The above picture was an ad published in several magazines from 1914 to 1942. It advertises a machine that will “pandiculate” you. Although it’s true that 15 minutes of pandiculation will help make you feel good, help relieve pain and prevent injury, only you can pandiculate yourself. No machine or other person can do it for you. In 1942, Time magazine published an article titled “No More Pandiculation”, stating that the post office banned the company from using the US mail for the machine, calling the promoter a “fraud”. Unfortunately for Somatic educators, this puts a bad name on pandiculation. This ad has been long forgotten, but the idea of pandiculation remains obscure.
When our cats and dogs wake up from a nap, they stretch their arms and legs out, lengthening their whole bodies to wake up. Ideally, we do the same when we wake up. Modern society has made it necessary for us to *jump* out of bed in the morning. The alarm clock goes off, we jump out of bed. Most of us have forgotten that nice little biological wake up stretch. This particular kind of “stretch” is called pandiculation. It’s a yawn-like stretch. Somehow we lose this natural instinct to pandiculate our bodies when we wake up in the morning as we age. Why is that? Is it the alarm clock that buzzes, shocking us awake every morning? Did we just got out of the habit of doing a morning stretch when we wake up?
The Anatomy of Pandiculation
What’s happening when our pets stretch and pandiculate as they wake up? Try it for yourself. Maybe the suggestion of a yawn brings the desire to yawn. Notice what’s going on in your jaw. Take your arms up over head, make fists and reach your arms out like a wake up morning stretch. Chances are, you are tightening muscles and then lengthening them out from that contraction, not just passively “stretching” your muscles. Pandiculation is an active stretch. You are lengthening your muscles from a contraction. This action is occurring in your nervous system, with your brain getting feedback from those contracted muscles.
Why do we need to pandiculate?
Pandiculation helps our brains reset what it thinks is a resting muscle and a contracted muscle. Any repetitive movement we perform on a daily basis establishes habits in our central nervous system. We have good habits- like riding a bike or picking up a fork to put food in our mouths. But we also have bad habits. For example, if we sit at a computer all day, our arm is lifted to hold and operate the mouse. If we do that long enough, our muscles develop a habit of holding the arm in that position. The brain, in turn, takes that habit out of our voluntary control, resetting its level of what is a contracted muscle, and what is a relaxed muscle. In pandiculation, we contract the muscle fully, even past the point that it has been habituated. Then by lengthening out from that full contraction, the brain resets the possible length, allowing full range instead of getting “stuck” in the habit of holding the pattern of operating that mouse when we are no longer sitting at the computer.
Active vs Passive Stretching
Think of putting on a sweater that’s too small for you. You have to stretch the fibers in order to get the sweater on. This causes the sweater to get “out of shape”. Why wouldn’t a passive stretch of our own muscles get them out of shape? Within our muscles, there are cells that communicate with the brain about how tight or how relaxed the muscle is at any time. When we passively stretch a muscle, those cells send a signal that the fibers are being stretched, and if they are stretched too far, that cell sends a signal saying “STOP! CONTRACT!”. This is a protective response so that the muscle isn’t pulled too far causing fiber damage. In a pandiculation, because of the action of contracting the muscle before lengthening, this cell is overridden with another communication, telling the nervous system “it’s okay, I’m in control”.
Why does passive stretching feel so good if it’s so bad?
Passive stretching does feel good sometimes, and when done carefully, it can relieve pain. However, no permanent change can be achieved with passive stretching alone. You would have to stretch all the time to hope to maintain a lengthened muscle from passive stretching alone. Before reaching the point that the muscle cells scream “STOP”, there is very little going on within the nervous system. No communication between the muscle and the brain. It’s passive- you put the muscle where you want it, you aren’t taking control of that muscle. You can feel when you’ve passively stretched too far- the muscle begins to burn, it gets harder to stretch more. That’s the cells within starting to yell “warning warning!”. When you take control of the muscle by voluntarily contracting, you are communicating with the brain, enabling change within the nervous system and cells to the muscle. Passive stretching has it’s place- it does feel good, but it has been extremely overrated as a method to repair muscle pain. (NY Times article, “Stretching: The Truth”)
Waking up with Pandiculation
Before getting out of bed in the morning, try to remember to pandiculate yourself. Reach your arms and legs out, maybe twist a little in the center of your body. Really enjoy waking up. Think of a cat or a dog as they wake up, reaching their limbs out before even taking a step. Think “Pandiculate for Health!” to establish healthy muscular habits every day.
-CDay, February 2009
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Excellent article. I’m in the clinical somatics program. At a party someone asked me “why stretching feels so good?” I think you answered it well. You are not saying stretching is bad. It just doesn’t give the learning experience to the brain. Stretching doesn’t solve the pain of the exhausted muscle because of automatic tension patterns still remain that perpetuate the problem.
Thank you, -Eric .
Thanks so much, Eric!