Pandiculation refers to the act of stretching and yawning, usually done upon waking. It is done by vertebrate animals, including humans, as a way of waking up the brain’s sensory-motor cortex to prepare the body and the brain for normal sensing and moving. Pandiculating will result in a feeling of relaxation and increased energy.
Throughout the vertebrate kingdom, animals such as mammals, birds, and even fish begin every day with a morning stretch. Human fetuses as young as 11 weeks old will exhibit yawning behavior. Pregnant women have reported feeling slow extension-like movements from babies in their womb that are different from normal kicking.
Pandiculation is an instinctive movement, but it is not the passive stretching of muscles. Passive stretching involves assuming a specific position and holding it for a few moments with the help of another body part or an apparatus. An example would be stretching the triceps by holding the arm up over the head and touching the shoulder.
In contrast, active stretching involves assuming a position and holding it without any help. An example of active stretching would be raising the leg up and holding it with no other assistance. Yoga movements and pandiculation are considered active stretching.
When people pandiculate, they normally make a fist as they slowly stretch out their arms over the head, throw the head back, extend their legs, and end with a big yawn. When people do this, they are actually contracting their muscles and then gradually relaxing them. The act of pandiculation increases blood pressure and heart rate, making one feel more alert.
Prolonged repetitive movements like typing in front of a computer cause muscles to tighten and get stuck in a contracted state, resulting in aches and pains. Voluntarily contracting the muscles past the point where they are stuck allows them to relax completely. The end result is a general feeling of refreshment.
The benefits of pandiculation toward creating a feeling of wellness have long been appreciated. In the 1900s, a machine called the Pandiculator was manufactured and marketed by a company, claiming that 15 minutes of stretching using the device would refresh, rejuvenate, and energize the user. Although pandiculating does bring about those benefits, the machine did not actually work to pandiculate the user. Instead, it worked as a tool that passively stretched the body. It was later declared a fraud, and the product was banned from being sent through the US post office.
Today, pandiculation is promoted by practitioners of Hanna Somatic Education® as one of the ways by which individuals can attain pain relief through voluntary and conscious movement control. The practitioner helps the beginner through a process called assisted pandiculation, which involves the client contracting the affected area while the therapist provides resistance. This teaches the body how to correctly perform the action. Afterward, the therapist instructs the client on self-pandiculation to obtain relief from pain and stress.