What is pandiculation?
Pandiculation is generally defined as the act of stretching oneself and yawning, especially upon waking. However, our automatic pandicular response has far more significance than simply prompting us to stretch and yawn.
Pandiculation is the nervous system’s natural way of waking up the sensory-motor system and preparing for movement. Humans, along with all vertebrate animals, tend to automatically pandiculate when we wake up or when we have been sedentary for a while. If you’ve ever seen a dog or cat arch their back when they get up from a nap, or watched a baby stretch their arms and legs as they wake up, you’ve witnessed the pandicular response.
Pandiculation also sends biofeedback to the brain regarding the level of contraction in our muscles, thereby helping to prevent the buildup of chronic muscular tension. This is an extremely important function of the pandicular response. Pandiculation contracts and releases muscles in such a way that the alpha-gamma feedback loop is naturally reset. This resetting reduces muscular tension and restores conscious, voluntary control over the muscles. Preventing the buildup of tension in our muscles is critical to maintaining healthy posture and movement throughout our lives.
Fetuses have been observed pandiculating while in the womb, showing how deeply ingrained the pandicular response is in our nervous system and how critical it is to our musculoskeletal functioning. Unfortunately, as we age and develop habitual ways of standing and moving, our natural pandicular response typically can’t counteract all the learning that occurs in our nervous system. And as we lose sensory-motor awareness and control, the pandicular response often becomes inhibited.
Pandiculation as a voluntary movement
Thomas Hanna, the founder of Clinical Somatic Education, studied neurophysiology and explored movement techniques that would directly address the habitual muscular tension that was the underlying cause of his clients’ chronic pain and posture and movement issues. Hanna developed hands-on movements and self-care exercises that made use of the pandicular response.
Hanna would first teach his clients pandiculations that focused on contracting and releasing one muscle or a small group of muscles, then gradually teach them larger movements which involved moving their entire body. Voluntary pandiculation proved to be a groundbreaking movement technique. It quickly reduced muscular tension, and since it relaxed muscles through learning rather than passive manipulation (such as in stretching or massage), the effects were typically long-lasting.
Pandiculation was the first active hands-on movement technique that a somatic educator had employed to any significant degree. Through experimentation, Hanna found that active, voluntary movement on the part of the client was the most efficient and effective way to retrain the nervous system and release chronic, involuntary muscular contraction.
Restoring natural pandiculation and voluntary control
One of my favorite things that a client has ever said to me is, “You know how my daughter stretches when she wakes up from a nap? I noticed myself doing that this week, and I haven’t done that in a very long time!” After just one session in Clinical Somatic Education, this client had already experienced her natural pandicular response kicking in.
The human nervous system is plastic, meaning that its function changes based on the input we give it. Our nervous system is capable of changing and learning throughout our entire lives. Just as our nervous system learns to keep certain muscles tight, it can also learn to release that chronic tension. As Thomas Hanna discovered, pandiculation is the most efficient and effective way to release chronic tension, relieve muscle soreness and pain, and restore full voluntary muscular control.
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