This weekend, while cruising Facebook, I stumbled across a blog discussing pandiculation versus stretching. They posit that pandiculation is more effective than stretching at changing muscle length and improving flexibility. Completely fascinated, I have started learning more…
Dictionary.com defines Pandiculation as a noun. “The act of stretching oneself.” It then goes on to explain that it is most commonly associated with yawning.
Interesting, but I am pretty sure that we all recognize that a yawn is a much different kind of stretch than we achieve from a toe-touch. (Are you yawning yet? Because I am.) The real question is: Why do we feel looser in our jaw, neck, and even shoulders from a yawn, when a voluntary stretch is not as effective?
Perhaps Dictionary.com’s definition is a little incomplete.
EssentialSomatics.com defines Pandiculation as:
A conscious, voluntary contraction of a muscle, followed by a slow, deliberate lengthening of that muscle and a complete relaxation
They further explain that the conscious, voluntary component of pandiculation helps to reset the way our brain perceives the length of our muscles. For the neurology, read this.
Pandiculation versus Stretch
Essentially, pandiculation changes our brain’s understanding of muscle length, acting as a sort of soft reset.
It is important to contrast this with an understanding of our basic stretch. When we stretch a muscle, as in our hamstrings with a toe touch, a reflex tells the spinal cord that is happening in the muscle. This triggers a return signal to the muscle to contract or shorten. This defeats the intention of the toe touch and can actually reduce muscle power afterward. (See the first link in this post for more details)
This seems to indicate that if we truly want to lengthen a muscle, we must control that movement and engage the brain.
Why does it matter/How to apply this
I started reading about this during my down-time at a trail marathon and 50K where I was providing post race soft tissue work for athletes. While assessing the runners, I began to notice trends in their imbalances as well as how hamstrings and glute muscles responded to even a gentle evaluation of length/tension. They tend to cramp or contract in protest! This is a perfect setting to understand that basic stretch reflex. Many of these runners would benefit from an understanding of applied Pandiculation. (Which may be my new favorite word)
One of the best human examples of pandiculation mentioned earlier was yawning. Yawning is a controlled contraction of the muscles in the lower jaw and neck followed by a gradual release.
Now, think about your cat or dog at home. Have you ever seen your feline friend get up from sleeping without that luxurious stretch that they hold and then gently release? I am pretty sure that my cats are expert pandiculaters.
As humans, most of this is not instinctual for us as it is with our pets. However, yoga is one form of exercise that applies pandiculation to its movements. I know that I sometimes walk into a yoga class unable to touch my toes in forward bend, but after a few flows, I am so much looser and stay that way for days. A great yoga practice literally resets your brain’s perception of muscle length.
It is hugely important to make sure that you are training your body with intention and the help of professionals! It is possible to avoid injury, increase power and endurance, and improve overall performance by learning more about your own body’s balance and imbalances. Please work with your health care provider to ensure that your workouts and your body are balanced and appropriate for you. If you are in the greater Seattle area and would like a consultation regarding your fitness, please feel free to contact us at (206)565-9691 to schedule your appointment with Dr. Samelak.
And just for fun… try saying Pandiculation three times, quickly!