Pandiculation as a voluntary movement
Thomas Hanna, the founder of Clinical Somatic Education, studied neurophysiology and the effects of the pandicular response. He explored how pandiculation directly addressed 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.
The technique of voluntary pandiculation that Hanna developed is a highly specialized type of eccentric contraction—the action of muscles that are engaged while they lengthen under load. Picture what your biceps are doing as you lower a dumbbell, for example. The muscles are slowly lengthening, but are still engaged as long as you hold the weight.
A voluntary pandiculation must be performed very slowly and consciously so that the nervous system is able to sense and integrate the biofeedback that the movement provides. The opposing muscles should not engage during the pandiculation. And the resistance, or load, must be applied so that the actively lengthening muscles are fully engaged throughout the movement’s range of motion.
In a hands-on pandiculation, the practitioner provides resistance to the muscles that are actively lengthening. These hands-on movements can be performed in any position relative to gravity because the practitioner can adjust the direction of the resistance as the student moves through the range of motion.
Most of the self-care exercises that Hanna developed are self-pandiculations in which gravity provides the only resistance. This means you must be in specific positions relative to gravity in order to pandiculate muscle groups correctly.
Hanna’s voluntary pandiculations proved to be groundbreaking. It was the first active technique that a somatic educator had employed to any significant degree. Previous somatic educators had focused on passive movement techniques that improved function by increasing sensorimotor awareness and relaxing the nervous system. Hanna found, however, that voluntary movement was the most efficient and effective way to unlearn chronic, involuntary muscular contraction and retrain posture and movement patterns.
Pandiculation quickly reduced muscular tension, and since this was accomplished through learning rather than manipulation, the effects were typically long-lasting. Hanna first taught his students pandiculations that focused on contracting and releasing small groups of muscles. Once his students began to reduce their involuntary muscle tension, he taught them larger movements that integrated their muscular releases into natural, efficient full-body movement patterns.
Hanna codified his methods into three standard lessons based on the three postural patterns he observed in his clients, an approach he called “Clinical Somatic Education.” Following each hands-on lesson, Hanna gave his students simple self-care exercises so they could learn how to take care of themselves rather than rely on a practitioner. While earlier methods of somatic education were relatively free-form, Hanna’s was systematized and easy for people to practice at home.
In 2022, a study of voluntary pandiculation was published in a peer-reviewed journal for the first time. It was a study of 103 patients with chronic lower back pain and/or neck pain. After the patients completed an average of three sessions, followed by practicing the exercises at home, their lower back pain was reduced by 81% and their neck pain was reduced by 80%.