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tissues, and their essential link from the eye movements
to coordination of the rest of the back musculature,
ensure their central role. These muscles have been
shown to have 36 muscle spindles per gram of muscle
tissue; the gluteus maximus, by contrast, has 0.7 spin-
dles per gram. 4
To feel this linkage for yourself, put your hands up
on either side of your head with your thumbs just under
the back of your skull. Work your thumbs gently in past
the superficial muscles so that you can feel the really
deep ones under the occipital ridge. Close your eyes.
Now, move your eyes right and left, while your hands,
essentially over your ears, ensure that your head is still.
Can you feel the small changes of muscle tonus under
your thumbs? Even though your head is not moving,
these ancient and primary muscles are responding to
your eye movements. Look up and down and you will
feel other muscles within this set engage in a similar
way. Try to move your eyes without these muscles
moving and you will find that it is nearly impossible.
They are so fundamentally connected - and have been
for nearly our entire vertebral history - that any eye
movement will produce a change in tonus in these sub-
occipitals. Altering this deep neural 'programming' is
difficult, but is sometimes necessary for vision or reading
disorders, and certain problems of the neck. The rest of
the spinal muscles 'listen' to these suboccipitals and
tend to organize by following their lead.
capitis superior (OCS), and the obliquus capitis inferior
(OCI). They run among the occiput, the atlas (CI), and
the axis (C2). The transverse processes (TPs) of CI are
quite large, while the spinous process (SP) is quite small.
To feel the relative position of the CI TPs, have your
client lie supine, and sit at the head end of the table with
your hands around the skull such that the intermediate
phalanx of both your index fingers lies against the
mastoid processes, leaving the distal bone free. Your
wrists should be close to or on the table, so that your
index finger follows roughly the direction of the sterno-
cleidomastoid (SCM). Now gently flex the distal part of
your index fingers into the flesh just inferior to the
mastoid. If your wrists are too far off the table and your
fingers are pointing down, you will miss the atlas. If
your wrists are too low or your index finger is in front
of the mastoid, you will go into the space between the
jaw and the mastoid, which is definitely not recom-
mended. Sometimes you can feel the TPs directly, just
inferior and anterior to the mastoid; sometimes, because
so many muscles are competing for attachment space on
the TP, you can only feel them by implication. If,
however, you keep the middle phalanx in contact with
the mastoid process, with a little practice you will be
able to feel accurately whether one TP is more promi-
nent than the other (indicating a lateral translation or
shift to the prominent side); or forward of the other
(indicating a rotation of the atlanto-occipital (O-A) joint),
or closer to the skull than the other (indicating a lateral
flexion or tilt between the two).
The adage 'A cat always lands on its feet' is also an
illustration of this concept. When a cat finds itself in the
air, it uses its eyes and inner ear to orient its head hori-
zontally. This puts certain tensions into these suboccipi-
tal muscles, which the brain reads from the myriad
stretch receptors, and then reflexively orders the rest of
the spinal muscles to organize the entire spine from
the neck down, so that the cat's feet are under it before
it ever hits the carpet. Though we are upright, our
head-neck-upper back relationship functions in much
the same way. Thus, how you use your eyes, and more
particularly, how you use your neck, determines the
tonus pattern for the rest of your back musculature. This
plays into a number of postural patterns we see every
day in our practice: loosening the neck is often key to
intransigent problems between the shoulder blades, in
the lower back, and even in the hips.
Retracting the neck and head is also a fundamental
part of the fear response. Most animals respond to fear
with a retraction of the head, and humans are no excep-
tion. Since most of us do not get out of childhood
without some unresolved fear, this retraction, either as
a habit before we begin a movement or as a permanent
postural state, becomes built into our movement as a
socially acceptable, unobserved, but ever-so-damaging
state of being. Being so deep and of such long standing,
such a habit is not easy to root out - teachers of the
Alexander Technique spend years at it - but the effort
is worthwhile for the psychological and physical feeling
of freedom it gives.
The four suboccipital muscles which are a part of the
SBL are the rectus capitis posterior minor (RCPM), the
rectus capitis posterior major (RCPMaj), the obliquus
The OCI is badly named, since it does not attach
directly to the head, but runs from the large SP of the
axis to the large TPs of the atlas, somewhat like the reins
on a horse (Fig. 3.27). This muscle parallels the splenius
capitis and provides the deepest and smallest muscle of
ipsilateral rotation, creating that 'no' motion, the rota-
tion of the atlas and occiput together on the axis. You
can find this muscle by locating the TPs of the atlas and
the SP of the axis, positioning your index fingertips right
between the two (in most clients there is an indicative
'divot' there between the trapezius and SCM), fixing the
skull with your thumbs, and calling for head rotation
against the resistance.
The other three suboccipital muscles run down from
deep underneath the occipital shelf. Going from medial
to lateral, the RCPM runs from the occiput to the spinous
process of the atlas, crossing only the O-A joint. But we
have already said that the atlas does not have much of
a spinous process, so what few anatomy books seem to
show clearly is that this muscle runs interiorly and very
much forward to do this (Fig. 3.28).
The next muscle laterally, the RCPMaj, runs down to
the SP of the axis, but since that bone has such a huge
spinous process, this muscle runs pretty much straight
up and down. This points to a difference in function
between these two muscles: the RCPM, among its other
functions, tends to pull the occiput forward on the atlas
(occipital protraction, or an anterior shift of the occiput
on the atlas, sometimes called axial flexion), while the
RCPMaj creates pure hyperextension in both the A-A
(atlanto-axial) and the O-A joints. (The RCPM cannot
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