If you happen to wear a smart watch, chances are it’s notified you a time or two that it’s time to get up and stretch after you’ve been sedentary for too long. But did you know that your body has its own way of gently nudging you into moving—no push notification required? The process is called pandiculation, and that big yawning stretch that feels so good first thing in the morning is a prime example of it in action.
“It’s an instinctive response that happens automatically,” says exercise physiologist Sharon Gam, PhD, CSCS. “The theory is that pandiculation is the body’s way of shifting from a resting state into an active state by increasing nervous system arousal and focusing attention. It’s thought that the brain activates a cascade of reactions that prepare the body for action, including redirecting blood flow to the muscles, increasing heart rate and breathing, and shifting attention to the outside world.”
Pandiculation also seems to work as a reset for good posture. It activates the myofascial system that connects all the muscles in the body, according to Dr. Gam. “Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are released, which makes the stretch feel good as a way to reinforce the action,” she says.
What it means if your body never does this
Even though pandiculation is an involuntary response, it’s possible to become so sedentary that your body doesn’t get the signals to do this type of stretching as well as it would if you were more active. “The instinct to pandiculate is probably our body’s [way of] nudging us to move after we’ve been still for too long to protect our health,” Dr. Gam says. “The more we sit still, the more tension builds up. I think it makes sense that eventually our bodies would become desensitized to the increase in tension and those other physiological changes, and the pandiculation response would decrease.”
Why you should give in and stretch (even in a meeting)
When you get the signal to yawn and stretch, don’t ignore it. “Being mindful and intentional about movement and paying attention to the way your body feels is an important skill,” Dr. Gam says. “It’s good for many aspects of your physical, mental, and emotional health, including making sure that your body’s instinctive correction responses, like pandiculation, keep working properly and can kick in when your brain senses that your body needs some help.”
Pandiculation doesn’t just happen first thing when you wake up either, and Dr. Gam says it’s important to not suppress the sensation, which, she admits can be awkward in some social settings. “Stretching and yawning during a meeting, for example, might not be considered appropriate, so we might consciously stop ourselves from doing it,” she says. But she recommends following through with pandiculation as often as you can, and it’s possible “with a good mind-to-body connection, you might be more likely to sense the urge to pandiculate,” she says, giving you enough time turn off your camera just long enough to get in a good stretch.