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This fascinating article talks about a movement action that works better than stretching to loosen muscles and prevent injuries.

PANDICULATION: The Natural Action That Ends Pain and Frees Movement


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with Injuries Who are Trying to Get Out Of Pain

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No need to force muscles to stretch. Learn how to relax muscles beyond their set-point. Pandiculation is a brain-smart action pattern that produces what stretching is supposed to produce -- only more quickly and more completely.

by Lawrence Gold
Somatic Trainer since 1992
certified Hanna Somatic Educator®


Musclebound No More!

You may consider Active Isolated Stretching the "gold standard" of therapy and athletics. I don't (and increasingly, neither do athletic trainers). There's a higher standard, a "plantinum standard" beyond stretching: pandiculation.

This article explains pandiculation and how it's different from stretching.

Pandiculation ("Regulated-Power-Stretching", "The Anywhere-in-the-Body Yawn") works the opposite way to Active Isolated Stretching. Instead of stretching muscles out, pandiculation has you tighten first, hold until steady, then relax in a particular way. The held tightening is the "power" part.

In pandiculation, you hold the squeeze of tension for a few seconds, then relax very slowly and smoothly. Result: more complete relaxation, comfortable muscles, more strength and better responsiveness.

Muscle/movement memory controls muscle tension, length, and coordination. Muscles/movement memory changes far faster and improves more by pandiculation than by stretching of any kind.



Pandiculation is completely different from "stretching harder" or "holding the stretch" or "breathing into the stretch". It's altogether different from stretching.

Pandiculation causes brain-level improvements of muscular control (muscle/movement memory) and it's as natural as yawning.

The result of pandiculation is nearly effortless lengthening of muscles beyond past limits and lasting, cumulative improvements of suppleness -- without any feeling sense of stretch.

If you have discovered the limits of stretching or if you experience "rebound" pain and muscular tension after stretching, you'll like pandiculation. Pandiculation can comfortably take you past those limits. However, it's definitely not for you if you believe in, "No pain, no gain."


In brief, it's this:

First, you deliberately tighten already tight muscles in the coordinated movement patterns that the tight muscles ordinarily cause.

Then, gently and very slowly, you move in the opposite direction, the direction you would ordinarily think to stretch only to the bare edge of a stretch.

The combination of pre-contraction followed by movement into length (to the bare edge of stretch) produces a substantial increase of your range of motion and feels nothing like the usual stretch.

That's it. Everything below is why ordinary stretching has the limits it does and why Pandiculation works. There's (CLICK:) instructional video, below, that teaches you how to use Pandiculation (The Omni-Yawn) to free and lengthen your calf muscles so they no longer cramp.

This technique works with all situations in which you might want to stretch, including hamstring pulls, groin pain, and back pain. It's the opposite of active, isolated stretching; it's active, integrated contraction followed by controlled-speed (slow) lengthening to the bare edge of your limit (which recedes with repetition).

Give up active, isolated stretching. Do Pandiculation, instead.

Learn what happens in muscles and in the brain during stretching and why stretching seems necessary. By "why stretching seems necessary," I don't mean, "why stretching is good for you," but "why muscles shorten to begin with".

You may read the technical explanation, below, or just get started learning pandiculation.

Muscles have elasticity; they're stretchy. Everybody knows that. Muscles' elasticity comes from a fibrous protein, collagen, which has elasticity. However, muscles contain more than elastic collagen; they also contain contractile cells -- muscle cells.

When muscle cells contract, their muscle contracts. Their contraction gives muscles their strength; their contraction makes their muscle shorter (and thicker); and their habitual contraction makes muscles habitually short and seem to need stretching.

The primary limit on muscle length is muscle tone; the higher the muscle tone, the shorter the muscle. Shinkage of collagen is a secondary limit on muscular elasticity.

So, the price of high muscle tone is shorter, tighter muscles.

People interested in physical conditioning are faced with a peculiar quandary: They want both highly toned muscles (for looks) and long, free muscles (to prevent injury). They want two mutually-exclusive things.

Still, people stretch because that's what they've learned. It's what they were taught by people they trusted.

However, despite what people have been taught by coaches, trainers, and other athletes, stretching doesn't work, except temporarily, given how muscular control works. Read on.


Muscles, Stretching, and the Brain

T here exists a more effective and more comfortable way to free muscles.

Our nervous system controls our muscular system; our nervous system is the seat of muscle memory, a.k.a. movement memory, not the muscles, themselves. Muscles have no control of their own and no memory -- only locations, directions of pull, and state of activity.

