Have you ever watched a sleeping dog or cat wake up? What’s the first thing they do? They look like they stretch before even trying to get up. But that’s not really stretching – that’s pandiculating. Just about all mammals (including humans) pandiculate. And note that the animals repeat this motion many times during the day!
Webster’s Medical Dictionary defines pandiculation as “a stretching and stiffening especially of the trunk and extremities (as when fatigued and drowsy or after waking from sleep.” Pandiculating often includes a yawn.
Pandiculating could be better than stretching!
Accumulated stress, anger, trauma (either emotional or physical) and the effects of gravity cause compression in muscles. Sedentary lifestyles and inflammation in body tissues also contribute to compression. Over time, the brain teaches muscles to remain tense and contracted.
Sensory motor amnesia (SMA) is a state of a constant degree of muscle contraction.
SMA leads to postural distortions that reduce range of motion and eventually result in pain. The muscles involved no longer can relax to their proper resting length.
What’s in a stretch?
The usual advice for stiff, tight muscles is “stretch out.” But there is a stretch reflex in muscles to protect against overstretching. Once a muscle has stretched enough (usually about 30 to 60% of maximum, depending on the person) the stretch reflex is triggered to prevent further stretching and possible injury. An abrupt, forceful stretch also triggers the reflex (that’s why ballistic, or bouncing, stretching is no longer recommended).
The stretch reflex is a 2-neuron reflex; it travels from the muscle to the spinal column and from the spinal column back to the muscle. This happens automatically; the brain is not involved.
What makes pandiculation better than stretching?
A pandiculation involves:
- A voluntary contraction of muscle
- A slow lengthening of the muscle
- And finally, complete relaxation of the muscle
When you purposely contract a muscle more than it is already contracted, the brain gets a message from that muscle. The brain can intervene and take control over the muscle; this is what lets the muscle relax.
A static stretch is automatic and passive. A pandiculation is voluntary and active. Since the brain is involved, the muscle can be trained to return to a proper resting length instead of staying contracted.
A yawn is a pandiculation. Notice how your jaw and neck feel when you yawn.
Or raise your arms overhead, make fists and extend your arms as in a wake-up stretch. Do this slowly and deliberately. Most likely your muscles will first tighten and then lengthen.
The goal of pandiculating is to relieve SMA
How to pandiculate
The characteristics of pandiculation include:
- Extending the arms
- Extending the legs
- Extending the head and neck (forward or upward)
- Flexing the spine (either arching it or depressing it)
- Stiffening the trunk
- Yawning (optional)
Here’s an example of a standing, yawning pandiculation:
You can pandiculate while lying down, too – try it in the morning before you “hop” out of bed and see if that doesn’t start your day off right!
image: via GraphicStock