The Cervical vertebrae are the top 7 vertebrae of the spine and form the neck, which supports the skull, or cranium.
The atlas is the first cervical vertebra (C1) and it forms the atlanto-occipital joint with the occipital bone, at the base of the skull. This joint allows the head to rock backwards and forwards.
The second cervical vertebra is called the axis (C2) and the joint it forms with the atlas allows the head to rotate and tilt.
The cervical section of the spine is very flexible and facilitates a wide range of movements of the head, providing we allow our muscles to be freely lengthening, rather than tightly contracting. Muscular contraction, which creates a downward compression on the vertebrae and discs, restricts the range of movement available to us and contributes to the painful symptoms caused by conditions such as spondylosis, stenosis and torticollis. Such habitual compression can even cause the intervertebral discs to prolapse.
Many people are not aware how high in our body the top of the neck actually is and are surprised to discover that the atlanto-occipital joint is roughly in line with the middle of our ears. This faulty sensory appreciation and lack of awareness as to where the top of the spine is, can adversely affect our poise and the way we use our body. In the Alexander Technique, a lot of attention is given to allowing this area to be free and lengthened, so that we can regain the integrity of the spine.