Obviously, then, people have tight muscles because their nervous system is triggering them to contract -- generally by habitual conditioning, on "autopilot".

To be musclebound is to have muscles constantly triggered to shorten by signals from the nervous system, which controls all of the muscles of the body.

Your nervous system develops muscle/movement memories from injuries, repetitive use patterns, and stress, memories that shape how you move and that set muscle-tone (tonus).


Stretching can't affect muscle tone in any lasting way because muscle tone is set by muscle/movement memory (postural reflexes) controlled by the brain. Stretch now, and habitual patterns of posture and movement return soon, controlled by movement memory resident in the brain. (The same is true of massage; massage brings only temporary relief from tight muscles and pain, as you may know, by now.)

Control of movement develops by learning -- "sensory-motor learning" -- learning caused by deliberate, repetitive actions or by the intense pain triggered by an injury.

That being the case, how can stretching produce a lasting change of muscle-tension? The changes that result from stretching are therefore generally temporary -- unpredictable and unstable -- evident in the frequency of sports injuries "pulled muscles".

As a result, people stay stuck with tight muscles and pain.

Most chronic muscular tension comes from postural reflexes altered by injury, emotional stress, or repetitive use patterns.

You can't stretch away postural reflexes; you can only retrain them -- a different process than active, isolated stretching.

Athletes and dancers attempt to stretch their hamstrings to avoid injury. "attempt" is the correct word because stretching produces only limited and temporary (or, at best, very slowly cumulative) effects, which is one reason why so many athletes (and dancers) suffer pulled hamstrings and knee problems.

Clearly, whatever benefits stretching confers, it has some significant limitations. More than that, stretching has drawbacks.

As anyone who has had someone stretch their hamstrings for them knows, forcible stretching is usually a painful ordeal. In addition, stretching the hamstrings disrupts their natural coordination with other muscles (e.g., psoas, quadriceps, and hip joint flexors), which is why legs feel shaky after stretching the hamstrings. The same is true of stretching any other muscle. More than that, because postural reflexes maintain our "normal" body-sense (through the stretch -- or "myotatic" - reflex) forceful stretching triggers return to our habitual tension even more strongly (muscle/movement memory); stretching triggers rebound tension that makes repeated stretching necessary. If we stretch by pitting one muscle group against another (as common done), the tension of both muscle groups may increase -- a condition known as co-contraction -- and cause muscle and joint pain.

Then, people may fear they are damaged and destined for surgery.

For chronic lower back pain, people are commonly told to do back stretches. We know, from the prevalence and frequency of back pain, that stretching takes a long time to bring lasting relief, if ever.

In the case of injuries, the reason stretching generally doesn't work is that muscles that shorten due to injury are kept short by a postural reflex triggered by pain and injury: the trauma reflex. The trauma reflex, which everyone has experienced as the shrinking inward and tightening up they experience whenevever they have gotten injured, is a long-term reflex evolved to facilitate healing by reducing movement. The brain controls trauma reflex, and brain function can't be modified by stretching muscles; it can be triggered, but not modified. For that reason, once people have been injured, they may suffer the effects of those injuries in their movements even decades later -- long after tissue injury has healed.

With no efficient, reliable method for ending residual trauma reflex (until fairly recently) people have had to live with it.

To lay the groundwork to understand a new way of getting muscles to lengthen without stretching, I'll start by explaining why ordinary stretching works to the degree that it does -- which is to say, temporarily.


Why Stretching Works to the Degree That It Does

To understand how stretching works, we must first start by recognizing that muscles that need to be stretched are usually actively contracting. The person is musclebound.

People control their muscular tension "by feel." To stretch, people assume various positions and place a "stretch-demand" on muscles. That "stretch demand" causes people to feel the muscle tension enough to "relax into the stretch" -- up to their set-point.

Sometimes, to get past that set-point, people actively force a stretch by tightening opposing muscles or by having someone provide extra stretching force.

For example, to lengthen tight hamstrings they may tightening the quadriceps (front thigh) muscles while stretching. This technique triggers a brain-level response that momentarily relaxes the hamstrings.

It's this same response, called reciprocal inhibition, that's behind the idea that abdominal strengthening makes a stronger back. The actuality is that, in tightening the abdominal muscles, the brain momentarily relaxes musclebound, sore back muscles, allowing the spine to straighten, somewhat. A straighter spine produces a sense of "more backbone" and the relaxation of the spinal muscles allows the muscles to rest and lose their burn.

But tightening abdominal muscles to cause the back muscles to relax works only as long as the abdominals are held tight. The prevalence of back pain shows, once again, that the practice of tightening muscles to stretch out others is impractical.

