Atlanto-occipital joint – This is the joint made by the top cervical vertebra in our spine, the atlas, at the points where it articulates with the two occipital condyles at the base of the skull.
The condyles are slightly curved and kidney shaped bones which allow the head, which balances on these bones, to rock backwards and forwards through the flexion and extension of several muscles, including the large kite-shaped trapezius which spreads over our upper back, connecting the occipital bone with our thoracic vertebrae and out towards our shoulder blades, the two scapulae, and our upper arms.
Restriction and tension of the muscles around the atlanto-occipital joint restrict the freedom of movement there and not only lead to headaches but can interfere with the poise of our head and the balance of our whole body – but most of us do not have any awareness as to this process or know how to change this. Poor posture and mis-use of our body can increase this problem.
In Alexander Technique lessons, we learn how to gain awareness of this area and how to free up the muscles so that the atlanto-occipital joint is able to move more freely, which allows the poise of the head and its natural relationship with the neck and whole length of the spine and the back to be re-found and then maintained.