How you can discover the health benefits of full-body pandiculation – Advanced Trauma Release Exercises
Eight years ago when I was first introduced to TRE (Trauma Release Exercises) I was immediately hooked.
Feeling the tremors flowing through my body I knew instinctively that this natural mechanism was a doorway for me to ‘come home’ to my body ( my feelings, my sensations, my life) in a way I hadn’t let myself consciously experience before.
I knew immediately that Advanced Trauma Release Exercises and tremoring was going to be very good for me and put the steps in place to train as a TRE Provider. I am now delighted to have taught regular teach TRE workshops for the past few years, to share the process as a healing tool for traumatised clients and to Mentor Trainee TRE Providers.
However, the journey has, at times, been deeply challenging. Advanced Trauma Release Exercises have been a very effective way to meet me and process old, sticky patterns of trauma, and to soften the knee jerk fear responses of freeze and dissociation that were in place from birth. Moving through that has sometimes been difficult, but simultaneously a huge relief. I had no idea how much I was ‘holding on’ until I started to let it go from the body level up.
To let myself feel my feelings and uncomfortable sensations without disappearing is a life-changing journey, but one I am so very grateful to have taken.
As my TRE self practice has continued my body has opened up each year in new and wonderfully restorative ways. As an ‘advanced’ shaker, things have slowed right down (as I have slowed down and found the comfort of presence) and the tremoring mechanism has become more expansive. It now includes all parts of the body ‘dancing together’, from my eyes, jaw and face through my core, psoas muscle and to my ankles, fingers and toes.
I tremor less and less each time I lie down to practice TRE and, as time has gone on and I find my body wants to pandiculate instead.
Pandiculation or ‘active stretching’ is usually associated with yawning. Yawning (often accompanied by a stretch) is something that we all involuntarily do. Most find it pleasurable, a sign of letting go and relaxation mainly in the early morning or late evening that involves our face, head and neck in a deep restorative breathe and stretch.
However, Pandiculation is so much more than an early morning yawn and stretch. It is one of our body’s reset buttons. Our muscles learn through repetitive movement – for example, riding a bike or swimming – they also learn that we can move naturally and easily out of tension.
Pandiculated movement is critical for all of us, as it is our innate way to prepare the nervous system for action. It is natural way of resetting the body-mind system and equip us for movement. We ‘remind’ our muscles that they don’t have to stay in one constricted state, it sends internal signals to improve proprioception (how we sense ourselves) and re-sets the signals that tell us our muscle length. Instead of staying short and contracted we can stretch and elongate.
Observe your cat. You may have noticed that the first thing it does as it wakes is stretch, arch the back, lengthen its legs, elongate the neck. Instead of going to the gym, your cat will automatically do this type of movement up to 40 times a day and correspondingly its body will be ready to leap up onto a high wall without friction or effort.
When we include these gentle (and often hugely comforting) movements into our daily life we can bring a richer, easier all-over sense of the body and open movement. We can actively incorporate pandiculation exercises and start to re-train the muscles and send bio-feedback signals to the brain to include deeper contraction as a regular possibility and therefore invite more expansion in our muscles.
The cat stretch is often copied in yoga poses, human bodies naturally want to do this. Also observe yourself and your friends before a yoga or pilates class, before the formal class starts many will automatically begin this sort of stretch to prepare the body for movement. I notice this in myself these days, I will sit and consciously contract then stretch out my hamstrings, psoas and back to prepare myself for the class.
Now that my Advanced Trauma Release Exercises practice has deepened to include this wonderful all body pandiculation that I feel more connected internally and experience it as a profound and restorative release. Over time this type of movement, in addition to the classic TRE Tremor, may help to prevent chronic muscle tension and lengthen shortened, overly tight muscles which may be causing pain, bad posture and discomfort.
The great news is, even if you don’t practice TRE, you can start a practice of pandiculation at home, even seated at your desk. There are three steps:
- Contraction Slowly contract some tense muscles. For example your neck and shoulders. Draw your shoulders blades together and then lift your shoulders to your ears.
- Stretch Out Next, slowly lengthen the neck and shoulder muscles you have just contracted. Take your time, control the movement and elongate as much as you can. Just like a cat.
- Lets Go Completely relax the muscles. Again take your time with this allow space and time for the relaxation – it is just as important as the contraction and stretch. This is when your brain integrates the new information and will move you out of the old stuck patterns of contraction.
If you already use TRE at home or come to TRE Groups you could develop a pandiculation self practice as part of your TRE preparation. You can start by contracting and releasing one muscle group at a time before you shake and eventually move to larger movements involving many muscles. If you have a ‘stuck’ part of the body that isn’t tremoring (perhaps shoulders and arms) maybe start there and see where it leads you.
However, you can consciously pandiculate every day, every time I get up from my desk, I contract, stretch and let go. Try it and notice the difference.