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Is pandiculation really about stretch? And other sexy updates

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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When I wrote about pandiculation recently, I was tackling the topic in the context of stretching, and so that is how I described it:

“Pandiculation is the reflexive stretching that animals often do when we rouse ourselves from rest or sleep.”

And yet I know that my own pandiculating doesn’t seem to involve much actual stretch. It’s much more about contraction, a moment of intense rigidity, and even compression of the abdomen and spinal column — which, sadly, has been especially clear to me lately because I can feel the painful compression of my vertebrae. •sigh•

I also got some reader feedback along these lines, plus some reports of peculiar pandiculation, none more welcome or charming than this video of Mushi the cat:

Mushi’s cat-mom, reader Carol R.:

“I have three cats and they all get up and do the down dog and the up dog, and then yawn, but even this I wouldn’t call true pandiculation because I have one cat who pandiculates and the difference is striking. When she does this, she becomes very tall and quite rigid, her eyes roll back and her ears flatten. This video was taken was right after the down dog/up dog stretches. You can see her foot lift off the ground.”

I am quickly backing away from describing pandiculation as “a kind of stretching.” It’s a cousin to stretching at most, not a sibling, and it has as much claim to being about contraction and compression as elongation of anything.

“Pandiculation is the reflexive stretching and contraction that animals often do when we rouse ourselves from rest or sleep.”

Some reader observations about their own pandiculating:

  • “While I sometimes incorporate a stretch (usually a twist of the torso in both directions) I am mostly contracting muscles.”
  • “Pandiculating has been very scarce as I’ve aged.” Interesting — it has been just the opposite for me.
  • “Every time I stand up from sitting I reach up as high as I can until I involuntarily shake.”
  • “I feel like it really is a lot of compression and contraction.”
  • “I wish that I could stretch my ears like Mushi.”

Even sexier pandiculation follow-up

Bizarrely, there’s a bunch of overlap between pandiculation and chasmology, the study of yawning (and there’s another fun new word you). For instance, they are both triggered by sexual arousal. An “ancient” experiment (1985) induced yawning and pandiculation in rats by injecting them with a compound related to sexual arousal (sounds like a very confused rat). There’s not exactly a flood of science about this, but one researcher is strongly associated with the topic: Wolter Seuntjens. You don’t see sentences like this in many scientific abstracts: “Particular emphasis is placed upon the author’s favorite theory: the hidden sexuality of the human yawn.”

Hat tip once to a reader pointing out the sexy link to me — Carol R. yet again! She needs a byline for this post.

More therapeutic claims about pandiculation

I may have underestimated the popularity of pandiculation-as-therapy. I got a few responses from readers to the first pandiculation post like this one:

Pandiculation works and static stretching does not … it depends on how you do it and I have created my own way … I have about 30 years experience working with the body … my clients know it works and chronic pain goes away really fast. Scheduled Surgeries for knee replacements and labral repairs get cancelled.

Being as gracious as possible, maybe she is onto something. Perhaps. (Having PainSci members is training me to be gentler. 🙂) But these are fairly dramatic claims; a pandiculation-based therapy that can actually replace knee replacements would be nothing short of a miracle, and a rather startling accomplishment.

I wonder how deep this rabbit hole goes. Patients: Have you been asked to pandiculate, or received therapy that seems, er, pandiculatory? Clinicians: Has pandiculation inspired any of your work?

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