Muscles work in coordination with other muscles, all of the muscles being controlled and coordinated by the brain. "Active isolated stretching" works directly counter to how muscles work, which is in coordination. That's why, when you actively isolate and stretch a muscle, it soon returns to its habitual tonus and length. You return to your familiar "feel."

If you've worked with a stretching and strengthening regimen or exercise program and haven't gotten lasting benefit, now you know why.

Fortunately, a more effective way to manage muscular tension than by stretching has been developed by movement educators and trainers, and that's what we talk about, next.


"The Anyplace-in the-Body Yawn"

Muscles have a "resting tension set-point" called, "tonus". Even with special breathing, prolonged holding of a stretch, visualization, progressive relaxation or other techniques, you reach a limit. If you try to relax past their set-point, you can't, very well.

At that point, you may assume that you're as relaxed as you can get and decide to stretch.

However, shortly after any stretch, movement (muscle) memory causes you to tighten, again. Hard stretching stimulates the stretch reflex that tightens muscles even more. That's why hamstrings (and other muscles) tighten up again so soon after stretching (in minutes or hours) or after massage (hours or days)-- and why athletes get muscle injuries despite stretching.

Pandiculation and The Set-Point

Stretching doesn't do the job because of the set-point -- the state of tension to which you automatically return.

You have to re-set the set-point.

That's where pandiculation comes in.

Animals do something every time they go from rest into activity. It usually accompanies yawning -- and action that refreshes their body-sense and prepares them for movement.

In humans, there's the the familiar morning stretch; in cats and dogs, there's the bowing and arching movement; in birds, there's a wing-back/leg-back movement. It's pandiculation. If you viewed the video, above, you saw pictures of it.

Pandiculation, done deliberately (rather than instinctually), can reset your "set point". It can replace conventional stretching -- and it can heal chronic injuries faster than you may believe possible.

Where pandiculation is involved, slower works much better than faster and smooth movements work better than sudden movements.

Test the somatic education exercises (pandiculations) at right to feel what I mean.

from "Free Your Psoas"




Pandiculation Exercises to Correct and Prevent Soft-Tissue Injury:

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Cumulative Improvements of Flexibility

Significant results come relatively quickly from sessions of clinical somatic education or from doing somatic education exercises, and when they do, the changes are second nature and require no further efforts to stretch (although refreshment of muscular control by means of somatic education exercises is helpful).

To do somatic education exercises produces cumulative improvements in muscular control and decreases likelihood of injury. With the looseness that develops, you are likely to develop a preference for somatic education exercises over stretching.

Some final observations about the properties of collagen: Collagen behaves something like cloth: it enwraps the contractile cells that give muscle its strength and gives direction to muscles' pull. These collagen fibers have been observed to shorten during sleep (tissue healing/regeneration). Ordinarily, this "microshortening" leads to shrinkage and restriction of muscles and movement, but it gets normalized through somatic education exercises or other forms of physical activity. If you don't have some significant movement activity during your days, somatic education exercises can help you keep your flexibility. You'll feel better and age better.

A similar shortening occurs after significant injury, as collagen fibers invade neighboring tissue to "bandage" the area (scar tissue). This kind of bandaging prevents free movement of just the type attempted in forcible stretching and in stretch-like myofascial release techniques. In that case, precise manual manipulation (e.g., Rolfing, Hellerwork, etc.) to free the adhesions is much more to the point and less likely to induce protective postural reactions than forcible stretching or myofascial release or massage techniques that involve stretching actions.


Because conventional stretching techniques have limitations, and because injuries don't respond well to stretching, the muscle/movement memory techniques of somatic education (e.g., The Whole-body Yawn or somatic education exercises that involve The Whole-body Yawn) work in situations where stretching might be done to prevent or treat injury (physical therapy "spray and stretch", "strengthening and stretching" techniques and trigger point therapy). Somatic education frees muscles still contracted after injury has healed, improves performance, and decreases the likelihood of future injury.


You are invited to preview:

The Magic of Somatics
AN INTRODUCTION to SOMATIC EDUCATION EXERCISES with eleven somatic education action patterns and tips on the best way to do them

Free Your Psoas
All Most People Need

The Guidebook of Somatic Transformational Exercises
for professionals

to all somatic education exercise programs for foot pain, back pain, groin pain, and more -- see what's there


The Institute for Somatic Study and Development
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Lawrence Gold, C.H.S.E. (certified Hanna somatic educator) | Publications | Credentials | Personal Page


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