Pandiculation: Movement Medicine

Pandiculation is the simplest way to restore muscle function and reduce  excess muscle tension, but what is it and how does it work?

Pandiculation is something we are all familiar with, even if we’ve never heard of it. A ‘yawn’ is a reflexive pandiculation, and something we have all done countless times. We normally think of a ‘yawn’ as a stretch but on closer inspection this is not the case. When we yawn we actually tighten or contract the muscles of our jaw, neck, upper back and often our arms and shoulders, we then slowly relax back to rest. So far from stretching when we yawn, we first contract and then slowly relax, and that is exactly what pandiculation involves.

If you would like to see some truly expert pandiculating, find yourself a cat. Cats possess incredible agility, phenomenal reflexes, can climb anything, turn on a six pence and contort themselves into some bizarre positions in order to clean themselves. They also pandiculate, a lot. Most animals in the wild will pandiculate somewhere in the order of 40-50 times a day. Whenever they wake from sleep they will automatically pandiculate. And why do they do this?

TO PREPARE THEIR NERVOUS SYSTEM AND THEIR MUSCLES FOR MOVEMENT!

Lion_PandaBig cat, big pandiculation.
This lion is pandiculating his back
and neck, not stretching his belly

That is the function of pandiculation, preparing the muscles for movement. Keep that in mind.

So with the ‘what?’ covered, let’s get into the ‘how?’. Pandiculation starts with a strong voluntary contraction/tightening of a muscle or group of muscles (this is a Motor output). This contraction/tightening of the muscles is sensed and measured by the sensory receptors within the muscles (muscle spindle fibres) and the tendons (golgi tendon organs). These sensory receptors send this new sensory information (input) from the muscles to the Sensory Cortex of the brain. Namely that the length of the muscle has reduced and the level of tension in the muscle has increased. This new input allows the Sensory Motor Cortex to ‘sense’ or become ‘aware of’ the muscle or muscles in question.

Once this has occured the next step is to slowly and carefully contract less… contract less… contract less all the way back to complete rest. By going slowly, we allow the Sensory Cortex time to sense the muscle lengthening and the reduction in the level of contraction/tension. When the contraction has been fully released we come to complete rest and pause. This pause is critically important as it again, allows the Sensory Cortex the time to sense that the muscle length and level of tension have changed.

By systematically pandiculating all the major muscle groups we can reduce the level of tension held involuntarily in the body at a given time. Essentially we are deliberately relaxing all our muscles. The result is improved movement, a reduction or elimination of muscle pain, improved co-ordination and proprioception and a deep sense of relaxation.

Remember muscles that are tight/contracting are working. Work requires energy. Unnecessary tightness/contraction is unnecessary work. It is a waste of energy. Your energy.

By pandiculating the muscles involved in the Three Brain Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light and Trauma) we can reset these patterns of contraction so that the muscles can be at rest, no longer distorting our posture, causing pain and draining our energy.

If you would like to Learn Somatics to pandiculate all the muscles of the body and improve your movement head on over to Learn Somatics on YouTube to get started today.

As always, thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

Trauma means ‘Ouch!’

What is the Trauma Reflex and why must we be able to recognize it?

In my previous two posts I described Green Light Reflex which acts on the muscles of the back of the body, and Red Light Reflex which acts on the muscles of the front of the body. In this post let’s look at the third brain reflex that we deal with within the context of Clinical Somatic Education, the Trauma Reflex. The Trauma Reflex acts on the muscles of one side of the body. It can be triggered by a fall, impact or collision. It is an automatic and protective brain reflex to guard against pain or injury.

Imagine the movement you would make to avoid being tickled at your lower right side ribs. You would twist slightly (or maybe a lot) your right hip would hike towards your right armpit and your right armpit would move towards your right hip, all the ribs on your right side tightening on one side to squirm, cringe or flinch away from the tickle. This is an example of the type of pattern of muscular contraction involved in the Trauma Reflex.

Trauma Reflex can develop through limping to protect an injured knee or ankle, through holding a child on one hip for long periods, by slipping off a kerb or step or even through one sided surgery, (ie appendicitis, mastectomy). The illustration below indicates the main muscles involved. One half of the diagram shows the front of the body,  the other the back of the body. The main muscles involved are the rotators of the spine and torso, the latissimus dorsi, the obliques, the quadratus lumborum, the abductors of the hip on the affected side, and the adductors of the thigh on the other side.

