Stretching the sub occipital muscles, while an extremely important undertaking, comes with a caveat. Most people have very tight sub occipital muscles due to poor posture, specifically a misaligned pelvis. If the pelvis is tucked under, which affects the curve in the lumbar spine, stretching the sub occipital muscles can be counter-productive. I strongly advise getting your pelvis well aligned (untucked) before you start working on the sub occipital muscles.
The curve of the lumbar spine and the cervical spine, the lower back and neck, are meant to be mirror images of each other with the same degree of curve. If the pelvis is properly aligned, which allows for a more functional lower spine, then stretching the sub occipital muscles can serve you very well.
So many of my own postural issues have been remedied due changing my walking patterns and building a solid core but I have a fairly extreme kyphosis (rounding) of my upper spine and my forward head posture won’t let go. Last night I went to a great talk on the Bhagavad Gita, by a wonderful teacher Kaustabha Das, at Prema Yoga Center. Not that I wasn’t paying attention but I spent the entire talk with my pelvis and upper back against the wall trying to bring my head to the wall as well. That is a sitting version of the exercise in this post and it is just so hard for me. I stole numerous glances at a couple of people around me who were also sitting against the wall and had no problem keeping their head in line with the spine.
The sub occipital muscles connect the base of the skull to the top of the spine and are the only muscles in the body with an energetic connection to the eyes. The top two vertebrae of the spine are called the atlas and the axis and they are the attachment points for the four sub occipital muscles below the skull. They accomplish a number of actions including extension, rotation and tilting (lateral rotation) of the head. They tend to be chronically short and their dysfunction (connected to the misaligned pelvis) often leads to this forward head posture that plagues so many people.
SUB OCCIPITAL MUSCLES STRETCH
- Lie flat on your back and bring a small natural arch to your lower spine.
- You can do this two ways—with the knees bent and the feet flat to the floor, or the legs out straight. It is a more gentle stretch with the knees bent and the feet flat. You can also do this with the legs straight and a blanket under the knees if there is any strain on the lower back. Ultimately you want to do it with legs extended.
- Raise your arms to the sky, pulling your shoulder blades away from the floor. Try to let the upper spine settle onto the ground. Grasp each shoulder with the opposite hand.
- Lengthen the back of the neck as much as you can without closing off or creating discomfort at the front of the throat. Try and have your eyes facing directly up at the ceiling above your, not ahead or behind.
Stay for three minutes to start, and try to build up to five or even ten minutes.