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Why make the switch from stretching to pandiculation in yoga?

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Discover the fascia-informed approach to pandiculation and why it's better for you than a traditional yoga stretch.

Yoga is an ancient practice that has been used for centuries to improve physical and mental well-being. Asana is only one limb of Yoga, but it is the one that is widely practiced and known. Associated with stretching to increase flexibility, relieve tension, and enhance range of motion. However, fascia research and biotensegrity, the structural architecture of our body is revealing how traditional stretching techniques used in yoga may not be best for our body's design. There is a risk of resistance, overstretching, or injury if not done carefully. Enter Pandiculation, the natural way of restoring elasticity and integrity to the body's fascia.

What exactly is pandiculation?

According to this research paper by manual therapist Luiz Fernando Bertolucci

Often described as “the stretch and yawn” response, pandiculation is that urge we feel to unwind when we wake up from sleep. You may have seen dogs, cats, and newborn babies “stretch” in this way. The first thing you notice when you pandiculate is how the sensation differs from how we learned to stretch, breathe and align the body in yoga.

Although described as an involuntary stretch. According to Fascial Anatomist John Sharkey, it’s not a stretch as we know it. Whilst stretching is linked to lengthening or getting longer,(like an elastic band). Pandiculation is expansive.

​It’s a whole-body sense of expansion from within. Not just one part. The motion is omnidirectional because of the nature of our tensegral geometry. That’s because the force is transmitted throughout the whole body. Making the motion effortless and efficient. There is no strain, discomfort, or risk of injury to your joints. You’ll never have to use blocks, straps, or bolsters. You won’t fight to find flexibility with Pandiculation.

How Does Pandiculation Differ from Stretching?

The primary distinction between pandiculation and stretching is the manner in which the body moves and how the nervous system responds to that motion. Traditional stretching involves passively stretching the muscles at a joint, to get maximum range of motion. This can result in overstretching, which can cause joint laxity or add strain to fascia.

The whole body spiral motion of Pandiculation revitalises and regenerates fascia in 3 ways.

1. Expansion- improves the body’s ability to absorb shock.

2. Hydration - improves suppleness.

3. Recoil - Increases spring loading and our capacity to store energy.

The resulting biochemistry is different. The “feel-good” of a stretch is different to a nurturing sensation of pandiculation, linked to oxytocin.

Pandiculation is NOT a muscle contraction.

If you search for a somatic explanation of Pandiculation online, it’s sometimes described as an involuntary muscle contraction followed by a slow release. In fascial anatomy, there is no isolated muscle contraction. Here’s why according to Sharkey.

Muscle is not separate from fascia. It's intertwined and continuous with our ligaments and bones. Fascia may take different forms within our body, whether it’s to supply lubrication, shock absorbency, elasticity, or scaffolding. There is no separation. In fact, fascia interpenetrates every living cell in our body. Described as a soft tissue matrix, a web or fabric that holds and shapes everything. Giving our body form. It provides the environment in which living cells communicate with each other. Making it the largest super sensory organ of our body, apart from the nervous system.

This means we shape-shift without even noticing. In response to motion, emotion, lack of motion, hormonal changes, sound, light, touch, and vibration. Fascia connects body and mind. We experience stiffness, chronic pain, and inflammation under strain. A sign of how emotional trauma becomes held in the body.

Pandiculation nourishes our body’s fascia whilst regulating the nervous system. Integrating body and mind. Which lies at the very heart of yoga.

If you have lost the urge to Pandiculate, it’s a sign that your nervous system has adapted in response to stress. Resulting in somatic amnesia, the loss of connection to this embodied blueprint.

How to find the urge to pandiculate the SomaSensing way.

Pandiculation feels like a “whole body yawn” and it only takes a moment to reconnect.

The easiest way to trigger the sensation is to imagine that you’ve woken up for the first time today.

Or that you’ve been sitting for a long time and your body needs to unwind.

1. Notice how the urge to Pandiculate begins from within

2. Accompanied by a spontaneous in-breath and whole-body sensation of expansion. Like a balloon.

3. A pause, the breath suspended as the body unwinds from the inside out.

4. A spontaneous sigh follows at the end. Leaving you with a sense of restoration.

You may not feel a huge sense of expansion to begin with, because of areas of restriction in your body or habitual patterning. Bringing your awareness to your lower back can improve the expansion from within.

Another way to trigger the urge is through a “pull” sensation. Take your awareness to your lower back whilst pulling away from a fixed bar or post. Notice how the tailbone glides under as the back expands.

The significance of the lower back motion in pandiculation

Fascia has many forms from loose and gel-like to fibrous and denser. The denser form in the lower back is called The Thoracolumbar fascia. Denser forms of fascia become stiff and lose suppleness. The feel-good motion of Pandiculation reaches those dense areas better than a stretch ever can. Especially in the lower back. Because fascia is continuous from the inside out. When the lower back expands, it reaches the pelvic floor, the psoas, the diaphragm, the neck, the shoulders, and the entire body.

The benefits of Pandiculation versus stretching.

  • Pandiculation gets to areas a stretch can’t get to

  • The motion resets the nervous system and tones the Vagus nerve.

  • It connects body and mind.

  • It’s a natural whole-body motion

  • It's effortless, anyone can practice

  • You don’t have to think about breathing, it’s spontaneous.

  • It restores a healthy psoas and pelvic floor.

  • Releases long-held tension and strain from the inside out

Somatic ways to practice Pandiculation in Yoga

A great way to experience Pandiculation is in cat/cow pose.

  1. Start in 4-point kneeling and let your body rest. Let your head hang, your shoulders shrug, and find the most comfortable way to hang out.

  2. From this place of rest. Notice how a motion arises. Your body may start to sway or unwind.

  3. Let the unwinding motion emerge rather than initiate.

  4. If you don’t sense a motion. You could initiate by sending the ground away with one hand.

From Childs pose

  1. Come to rest in Childs pose.

  2. Sit back onto your heels to come to kneeling with your hands resting on the ground in front of you.

  3. Now send the floor away from you with the heels of your hands. Notice how your body takes in a breath. How your lower back expands. Take a moment to pause on that breath until your body has the urge to sigh.

In downward-facing dog

  1. Start in the rest position in 4-point kneeling.

  2. Curl your toes under, sending the floor away. Letting the breath arrive like a whole-body yawn as the tailbone reaches up in the air.

  3. Pause to unwind getting into areas that feel a little stiff. Let yourself play. Release with a sigh when your body is ready.

In seated

  1. Sit with your legs out in front knees bent.

  2. Reach to grab hold of the tops of your toes and balls of your feet.

  3. Move your feet toward the ground to initiate Pandiculation. Notice how the breath arrives and how your lower back expands.

  4. Pause on that expansion, releasing with a sigh.

  5. Explore going slow and then quick. Noticing how your entire fascial fabric moves.

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