muscles. The truth is, stretching makes muscles rebound into more tightness soon after stretching. Strengthening areas of your body to counterbalance your sore tight areas just layers on another pattern of tension. Or you can even be tightening areas even more.  This is a very in-depth article about why stretching doesn't work.

So pandiculations are the alternative to stretching and strengthening?

Exactly! Pandiculations are not stretching or strengthening movements. Those methods are playing tug o' war with your nervous system. Pandiculations work with the brain and nervous system by 1) helping the brain become awareness of the tightness and the SMA its developed, 2) relearn how to release it, changing the feedback loop between the brain and muscles.

How do I pandiculate?

Pandiculating is a three step process:

  1. A gentle contraction into tightness. Large enough to sense the tension you are creating.
  2. A slow, controlled release, letting the muscles relax to their more natural resting length.
  3. A brief period to rest and give the brain time to sense and integrate the new sensations and noticeable differences.

That's it? Sounds too easy. 

Yes, I know, it can seem like a huge paradigm shift from what you currently do to address your pain and tightness. We are all born to pandiculate. But in a world of 24/7 external stimulation, westernized adults forego pandiculating, accumulating stress and feeling like they have little control over their bodies.

But when people take the time to slow way down, and sense themselves, we relearn how to move with ease. Key word here: ease.

You were self taught how to sit, walk, stand, skip, write your name, ride a bike, play violin, etc, all  with practice. No one taught you how to feel and sense how you do those activities. You were self taught. As you sensed and moved, neurological pathways were wired between your brain and muscles.

No amount of hard, physical effort will make things easier. More awareness will. As my colleagues say, More Brain, Less Pain.

If this piques your interest, you can learn more about Somatics on my website, thinksomatics.com. You can also enroll in the Think Somatics Virtual Classroom. There you will have access to an ever-expanding library of recordings of somatics lessons I create everyone can reap the benefits of Somatics, any time, anywhere in the world.

Please share this post if it resonates with you or you know of folks who are still in pain after "trying everything." Somatics can help!

Thanks for reading.



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