Why Pandiculation NOT Stretching Reduces Pain, Improves Posture & Increases Mobility

Over the years we have been told that stretching will help reduce pain and improve our health. However with scientific research, an increased knowledge in the area of pain science and neuroscience, old beliefs around the subject of stretching are starting to be questioned. In today's blog we are going to look at the science behind stretching and why pandiculation is a much more effective and natural way of releasing muscle tension, reducing pain, improving posture and increasing mobility.

The Modern Lifestyle

The modern world we live in is fantastic because we have the ability to travel around the world, communicate from one side of the world to the other and labour saving devices have allowed us not enjoy a more convenient lifestyle. However there is a down side to our modern world! Due to the advances in technology we have become more sedentary in our lifestyle. We sit for long periods of time at work stations, on public transport, in cars or motorbikes and have become creatures of habit, doing the same actions day in and day out.
This sedentary lifestyle has created many issues, some of the main problems seen nowadays are pain, poor posture, limited mobility and a despondency due to people feel they are losing their quality of life because they can no longer enjoy the activities they once loved to do. However, thanks to the huge discoveries within Neuroscience and Pain Science, we know that mindful somatic movement is the way forward for pain management and improving quality of life. Let’s delve into why somatic movement using PANDICULATION is effective and how it has lasting effects compared to stretching.


Pandiculation is a pretty funky word and clients always love repeating the word straight after hearing it for the first time!

Pandiculation is the 3 stage process used in Somatics to relax tight, tense muscles. When I teach pandiculation to clients, they are intrigued as to how such small intricate movements can have such a profound effect on their muscles. We live in an era where the expression “No pain, No gain” or “breathe through the pain or stretch” are common place. Unless people are creating elaborate stretches and twisting their body into all sorts of positions, they don’t feel they will get enough of a stretch or lengthening of their muscles.

We have been taught for several decades that stretching will improve muscle function and activity. However thanks to Thomas Hanna, he discovered pandiculation to be a far more effective and longer lasting way to release muscle tension and stiffness.
Pandiculation is actually a veterinary term. Did you know that cats and dogs pandiculate over 40 times each day? They don’t stretch.

Pandiculation is the name given to an action pattern that occurs generally throughout the vertebrae kingdom. It is the sensory motor action used by animals to arouse the voluntary cortex by making a strong voluntary muscle contraction in order to feedback an equally strong sensory stimulation to the motor neurons. It is a way of “waking up” the sensory motor cortex. This area is responsible for sensation and movement for our body. Pandiculation is the action used to create a ‘software update’ to the sensory motor cortex. Why?

Due to our daily habits, we commonly sit, walk, carry and behave a certain way with our movements and posture. As a result, the sensors within your muscles which gauge movement, level of tension and spatial awareness adapt to good or bad habits. If we have developed bad habits, over time we start to feel pain, postural distortions and a limitation in our mobility.

We too have the capacity to pandiculate and will often do it subconsciously. A yawn is a pandiculation. It is a three step process. Think about when you yawn. You slowly contract and tense your jaw muscles, then you slowly lengthen to release and finally your rest and settle. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve just yawned!!!

Pandiculation is programmed into our central nervous system. However over the years pandiculation has not been encouraged. In effect it has been pushed to one side and replaced with approaches which can be aggressive in nature and mindless rather than mindful. We live in a fast paced society, dealing with stressful events, spending large amounts of time sitting and being educated that pulling, tugging, stretching and strengthening muscles will solve our 21 century problems. However the statistics around the subject of chronic pain are rising yearly. The advice to date has often amplified people’s pain levels and limited their mobility further.

We need to look at the animal kingdom and realise the natural programmed muscular release technique they create is actually within us too. We just need to tap into this movement pattern with education and guidance.

Learn from your Pets!

Let’s consider a vertebrate animal such as the family cat or dog! When you see a dog or cat wake up, they will pandiculate. They will strongly contract the large extensor muscles of their back, that are designed for running. Then they may pandiculate in reverse. They then contract the anterior muscles into a flexed posture. Pandiculation prepares animals for normal sensing and moving, readying its voluntary cortex for efficient functioning. Notice how the cute little collie has his large extensor muscles contracted, either to settle down and rest or in this image, he’s ready to launch and possibly round up sheep! Notice the bear, yawning is a pandiculation. Birds pandiculate by lifting one wing in a backwards direction whilst also extending the leg on the same side back wards.

A well recognised and acknowledged research authority in the area of pandiculation, A F Frasier has verified that pandiculation occurs even in the foetal stage. He used fluoroscopic study to watch the actions of lamb foetuses. Fluoroscopic studies include imaging techniques that use x rays to obtain real time moving images of the foetus. It allows researchers to see the internal structure and function of the foetus. Through these forms of medical imaging, he has observed this event of cortical programming occurring as an occasional extension of limbs of the foetus.

