Most of us have learned “static stretching” in school or sports, a process that involves holding and pulling a tight muscle in trying to release it. Recent scientific studies show this is an inefficient process and doesn’t prevent injuries. A safer, more effective process, called pandiculation, connects the brain to the body so you can simultaneously contract several muscles, releasing large patterns of tightness all at once. Stretching only contracts or loosens one muscle at a time.
Pandiculation also allows us to develop increased conscious control over our muscles. When our mind disconnects from our muscles, they can become chronically tight and cause discomfort. Fortunately, pain warns us we’ve lost control over our muscles and invites us to try something better.
Our brain controls muscles and movement. Without the brain and central nervous system, muscles don’t move. Electrical signals from our brain and nervous system tell muscles how to respond. The brain teaches us and our muscles how to ride a bike, walk and run, or throw a pitch. When our muscles contract from accidents, injury, or stress, the brain teaches them to stay tight. But prolonged muscle tightness interrupts our muscles’ ability to contract and relax easily, which is known as Sensory Motor Amnesia.
When a muscle tightens, it sends information to the Sensory Motor Cortex of the brain, indicating the muscle tension has increased, and length has decreased. Because the brain and muscle are communicating, we can feel or sense how the muscle is responding. We can consciously control the contraction of the muscle. Pandiculating enables us to slowly decrease the tightness level all the way to relaxation.
Static stretching pulls a muscle with force. If you pull a muscle farther than feels comfortable, you may be in pain and not know what to do next. When this occurs, the brain and muscles are not communicating, and you need to engage your brain with the muscle.
In short, pandiculation strengthens our brain to muscle connection. We can sense our contracted muscle more obviously and increase our conscious control over tightening and relaxing muscles. It also allows us to practice tightening and relaxing muscles. When you sit all day, perhaps in front of a computer, your muscles learn to stay contracted to a specific length and hold the position repeatedly. In other words, our muscles form habits based on our habits. This limits the length of the muscle, because when a muscle is tight, the brain and sensory motor system are holding it that way. When a muscle is stretched, the sense receptors in the muscle send information to the spinal cord, indicating the muscle length has changed, i.e., has been lengthened. The spinal cord sends an impulse to the stretched muscle, triggering a tightening in that muscle and inhibiting a tightness in the opposite muscle. In a static stretch, your brain is not involved in the process, counteracting your goals.