Act like an animal you say? … no! Well, actually yes, you are and we do! Let’s go back to the basics of muscle movement for a moment; much like Fido seen above. As a movement coach and yoga teacher one of the top questions I get asked is; what is the difference between static and dynamic stretching? Or, what is the best way to stretch?
This question isn’t easily answered because it depends on the client, their mechanics, potential in sport, somatic release potential and, etc. Therefore, for the purpose of this question we are going to a) look at this from a brain-to-nervous system-to-somatic -standpoint, as well as look at the traditional forms of static vs dynamic stretching.
What I mean be this – is the relationship of both the science of the tissue and the emotional response of somatic tension and how to release it efficiently. We know that the fascia system is an webbed matrix that has something called “tensegrity,” where your fascia is constantly communicating to your muscles, joints and bones the push-pull mechanics of balancing tension and compression in the body.
Now how about the nervous system? We know that the brain and nervous system control both sensation and motor control of muscles; therefore, when we move, the brain receives constant sensory feedback about our surroundings and our fascia system places a critical role in the transmission of this feedback. This relationship between the brain and the muscles spend their time trying to figure out how to move our mechanics in the most efficient manner. The brain is the control center of the muscles. Symmetry and proficiency in movement comes through careful repetition and practice.
Is it Primitive Patterning?
Just like riding a bike, or throwing a ball the brain teaches the muscles to stay contracted and tighten in response to stress applied to the tissue; such as sudden accidents or injuries, surgeries, on-going emotional stress or repetitive tasks, as well as performance based movements etc. The muscles learn to stay contracted in order to adapt and apply tension to deal with the stress of a situation. If a muscle is tight and doesn’t respond to simple relaxation techniques, you can be sure that it is being held tightly by the brain and sensory motor system and being told to “hold on” to that visceral response.
From a somatic standpoint, we know our emotions also play a large role in how we feel – thus how our muscles and systems feel and respond. In the book “Body, Breath & Consciousness: A Somatic Anthropology” by Ian Macnaughton; he speaks of a “holistic and multi-integrated approach.” A healthy sense of “self” rests in our history, understanding or legacies, the strengths and losses faced down through our lives, and our sense of autoomy and security. Let’s relate to that to movement and sport – we must continue to re-assess our past injuries and experiences (trauma both physcial and emotional) and apply that to how our body moves or limits movement – the key could be in the communication connection between our brain and somatic systems. That is all part of a primitive pattern.
Passive or Active?
Stretching is usually seen as either passive or dynamic. Static stretching is where the client “holds” the stretch for a dedicated period of time; and is beneficial for clients who require elongation in the fascia system; however, static stretching can cause harm if habitually contracted muscles are incapable of relaxing and “stuck’ in contraction and tension; a protective reflex in the muscles evoked (the “stretch reflex,”), which causes muscles to contract back against the stretch.
Whereas; dynamic stretching; which is most beneficial in sports where the athlete utilizes momentum from form where the muscles go through static to active movement in an effort to propel the muscle into an extended range of motion not exceeding one’s static-passive stretching ability.
So which is better? Well, there is another style of “stretching” that seems to be generating more traction over the course of the last several years. Since the inception of structural integration, more and more practitioners are looking at pandiculation. Yes, you read that right. Finally we get to that long and somewhat confusing word!
Pandiculation - (the action pattern that all animals perform when they get up from rest). A stretching and stiffening of the trunk and extremities, as when fatigued and drowsy or on waking, often accompanied by yawning. (ref. Wikitionry)
Do you ever notice that when an animal wakes us they immediately move into “downward facing dog,” “upward facing dog,” “cat’s pose,” etc? Or when you just wake up and your yawn and your body goes into this automatic stretch phase – thats pandiculation.
Pandiculation is a learning process that resets muscles at the nervous system level. It gives more feedback to your brain, the command center of your muscles. This allows your brain to reset the muscles’ length, which results in more relaxed muscles.
The difference between static and dynamic stretching, is simple:
One requires no movement (passive or static) whicle the other requires movement (dynamic).
The concept of pandiculations focuses on contracting a muscle first in association with gentle elongation of the fascial lines, and then moving it through its range of motion is much more effective than simple, static stretching. Dynamic stretching is very similar to pandiculation; but the difference is it isn’t as effective if you don’t incorporate muscles in the center of the body, from which all movement originates. Dynamic is much more efficient when being applied to a sport and thus the movement are in preparation for the given on field movement drills.
Let’s use the analogy of the animal again – they roll over and first contract its back muscles, then slowly and deliberately lengthening them only as far as is comfortable for them to go – then doing the exact same thing with the muscles of the front of the body and sometimes moving into rotation with smooth, focused, methodical transitions.
Science shows that the functions of pandiculation is that the ubiquitous behavior of pandiculating helps maintain the integrative function of the fascial system by:
(a) mechanical signaling the connective tissue metabolism (mechanotransduction) to reinforce the collagen links that unites the segments to one another, as when one pandiculates. Because this is seen most often upon wakening, we can also hypothesis that the brain is in a state of low frequency – almost meditative; which of course helps to focus on breath and release stress.
(b) the other is the redistribution of free water (water that can flow) in the extracellular matrix. Our fascia, at the microscopic level are microtubules that transmit nerve impulses, nutrients and…. Water to working tissue. This latter effect stabilizes the joints and thus also increases the degree of integration, among other hypothetical mechanisms.
Therefore, the answer to; which is better? Well, all if prescribed at the correct time. The overall goal of stretching in general is to regulate tension and compression, tightness and relaxation. When we exhibit habituated, learned muscle tightness; we then must work to actively reset muscle length at the level of the central nervous system to release the tissue. What is required is to re-train the brain to re-train the muscle to lengthen and relax.
So, the next time you want to stretch, try this:
- Wake up in the morning and roll onto your mat
- Try not to think too much about “what should I stretch” and allow your body to guide you based on how it responds and feels.
- Contract the muscle that’s tight via gentle movement and breath work. Perform the movement with purpose, and within your comfort range.
- Then slowly lengthen it, as if you were just waking up in the morning and yawning.
- Then completely relax and passively stretch, exhaling into the release.
- Smiles and Enjoy.