Pandiculation versus Stretching - Understanding the neuroscience of Somatic Neuromuscular Re-education

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It is important that you have a solid understanding of the difference pandiculation and stretching to inform the why and how of the work that you are doing with your SomaYoga therapist. A pandiculation - is the fundamental technique of Clinical Somatics, and the most effective way to re-educate muscles or chains of muscles that are tight, sore and in chronic pain. When you learn how to effectively "re-educate" muscles releasing them from involuntary chronic contraction, tension dissolves and strength and ease naturally appear. Here is why.

"In physiology, medicine, and anatomy, muscle tone (residual muscle tension or tonus) is the continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles,…It helps maintain posture and declines during REM sleep." ~

Muscles at rest should be at relative rest or in "continuous partial contraction" in order to support and maintain upright posture. When muscles at rest are overly contracted, they use vital energy needed elsewhere in the body and the pattern of one muscle or chain of muscles resting in over contraction leads to full body reflex patterns and health symptoms when they are unaddressed over time.

When we have lost the ability to voluntarily control the contraction and release of some or all of our muscles we say we experience Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). SMA affects the sensory motor neurons of the cortex of the brain. Muscles held in partial to full contraction over and above their natural resting tonus result in:

  • Muscular soreness and joint pain
  • Inefficient or compensatory movement due to a lack of communication with the cortex of the brain and other muscles
  • Constant nervous system imbalance and energy drain Postural changes
  • Improper walking and load transfer patterns that lead to joint problems, arthritis, bulged disks etc.

What happens when we stretch?

When a muscle spindle is stretched an impulse is immediately sent to the spinal cord and the spinal cord sends an impulse in response to contract that muscle. This is referred to as stretch reflex. This autonomic reflex is designed as a protective mechanism for the muscles to prevent tearing.

The muscle spindle is stretched and the impulse is also immediately received to contract the muscle, protecting it from being pulled forcefully or beyond a normal range.

Since the impulse only has to go to the spinal cord and back, not all the way to the brain, it is a very quick impulse. It generally occurs in 1-2 milliseconds.

Stretch reflex is not controlled by the higher functioning centre of the brain and is a monosynaptic response that is transmitted only to the spinal cord.

The diagram to the left shows how nerve impulses triggered by the stretch reflex only travel between the spinal column and the muscles.






What happens when we pandiculate?

A pandiculation involves three steps:

1) A conscious contraction,
2) A conscious decrease in the level of contraction or conscious lengthening and
3) The complete release and relaxation of the muscle, imprinting the felt sense of muscle at rest.

When we consciously contract a muscle, the sense receptors within that muscle send information to the Sensory Motor Cortex of the brain to tell the brain that there has been a shortening of the muscle, and change in the muscle length. The sensory motor neurons are responsible for our ability to sense and feel this action.

From this point of felt awareness, we can then begin to slowly decrease the level of contraction to bring the muscle to complete rest. This process of sensing and feeling is also known as a re-education of the muscle in order to lengthen it. This is the most important distinction of a pandiculation. The process allows for full cortical control over changing the resting tonus of the muscles, which is why it is so effective in eliminating chronic muscular pain and changing postural and movement patterns across the entire body.

Sensory and Motor Neurons Further Explained…

The primary motor cortex is one of the principal brain areas involved in motor function, located in the frontal lobe of the brain. The role of the primary motor cortex is to generate neural impulses that control the execution of movement.

Motor neurons are cells that carry this information from the brain and central nervous system to the muscles and glands.

Sensory neurons send signals from body parts to the central nervous system. Sensory neurons are found over the body, such as in the skin, ears, eyes, nose and tongue.Sensory Motor Nerve Image

Signals from the motor cortex cross the midline of the body to activate skeletal muscles on the opposite side of the body, meaning that the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body, and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. Every part of the body is represented in homunculus of the primary motor cortex, and these representations are arranged somatotopically — the foot is next to the leg, which is next to the trunk, which is next to the arm and the hand. The amount of brain matter devoted to any particular body part represents the amount of control that the primary motor cortex has over that body part.

The motor homunculus, located within the primary motor cortex has a coded map of the body. Different body parts take up different amounts of cortical space within the homunculus.

For more detailed explanation of this process please visit:


Summary of the differences between pandiculation and stretching


Pandiculation Stretching
Action involves the brain and central nervous system – sending new sensory information all the way to the brain Only involves the spinal cord. Does not involve the brain.
Increases sensory motor awareness of the muscles involved, allowing you to have control over your muscles. Does not improve neuromuscular control, as the process does not involve the brain.
Pandiculation feels great. Stretching can be painful.
Active attention is required. No attention required.
Lasting change and re-education of muscle length. Change is only temporary.
Eliminates Sensory Motor Amnesia – unlearning involuntary patterns of chronic holding or contraction. Does not address the underlying Sensory Motor Amnesia or chronic holding pattern.
Cultivates interoception (the process of sensing and feeling from the inside out) and creates significant shifts in nervous system holding patterns, pain and trauma. Does not significantly affect the nervous system.
Functional Movement Retraining, Pandiculation, Sensory Motor Amnesia, Somatic Education, Somatics