Pandiculation is a ground-breaking technique of releasing involuntary muscle contraction. Animals pandiculate multiple times a day and humans naturally do too. Unfortunately, as we age and develop habitual movement patterns, we often inhibit the natural pandicular response and our musculoskeletal health suffers. The good news is since your nervous system is plastic, you can learn how to pandiculate and reap the rewards!
Pandiculation in a nutshell
- Pandiculation is yawning or stretching after waking up.
- It is an active learning process, requiring your conscious attention
- Pandiculation is the most effective and efficient way to reduce habituated, involuntary muscle tension
- Pandiculation is critical to healthy movement and posture
- All vertebrate animals pandiculate
- Stress inhibits the pandicular response
Pandiculation is the most effective way to release chronically contracted (and therefore tight or painful) muscles. Pandiculation is a neuromuscular reset for your nervous system. So before I go further, you may be wondering, what is pandiculation? How do I do it?
A brief Somatic Exercise – Try this.
1. Sit at the edge of a chair, feet planted on the floor, spine neutral
2. Hunch your shoulders up to your ears and slightly forward – enough so you can feel the contraction in your chest.
3. Then slowly let your shoulders release as you lower them, count to 8 as you do this.
4. Try this again, but add your head and chin jutting forward, then slowly release to neutral to a count of 8.
That is a pandiculation. You can pandiculate any muscle in your body! Pandiculation is generally described as stretching or yawning after a period of rest.
All you need to do is pay attention by consciously contracting your muscle. This doesn’t have to be a big movement.
Then slowly release the muscle; see how smooth you can make the movement; keep it controlled.
At the bottom of the movement, COMPLETELY RELAX.
In Somatics, less is more. DON’T OVER EFFORT!!!
Your brain thinks painful and/or tight muscles are shorter than they actually are – this is called sensory motor amnesia. Therefore, by bringing your conscious awareness to a specific muscle by contracting the muscle – making it tighter – and then slowly releasing it, you are resetting your brain’s control of that muscle; you are also lengthening the muscle (note: stretching does not actually lengthen your muscles at the level of your brain). This is accomplished through the sensory-motor feedback loop.
Pandiculation is a biofeedback mechanism your brain can use to sense levels of muscle contraction and then release and lengthen those muscles.
When you voluntarily contract a muscle, your brain is getting sensory signals about the tension in the muscle increasing, and that the length of the muscle has reduced.
When you start to slowly contract that muscle less and less, your brain is receiving continuous signals about the tensile load of the muscle, and you can have a ‘felt’ sensation of it lengthening, until you reach zero effort of contraction in the muscle.
The brain learns best one thing at a time. This is why, in Clinical Somatics, we practice movements slowly – so your brain can really sense and notice a particular area of your body.
Have you ever seen a cat or a dog do a nice, long stretch after waking up from a nap? Well, they aren’t stretching, they are pandiculating! All vertebrate animals pandiculate automatically to reset muscle length after a period of rest. Kids naturally do it too – until they are conditioned out of it. Just watch an infant learning how to sense and move and BOOM! You will see them pandiculating constantly.
When you reset your natural muscle length, you are regaining voluntary control of that muscle. To have voluntary control means you are able to sense when muscles are tight, and release them. Having voluntary control of your muscles is essential to maintaining healthy posture and movement throughout your life.
Use Pandiculation to gain voluntary control of your muscles
Pandiculation is the most effective and efficient way to reduce muscle tension. Reducing involuntary, chronic muscle tension is the most effective way to get rid of pain and improve your movement for the rest of your life.
The pandicular response is deeply ingrained in our nervous systems. Our nervous systems, like our brains, are plastic. Whatever input you give your nervous system deeply affects the output; you can change. This is great news because it means you can improve your movement and reduce your pain and tension at any age.
Thomas Hanna, the founder of Somatics, discovered through his years of work with clients and study of neurophysiology, the best way to reduce pain and release chronic, involuntary muscle contraction was to pandiculate. He created simple self-care exercises that he taught to his clients to maintain their improvement from his clinical sessions with them and continue to improve their movement patterns.
Hanna taught clients to focus first with one area of the body and learn to release chronic muscular tension by pandiculating through that one area. Then he taught full-body movements to clients; Hanna recognized it is never one muscle in isolation causing the pain. Voluntary pandiculation was a ground-breaking technique at the time. Assisted pandiculation is a hands-on technique Hanna discovered and then taught to the Somatic Educators he trained. He learned the most effective way for clients to reduce their muscle tension was through the active learning process of pandiculation.
By clients using their own corticol, conscious minds, the improvements lasted longer. Hanna found that because pandiculation is an active learning process, unlike other passive modalities (like stretching or massage), clients could quickly, on their own, reduce their levels of tension.
Hanna firmly believed in the power of the soma (body + mind). We are all somas – we are all self-sensing, self-correcting, and thereby self-healing beings. Through pandiculation, you can learn to easily and almost effortlessly reduce your habitual muscular tension and contraction and improve your movements for the long-term.