There’s a simple movement that we’ve all been doing since the beginning of time. It is nature’s “re-set” button – a way of restoring full muscle function and length to a muscle. It is far more effective and safer than stretching. It is called pandiculation. It is like a “software update” for your brain: it “re-boots” the brain’s sensation and control of the muscles every time you do it.

If you have ever watched a cat or dog as it gets up from rest you know that it arches its back, then drops its belly and curves downward lengthening its legs, back, and belly in a full body “yawn.” Animals aren’t stretching. They’re pandiculating. After it does this simple maneuver, it jumps off the couch and goes running off to play. Do you remember when you used to do that? You’d wake up, gently tighten your arms and legs inward, feel a yawn coming on, and then reach your arms above your head, then reach one leg down and then the other. You would first contract your muscles, then slowly lengthen them, then completely relax.

There are three elements to a pandiculation:

  • A voluntary contraction into the tension of your muscles (it doesn’t have to be vigorous!)
  • Followed by a slow, controlled lengthening
  • And a complete relaxation. This gives your brain time to integrate the new feedback you just gave it

This action, much like a pleasant yawn, re-sets both muscle length and function at the brain level; it “reminds” our muscles that they don’t have to stay stuck in a contracted state. Pandiculation “turns on a light” in the sensory motor system and improves proprioception, which helps you sense your own body more accurately. When you contract a muscle tighter than its present contraction rate, the brain (the command center of the muscles) receives strong sensory feedback, which allows it to “refresh” its sensation of the muscles. By slowly lengthening from that initial contraction, the brain can then lengthen the muscle past the point of its former, tighter length and into a new, fuller range. The result is a more relaxed muscle and renewed voluntary muscle control and coordination.

Because muscles only learn through movement (remember: riding a bicycle, dancing…), new information must be sent to the sensory motor cortex if the muscles are ever going to learn to release their accumulated tension and be able to move freely and intelligently. Static stretching is passive rather than active and it can evoke a protective reflex in the muscles that actually contracts back against the stretch. This reflex, aptly named the “stretch reflex,” is meant to protect your muscle from trauma. It is the fastest reflex in the body and has no feedback loop to the brain. When you pandiculate, however, the action is voluntary and information goes straight to your brain: you contract the muscle, then slowly lengthen it and completely let go. This requires focus and awareness.

When you think about it, animals pandiculate; they don’t stretch! And animals don’t sprain their ankles, nor have chronic back pain. The fact that animals pandiculate approximately 40 times a day means that they have full, voluntary control of their muscular system at all times. Doesn’t it make sense that we should do the same?

So next time you want to stretch, try first contracting the muscle that’s tight and then slowly lengthening it. Then completely relax. Note the difference not only in sensation and control of the muscle, but also in your range of motion and sense of ease in your body. You may even feel more “connected,” less tense.

Clinical Somatic Education uses the reflex of pandiculation to teach people to re-set muscle length and function as well as the inability to sense and control themselves from within. Somatic Movements, which are gentle, easy, movement patterns that incorporate pandiculation, retrain your brain and muscles to “remember” how to move more easily and effortlessly. Remembering how to gently twist, bend, extend, and flex will go a long way toward retaining flexibility, control, balance and coordination for as long as you live. Done every day, these easy and gentle movements can make a world of difference in your body…while reversing your muscle pain!

Read the full article at Essential Somatics

The Stretch Reflex