Pandiculation occurs in human beings. Pregnant women report not only “kicking” of their baby but also slow extensions which distend their bellies, sometimes revealing the shape of the baby’s little foot. This research and findings reveal pandiculation occurs generally in vertebrae animals, both prenatally and postnatally.

Pandiculation creates the following changes to your muscles:

  • Relaxes muscle tension within the belly of the muscle, which is the power house for strength and movement.
  • Resets your muscle length and tone so that your muscles work within 100% free range.
  • Improves spatial awareness and coordination
  • Reduces rigidity and stiffness within your body
  • Reduces pain by easing the pressure tight muscles have on ligaments, tendons and joints.
  • Improves posture by allowing the muscles and joints to move freely
  • Increases your awareness to how you move, walk, behave, bend, lift and sit.
  • We are getting to the root cause of muscle tension - updating the information between the brain and body with a 3 three step process to wake up areas of the sensory motor cortex which may have gone into autopilot due to poor habits.
  • Keeps the brain and body healthy by constantly increasing neural connections which will help with movement, rhythm, recollection, memory, coordination and muscle memory.

The Limitations with Stretching

If you are a regular reader of my blogs you know that I encourage people to educate and empower themselves in the area of health and wellness. Staying up to date with the latest research into health and pain management is key to a healthy lifestyle. From previous blogs:

Does Stretching Really Work?

What is the Difference between Stretching & Pandiculation?

Muscle Memory, Somatics & Stretching

Reducing Muscle Tension & Tightness WITHOUT Stretching

The Importance of Good Posture & Muscle Control for Exercise

Within these blogs, I have discussed why stretching is not as effective as once thought. Often these dated beliefs can hang around for many years after the research has proved contrary to what was once said with such authority. Also many have found stretching to irritate, exacerbate or trigger back, hip, knee and neck pain. Let me explain why this is the case and why stretching is very limited in its use for long term musculoskeletal health and pain management.
As we learned earlier, the level of tension and tone is determined by the amount of influence the sensory motor cortex has over those particular muscles. This area of the brain dictates all movement, coordination, contraction and whether to release muscle tension or not. The old fashioned view which still permeates areas of society still state that if your stretch a muscle, it will take the tightness out. This simplistic view was created before the increased volume of research into neuroscience and pain science. When you consider the facts, it is flawed. If we want to soften and lengthen muscles, no amount of tugging, twisting, pulling, yanking, drugging or stretching muscles will bring lasting benefits. The brain is holding this muscle tension tight subconsciously. Simply using our ego and saying ‘ I will stretch this out’ is not enough to make intelligent, mindful changes to our muscles. As a result of our ego pushing to achieve a greater stretch or more elaborate pose, we begin to move away from being mindful and somatic, instead pushing and creating pressure to our mind and body.

When a person stretches, the messages runs from the muscle to the spinal cord and back to the muscle. It is a spinal cord reflex. The most common response found with this reflex is when the stretch reflex is triggered. If a person is not listening to their body and noticing the feedback from their muscles, they will often over stretch the muscle, going beyond its comfortable length. When this happens the muscles cramps and tightens further as a protective mechanism, ensuring the muscle doesn’t tear for instance. As a result the belly of the muscle gets tighter. However the person may persevere. After their stretch session they feel aches and pains in their hips, back, neck and possibly knees. This is because the belly of the muscle was still shortened and tight, creating greater exertion and pressure on the outer side of the belly which as a result pulls on the ligaments, tendons and joints. Long term stretching creates further issues which can lead to joint pain and possible surgery.

Be Kind to Yourself!

As we learned at the beginning, life has become very intense and faced paced. This mindset has also fallen into how we work with our mind and body. Websites, social media feeds and other forms of media have created a ‘no pain, no gain’ or dis-empowering images of people holding unrealistic poses and expecting people to imitate them. However when we live mindfully and somatically, we increase our internal awareness to how we think, move, act, behave, sit and live on a daily basis. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, we take the skills taught within The Total Somatics Approach to Health & Wellness Online Program at www.TotalSomatics.com and start creating healthy habits, changes to our movement, mindset, nutrition and lifestyle so we glow from the inside out. We are all unique and so to cookie cut everybody to a certain approach does not work. That’s why I created the online program. You receive videos and audios as well as other support material to educate and empower you. The principles, skills and knowledge taught within the program allows you to see how you can implement changes into your lifestyle to create a lifestyle which reduces the chance of recurrent injuries and pain.

To learn more about Somatics, check out my FREE ebook entitled ‘Somatics - What is it? How can it help me?’

To experience a FREE taster of what to expect within my online program, CLICK HERE.

Start working intelligently and methodically with Total Somatics to reduce pain, improve posture, increase mobility and allow you to return or continue with the activities you LOVE to do.

Take Care,
Heidi Hadley xx

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