The occipital muscles are at the top of the cervical spine, just below the occipital ridge of the skull. To find the occipital ridge, run your fingers up the length of your neck to where your neck meets your skull. There you'll find the circular ridge called the occipital ridge. The occipitals are made up of several muscles that connect the skull to the neck. Whether you experience neck tightness, soreness or persistent headaches, stretching the occipital muscles may offer some relief.
Basic Occipital Stretch
Stand or sit up tall with a straight spine.
Position your skull in a neutral position, looking straight ahead.
Exhale and slowly tuck your chin toward your chest, creating a stretch along the occipitals and the back of the neck.
Inhale and look up to the sky. Continue this movement 15 to 30 times, linking your breath with the motions.
Occipital Wall Stretch
Stand up with your back against a wall with a straight spine.
Press the back of your skull against the wall gently.
Tuck the chin in toward the chest, while still pressing the back of the skull against the wall. Keeping your head against the wall isolates the occipitals.
Raise your head and repeat for 15 to 30 repetitions.
Forward Fold Occipital Modification
Stand up tall with a straight spine.
Hinge at the waist and fold your torso over your thighs.
Let your head hang and your jaw soften.
Interlace your fingers and place your fingers directly on the occipital ridge above the neck.
Let your elbows fall down toward the floor, creating a gentle stretch in the back of the neck and occipitals.
Hold this stretch for 30 seconds to one minute.
If you are practicing plow pose for the first time, have a spotter nearby with a folding chair. If you have difficulty moving to the full pose, your spotter can help you modify the pose by placing the chair close enough for your legs to rest on.
Speak to your doctor before performing any of these exercise, especially if you suffer from chronic neck pain, headaches or migraines.
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
Kick your legs up into the air, lifting your hips off the ground.
Point your toes toward the sky and keep the inner thighs glued together.
Position your elbows on the floor and your palms on your lower back to stabilize yourself in the pose. Only your upper arms, upper torso, neck and back of the head are on the floor at this point.
Lower your toes down to the floor behind your head, keeping your legs straight. If this is too difficult, lower your toes onto the seat of a chair behind you.
Stay here for 30 seconds to one minute. Lift your legs back up toward the sky, bend your knees and lower your legs to the floor to come out of the pose.
Nicole Carlin is a registered yoga teacher. Her writing has been published in yoga and dance teacher training manuals for POP Fizz Academy. Carlin received a Masters of Arts in gender studies from Birkbeck University in London and a Bachelors of Arts in psychology from Temple University, Philadelphia.