The jury is out. Stretching is not good for you (as quoted in the New York Times). Traditional stretching makes you tighter in the long run and is considered counter-productive and unnecessary. So what’s the alternative?
In the book, Somatics, Thomas Hanna offers the only alternative that really works to release tight muscles and re-set muscle function at the level of the central nervous system: PANDICULATION. Since the beginning of time all vertebrate animals – and all humans – have naturally and spontaneously prepared themselves for action using pandiculation.
First let’s take a quick look at why traditional stretching doesn’t work. This simple explanation is excerpted from my book, Move Without Pain:
It’s helpful to understand a few basic facts about muscles:
- Muscles are attached to bones, and bones never move unless the muscles attached to them move.
- Muscles never move unless directed to do so by the brain. The brain controls the entire muscular system. Muscles are controlled by the central nervous system.
When you stretch, it is safe to assume that there is some level of contraction or tightness in the muscle that you want to loosen.
Now let’s think logically: if you have a muscle that is chronically tight, you have a muscle that is holding tension. The involuntary part of the brain is, for some reason, telling that muscle to remain tight. That muscle is no longer under the brain’s conscious or voluntary control.
Physically pulling on a muscle with the intention of lengthening it by force or by use of gravity is . . . well . . . just physical. It doesn’t require any deliberate action on the part of the brain. Remember—the brain controls the muscle.
Pulling a tense muscle past its maximum length invokes a spinal-cord reflex appropriately called the stretch reflex. It is a protective reflex that causes an immediate contraction against the stretch for the sole purpose of protecting your muscle from overstretching. Your nervous system is trying to help you. It’s saying, “Wait! Stop!” When we ignore the stretch reflex, what can occur is a further tightening of the muscle, or, in the worst-case scenario, a muscle strain or injury.
So what’s missing? What needs to happen is for your brain to get involved in teaching the muscle to relax, which will confer greater control and flexibility. Involving the brain will help disrupt the vicious cycle of contraction that keeps our muscles tight.
Pandiculation and Somatic Exercises is the deepest level of fitness you can get.
The alternative to stretching is pandiculation, an reflex action pattern, which wakes up your brain and re-sets its connection to the muscles. The inability to feel what’s happening in your body keeps you from moving freely and efficiently. If your brain isn’t in control of your muscles you wind up working too hard. You use muscles you don’t need to use. This isn’t true “fitness.” Fitness is when your brain, muscles and body awareness “agree” with each other.
Because pandiculation “turns on a light” in your sensory motor system and improves proprioception you become more body smart. Stretching, which generally causes you to move into pain, makes you less aware of your body.
Doing your Somatic Exercises is all you need to “warm up” for your sport or get ready for your day.
Since I started doing Somatic Exercises I’ve actually gotten better at my sport [soccer]. I’ve had hip injuries in the past, but now I can use the muscles I need for kicking instead of muscles I don’t need, which is what I used to do to compensate for my injuries.
Somatics added a whole new element of movement to my game.
Z.I., United States Air Force
Somatic Exercises use pandiculation to restore brain control of muscles and movements. Arch and flatten? When you arch your back slowly and relax the front of your body, you’re doing a gentle pandiculation for all the muscles on the back of the body. The side bend? It’s a highly effective pandiculation of the oblique muscles (waist muscles) of trunk rotation and side bending. This exercise is critical for a smooth gait and easy walking.
Somatic Exercises are simple and basic movement patterns that are intrinsic to all activities. They are what you should do before you do anything! Somatic Exercises can easily replace stretching as a more pleasurable and effective way of getting you ready to do whatever it is you love to do, from professional sports to hiking to Zumba.
Doing your Somatic Exercises is all you need to “warm up” for your sport or get ready for your day!
For the above mentioned New York Times article, click here.
For more information about how you can learn to properly teach Somatic Exercises, learn more about Essential Somatics trainings. To contact Martha for a private clinical session of Hanna Somatics, click here.