Trauma_72ppi

Whilst Green Light Reflex and Red Light Reflex are best viewed side on, Trauma Reflex is best viewed head on. Lets look at the wooden mannequinn again so we can get an idea of how Trauma Reflex can look. I say can look, because the Trauma Reflex has the most variability in how it presents, it can be either very pronounced or very subtle and the degree of spinal rotation and/or lateral flexion (side bending) is rarely the same from one case to another.

Mannequin_Trauma_Reflex

So in this case, the wooden man is displaying a right side trauma reflex. The right side shoulder is pulled down and back and the right side hip is hiked up slightly. You will notice that the head is tilted to the left slightly to compensate, this is an attempt by the brain to keep the head balanced in gravity. Because this reflex creates more tension on one side of the body it throws us off balance. We will walk with more weight on one side. And in the same way the tyres on your car will wear down at different rates if they are not balanced, your joints will accumulate more wear and tear on one side if you are not in balance.

Habituation of the Trauma Reflex can lead to sciatica, back, hip, knee, ankle pain, leg length discrepancy and plantarfasciitis among other issues.

Summary:

  1. The Trauma Reflex is an automatic and protective brain reflex.
  2. It can be caused by a slip, fall, collision or one sided surgery.
  3. It causes the muscles of twisting and side bending to tighten on one side of the body.
  4. It distorts our sense of balance and our natural gait/walking pattern.
  5. It can lead to one sided pain/conditions such as sciatica, plantarfaciitis, back, hip, neck, knee, ankle pain.

You can start learning how to regain control of the Trauma Reflex right now by visiting Learn Somatics on YouTube.

As always, thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

Red Light means ‘No!’

What is the Red Light Reflex and why must we be able to recognize it??

The Red Light Reflex, also called the Startle Reflex, is an automatic brain reflex that is activated every time we are startled or feel we are in sudden danger .ie; when we hear a loud noise, or someone yells ‘duck!’. It can equally be caused by spending too much time slumped in front of a laptop, tv, tablet or smartphone.

The purpose of Red Light Reflex is to contract all the major muscles of the front of our body so as to enable us to make ourselves smaller. This protects the soft and vulnerable internal organs located in our abdomen. Red Light is in effect the very opposite of the previously described Green Light Reflex. Green Light involves mostly muscles of extension (expansion), where as Red Light involves mostly muscles of flexion (withdrawal). Throughout our evolution, Red Light Reflex served a very practical and useful purpose. If Green Light is the ‘fight’ or the ‘flight’, Red Light is the ‘freeze’, or ‘play dead’. It is a shrinking away from fear or danger. Animals in the wild do this all the time as a means of hiding from predators, making themselves small and withdrawing into themselves. The main muscles involved are indicated in the image below, also involved but not indicated are the hip flexors, flexors of the arms and legs, and the internal rotators of the arms and legs.

Red Light_72ppi

Just as Green Light Reflex can cause problems when it becomes habituated, so too can the Red Light Reflex. It can lead to chronic neck pain, headaches, jaw pain, hip pain, mid back pain and shallow breathing. Shallow breathing in and of itself leads to low level anxiety as the body becomes stressed due to a lack of oxygen. This can lead to fatigue, depression and sleep problems. The wooden mannequinn below approximates the Red Light Reflex as it typically appears.

Mannequin_Startle_Reflex

Do you recognise this type of posture in yourself, or in others? It is, unfortunately, very common in modern society. Again, this type of stooped over posture is often associated with the aging process, but it is merely an habituated physical response to fear and stress, and one that is easily reversed. But before we get to that there is one more brain reflex to discuss. Next up… The Trauma Reflex.

Summary:

  1. The Red Light Reflex is an automatic Brain Reflex triggered when we are startled or feel we are in danger.
  2. It allows us to withdraw from a perceived threat by causing all the muscles of the front of the torso to tighten.
  3. If habituated it can cause neck, jaw and mid back pain, shallow breathing and fatigue.
  4. The slumped posture it creates is associated with aging but it can be easily reversed.

You can start learning how to regain control of the Red Light Light Reflex right now by visiting Learn Somatics on YouTube.

As always, thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

Green Light means Go!

What is the Green Light Reflex and why must we be able to recognize it??

The Green Light Reflex is an automatic brain reflex that is triggered every time we are called to action, .ie; when our phone rings, when someone calls our name, when we have a deadline looming, when we notice a new email in our inbox etc. The job of Green Light Reflex is to contract all the major muscles of the back of our body so as to enable us to move forwards (see image below). When this reflex is triggered the muscles of the back extend the spine, the shoulders are pulled back, the lower back is pulled into an arch, the head is pulled back somewhat, the glutes, hamstrings and calves tighten, straightening the legs and rotating the legs outward. It is a very positive reflex, it is this reflex which enabled us to learn how to roll, crawl, walk, run and move out into the world. However, if it is activated too frequently, or too much, it can become habituated. What does this mean?

