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Pandiculation; a sigh and a stretch


What is pandiculation?


If you’ve ever seen a dog or cat arch their back when they get up from a nap, or watched a baby stretch their arms and legs as they wake, you’ve witnessed pandiculation. Pandiculation is the act of stretching and yawning, and we tend to do it naturally after we have been sedentary for a while and tension has built up in our muscles. Pandiculation is our nervous system’s way of waking up our bodies and preparing us to move, and it is so engrained in our physiology that foetus’ can be observed pandiculating in the womb.


Pandiculation is a physiological response that sends feedback to our nervous system about the level of contraction in our muscles, and in doing so helps prevent the build up of chronic or muscular tension. It also stretches fascia and other body tissues which may be holding excessive tension and inducing feelings of stress, anxiety, and discomfort. Preventing the build up of tension in our tissues is critical to maintaining healthy posture and movement, and to our overall sense of wellbeing.


In todays world, we are far more sedentary than our ancestors were and often spend huge amounts of time sitting still. We also tend to move in habitual ways, without the variation of movement needed to maintain a healthy system. As a consequence we build up unnecessary tension in our muscles, and can develop unhelpful patterns of holding and posture. Over time we may lose or dilute our natural pandicular response, and tension increases further. We may also lose some awareness and control over our muscles. It can therefore be incredibly helpful to intentionally initiate our pandicular response, and purposefully reset our systems.


Deliberately moving in ways that instigate the pandicular response can reduce habitual patterns of holding and gripping, alleviate muscle soreness and pain, improve posture, and restore voluntary muscular control. It is also incredibly calming for the nervous system; increasing our sense of peace and wellbeing.


Pandiculation feels like the body taking a deep sigh, because in many ways it is.


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