Don’t Stretch; Pandiculate

I was sitting in the car recently and I decided to sort of press my palm against the outside of my knee. My leg has this tendency to flail out toward the car door when I’m driving, and I felt the inexplicable need to hold it straight so my leg was straight for a while.

Think this: \|/ vs this | | |

When I did this at first, I used my muscles to hold my leg in place, which was unnecessary since I was using my hand/arm muscles to do that for me. Once I realized this, I kept my hand where it was but completely relaxed my leg muscles. The result was a feeling I had never experienced, or at least had been aware that I had experienced: my leg was completely relaxed but also not just freely falling to the side, due to my hand being there to stop it.

I realized this wasn’t quite a stretch in the traditional sense; for the most part, I was relaxing my leg rather than tensing it. My arm muscles were contracted in order to keep the leg in place, but it was the leg that felt relaxed in this case.

So I took to the internet to figure out what this feeling is called, if there’s even a name for it. And I found the word pandiculation which is the process in which an animal voluntary contracts into a muscle, lengthens the muscle, and fully relaxes. My hand was an assistant in the car example, but the same thing could be achieved with blocks in Yoga, or even some positions, like cat cow. That wonderful feeling of relaxation you get with the cow side of cat cow? That’s pandiculation.

It’s the feeling you get when you wake up in the morning and do a big stretch and yawn. The position you hold as you yawn is the pandiculation pose.

The website Essential Somatics explains:

This action, much like a pleasant yawn, re-sets both muscle length and function at the brain level; it “reminds” our muscles that they don’t have to stay stuck in a contracted state. Pandiculation “turns on a light” in the sensory motor system and improves proprioception, which helps you sense your own body more accurately. When you contract a muscle tighter than its present contraction rate, the brain (the command center of the muscles) receives strong sensory feedback, which allows it to “refresh” its sensation of the muscles. By slowly lengthening from that initial contraction, the brain can then lengthen the muscle past the point of its former, tighter length and into a new, fuller range. The result is a more relaxed muscle and renewed voluntary muscle control and coordination.

The site also goes on to say that static stretching (the regular kind) can be harmful depending on your circumstances.

So now, instead of a morning stretch, I do some pandiculations. It is oddly satisfying and leaves me in a good place to tackle the challenges of the day. And I think about my life and the fact that most of the times where I take risks, I’m stretching. I’m doing something willingly that feels like tension. It’s a goal of mine now to lengthen into these situations, to relax, to breathe, to pandiculate.

This way, I remind my brain that it doesn’t always have to stay stuck in a contracted state.