Green Light_72ppi

Well, the brain gets very good at what it does repeatedly, repetition of actions is the method by which the brain LEARNS. So if a reflex is activated REPEATEDLY the brain LEARNS to be ready to perform that action (activating all the muscles of the back of the body) at all times. The brain will then hold those muscles at a low level of contraction ALL THE TIME. At this point it becomes an involuntary action, in that you are no longer aware that you are doing it. What you will be aware of though is the result of the habitual contraction namely, fatigue and pain in your lower back, neck and hips or any combination thereof.

Habituated Green Light Reflex can lead to back pain, herniated discs, sciatica, hip pain and knee pain. You will also notice that you cannot bend forward easily any more, as in order to bend forward, your back muscles need to relax and lengthen, but as you have habituated contraction of all the muscles of the back of your body, you cannot do that. So now you have lost voluntary control of the muscles of your back. In Somatic Education we would say you have developed Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) in relation to the Green Light Reflex. You can activate the reflex still, in fact you are really good at that, but you have forgotten how to turn it off. The wooden mannequinn below approximates the posture of Green Light Reflex.

Mannequin_Stress_Reflex

If you’re past 30 years of age, you put it down to aging. But let’s be clear, habituation of the Green Light Reflex has nothing to do with aging and everything to do with how you respond to the many different stresses you experience in your life. It is a neurological event that results in a FUNCTIONAL problem. If you regain control over the neurological (brain) event, you can solve the functional muscle problem.

The Green Light Reflex is just one of three sub cortical brain reflexes that are of concern to Somatic Educators. Check back soon to learn about the other two…

Summary:

  1. The Green Light Reflex is an automatic brain reflex.
  2. Green Light Reflex helps us to move forward by contracting the muscles of the back of our bodies.
  3. It is activated many times during the day.
  4. If we activate it too much without turning it off, we forget HOW to turn it off.
  5. When this happens we develop back pain, stiffness, and restricted movement.
  6. Habituated Green Light Reflex can cause herniated discs, back pain, neck pain, sciatica and knee pain among others.

You can start learning how to regain control of the Green Light Reflex right now by visiting Learn Somatics on YouTube.

As always, thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

Sensory Motor Amnesia – Hidden in Plain Sight

What is Sensory Motor Amnesia and why do you need to know about it?

Sensory Motor Amnesia inhibits movement quality and freedom by reducing muscle control and function and can be defined as:

‘A partial or total loss of (memory in) our ability to SENSE and MOVE our muscles’.

Muscles have only two functions, they CONTRACT and they RELAX, that’s it! They do nothing else, so if you lose voluntary control over those two FUNCTIONS, you lose voluntary control over the result of those functions. Which is… drum roll… your MOVEMENT! The impulses which signal your muscles to contract or relax come from the Motor Cortex (one half of the Sensory Motor Cortex). So the problem of SMA is not a structural problem in the muscles but a neurological event in your brain.

SMA Brain Diagram

Sensory Motor Amnesia can develop in the following ways;

  1. Through stress (physical and emotional)
  2. Through physical trauma (surgeries, injuries, falls, impacts)
  3. Through repetitive actions (working at a computer, driving, playing a musical instrument etc)
  4. Through lack of movement (sedentary lifestyle)

When SMA develops your muscles become ‘stuck’ in contraction to some degree. We ‘forget’ how to VOLUNTARILY release and relax them to their full resting length. These ‘stuck’ muscles pull us out of shape creating postural distortions. These postural distortions make it more difficult to move well by reducing our range of motion and can eventually cause chronic muscle pain (back, hip, neck, shoulder, knee, ankle pain etc.) without apparent cause. What do these postural distortions look like? Check out my next few posts to find out…

Summary:

  1. Sensory Motor Amnesia is ‘a partial or total loss of (memory in) our ability to SENSE and MOVE’ our muscles.
  2. When we develop SMA we can no longer relax our muscles to their proper resting length.
  3. SMA is a brain event that causes a functional muscular problem.
  4. It is not a structural problem.
  5. It is developed through stress, trauma, repetitive actions or lack of movement.
  6. It causes postural distortions and muscular pain in our bodies.

Want to resolve your SMA and move better right now? Check out my Learn Somatics YouTube channel where I’ll be breaking down all the most fundamental Somatic Movements you need to feel better and move better.

~

www.learnsomatics.ie