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Our central nervous system is responsible for all our bodily movements, whether working out in the gym or simply sitting quietly.
Our CNS learns these specific movement patterns, and when we repeat certain movements often, they become ingrained in our subconscious. This is known as muscle memory.
However, common habits of daily life, such as sitting hunched over at your desk or staring at your mobile phone, can result in a build-up of chronic muscular tension.
It is possible to alter the nervous system’s natural way of moving the body.
Your CNS essentially relearns how to move, helping to reduce chronic muscle tension leading to a better quality of life. This can be achieved through pandiculation exercises.
What is Pandiculation?
To pandiculate a muscle means to contract it, followed by a slow and controlled release and then complete relaxation.
A good example is that of yawning and stretching.
We do this subconsciously upon waking to loosen and realign tight muscles, letting your brain know that it’s time to wake up. This is something that all vertebrate animals do instinctively to increase blood flow and circulation.
However, pandiculating muscles doesn’t have to be limited to just involuntary movements.
In fact, there are exercises you can perform with voluntary control helping to improve mind to muscle connection alongside other various benefits.
The 3 Stages Of Pandiculation
When performed as a voluntary movement; it’s a three-stage exercise:
- A voluntary muscle contraction which has a level of tension higher than normal to illicit a mind-muscle connection.
- A very slow and controlled release of the contracted muscle. This is so the brain can take control of the muscle length and its function.
- Followed by a total relaxation of the muscle.
Benefits of Pandiculation Exercises
This effective technique, sometimes called somatic exercises, can offer many benefits when performed regularly.
- Increases blood flow and circulation.
- Decreases buildup of tension to muscles.
- Reduces joint pain.
- Improves poor posture.
- Resets muscle length to increase flexibility and range of motion.
- Improves balance and co-ordination.
- Improves overall health to the body.
Pandiculation exercises became popularized back in the 1970’s thanks to the developments of Thomas Hanna, the founder of clinical somatic education.
His methods involve performing somatics to create new neural pathways which lead to permanent change in how our CNS functions.
A somatic movement, which is a type of pandiculation, is an effective way of reducing chronic pain and preventing recurring injuries. Somatic exercises also provide the benefits as mentioned above.
Now that we know more about pandiculation, let’s look at some exercises you can perform.
Complete the below movements with your eyes closed and take some time using mindfulness to think about how the muscles feel before, during and after the exercise.
The psoas muscles are responsible for hip movements, tilting of the pelvis and side to side movement of the spine.
When these muscles become tight it can result in a host of problems such as pain to lower back muscles and sciatica. This exercise can help to loosen up this muscle group.
- Start by lying on an exercise mat with knees bent and arms down by your sides, palms facing up.
- Take your right hand and place it behind your head.
- Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, press your lower back into the floor.
- Simultaneously raise your head off the floor along with your right foot.
- Continue pressing your lower back into the ground.
- You don’t need to come up too high and be sure not to force your head up with your hand.
- From here, lower your head and foot back to the ground but going as slow as you possibly can.
- Once your foot and head have touched the floor, release your lower back and allow your muscles to completely relax.
- Repeat for a total of 3 repetitions and then switch to work the other side.
Soreness to the neck and shoulders is very common and releasing tightness to this area can help to improve your posture as well as reducing any shoulder pain.
- Either sitting or standing, close your eyes and completely relax your shoulders.
- Very slowly and with complete control, shrug both shoulders up towards your ears.
- Go as high as possible without it becoming uncomfortable.
- Pause very briefly at the top.
- Very slowly lower the shoulders back down to a neutral position. If the movement feels jerky, then slow down even more. It should be as smooth as possible.
- Once at the bottom, allow the shoulders to become heavy and relaxed.
- Perform for another 2 repetitions.
The neck release is a great movement to get rid of tension to the neck as well as the upper back muscles.
- Either sit on the edge of a chair or stand upright.
- Place your hands behind your head and interlock your fingers.
- Allow your head and elbows to drop forwards.
- Very slowly raise your head and arms up, open the elbows as you go.
- Allow your head and arms to go back as much as possible.
- Pause for 2 seconds and then drop your head and arms back to the starting position.
- Again, this should be performed as slow as you can go and allow the muscles to completely relax at the bottom of the movement.
- Undertake 3 reps in total.
Tight hamstrings can be cause of chronic lower back pain so it’s certainly a muscle that should be addressed. Alleviating tightness to this area will also help improve posture as they won’t pull on the pelvis so much.
- Start by sitting on an exercise mat with your left leg outstretched and right leg bent at the knee with foot flat on the ground.
- Take hold of the sole of your right foot using both hands. Your heel should remain on the ground.
- From here, inhale whilst arching your back and drawing your shoulders back.
- As you take your shoulders back, look up towards the ceiling. This is your starting position.
- Exhale and push your foot into your hands allowing your right leg to begin extending out in front of you. Essentially, you are sliding your heel on the ground.
- At the same time, your head should be moving forwards and you should be hinging forwards at the hips.
- Move forward just a few inches and then pause.
- Very slowly return to the start and repeat for 3 repetitions before switching to the other leg.
Iliotibial Band Stretch
The iliotibial band is a thick band of connective tissue that runs from your hip to the outer knee. This tissue often becomes tight to compensate for imbalances within the body.
- Begin by lying down on your side on an exercise mat, rest your head on your arm closest to the ground and place your upper leg on top of the lower leg.
- Bend the knee of your lower leg so it’s approximately 90 degrees.
- Stretch out your top leg and slowly begin to raise it up until it’s a few inches away from the floor.
- Pause here for a couple of seconds before very slowly lowering it towards the floor.
- It your leg feels shaky or jerky, slow the movement down even more.
- Once the leg reaches the mat, completely allow it to relax.
The flower is a great exercise for those who spend much of their day sitting at a desk and helps to loosen up tight shoulders and upper back muscles.
- Lie down on an exercise mat and keeps your arms just out to your sides, about 45 degrees away from your upper body with palms facing the ceiling.
- Bend your knees and place both feet flat on the ground.
- Inhale and raise your lower back away from the floor. This is your starting position.
- As you exhale, roll your arms, wrist, and hands in wards (imagine they are rolling pins). As you go, raise your shoulders away from the floor.
- Your chin should start to point towards the ceiling.
- Pause at the top, and then very slowly roll the arms back and lower the shoulders back down.
- Repeat this movement for 5 repetitions.
Most aches and pain that people suffer from are down to the way they live and how they move their bodies.
Sitting, sleeping, and moving poorly have become normal and ingrained in our central nervous system contributing to these common ailments. This is what’s known as sensory motor amnesia.
In a nutshell, our brain no longer thinks about how we sit, sleep, or move but rather we perform these actions automatically due to learned habits.
Whilst passive stretching and other muscular therapies such as massage do offer some relief to tight and sore muscles, the results are only temporary, this is because they don’t alter the innate response of the central nervous system.
Somatic movements can be a highly effective and easy method of ridding the body of these complaints for good by creating permanent change in how your brain controls the way you use your body.
It’s important to remember that muscles work together and simply performing one movement to address a tense muscle group may not provide the results you desire.
For example, if performing a movement to address tight psoas muscles, you’ll also need to undertake exercises that address all connecting muscles, such as the abdominal muscles, to release the whole pattern of tension for the very best results.