I looked down at the white stick in my hands as a radiant pink plus sign gleamed back at me. My heart sang and my eyebrows raised to their fullest height, elated by this confirmation. Trying to compose myself, I looked in the mirror and began to adjust my forehead to a relaxed, wrinkle free, resting position, as not to give away this little secret.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped outside of the bathroom to share the incredible news with my wonderful partner, “I’m pregnant!”. His beautiful bald head lit up, from eyebrows to occiput in a giant smile. As we celebrated, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What exactly was that muscle which made his eyebrows and head so expressive?”
…Ok, so maybe I didn’t think of that exact thing, at that exact moment, but this is still a true story!
The muscle in question is called the occipitofrontalis. It helps you articulate your surprise, displeasure, or other eye-opening facial expressions. The muscle is comprised of four very thin muscle bellies. Two of them are the frontalis, which insert superior to the eyebrows. The other two are the occipitalis, which insert into the superior nuchal line of the occiput. These four bellies originate, and are joined by, the galea aponeurotica, a broad sheath of connective tissue which stretches across the top of the cranium. Also recognized as the lovely shiny area my fabulous bald man displays when he isn’t wearing a hat. This area allows the scalp to move freely over the skull, for the very important and hilarious game, where you pretend you are wearing a wig as a kid…or was that just me?
You may be wondering at this point, “What do my eyebrows and scalp have to do with my tension or the rest of my physical movements?” Have you ever heard of Anatomy Trains? Coined by Thomas Myers, they are a concept of understanding the body as fully connected through myofascial links, giving us ways to look at body patterns instead of simply breaking the body down into each individual muscle.
The superficial back line connects the body from the toes, through the plantar section of the foot, up the back body, to the occipitofrontalis above the eyebrows. This means, that any tensions, or movements you make, along this muscle chain are not simply isolated in their respective locations – they can affect the body as a whole.
We can use this obscure muscle to our advantage while creating optimal alignment by keeping your face-asana calming by relaxing the eyebrows and head, which can subsequently relax the entire superficial back line. Otherwise, we are creating subtle, and unnecessary, tensions which can radiate through the body, leading to headaches, neck pain, deep forehead wrinkles, insomnia, back pain, just to name a few issues.
Not quite sure about this?
Think about the incredible baby news we received at the beginning of this blog. We were delighted! This makes it easy to release the occipitofrontalis. What type of physical tension would have occurred if we were horrified and this area was stuck in tension?
Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog on Friday, Occipitofrontalis: Surprisingly Stress Reducing, where I will dive deeper into how to use this muscle to reduce tension in the body, diminish stress, help insomnia and relieve neck pain.
- Trail Guide to the Body – Andrew Biel
Enjoyed this article? Read Headache From Ball Rolling? Say It Ain’t So!
Bel article qui a attiré mon attention, durant des années j’ai ressenti de la douleur sur mon visage et sur les occiputs juste en mettant ma crème sur le visage. On me demandait d’apporter de la tendresse dans mon regard pour détendre mon visage. Votre article vient de donner un sens profond a ce que j’ai pu vivre et éveiller ma curiosité sur l’Occipitofrontalis. Merci je vais voir l’autre article Occipitofrontalis: Étonnant pour réduire le stress.
LOVE this article and face asana! The occipitofrontalis is fascinating, the entire SMAS really… I’d love to hear more about its relationship to the SBL. I’ve been conceiving the galea aponeurotica as the meeting junction or intersecting fold for all lines. Would love to discuss!
Wow! The back of my body can be affected by my expressions?! That is a new level of connectedness. It also makes sense in an emotion way because if I am stressed out on my face, then I become closed out in my body, shoulders forward, hunching into my self. I don’t want to be open and forward. It’s great to know that a smile can go a long way!
How interesting! I was not aware that the superficial back line connects the occipitalis muscle at the pack of the scull to the occipitofrontalis above the eyebrows. So by relaxing the eyebrows and head, we can in fact have an influence on the entire superficial back line. I have practiced the opposite so far, with rolling the lower back of skull and feeling great relaxation throughout my scalp and even in my eyebrows, and forehead. I like the idea that it works vice-versa, too.
Everything is connected 🙂
Love this explanation & exploration of the posterior chain! Eye opener for me & such an overlooked area. I don’t think I ever gave much thought to how the full length of the body connect, particularly the foot & head connection!
What a surprising and interesting way to think about the superficial back line! Light bulb moment for me, like other comments have mentioned, on why resting the forehead in childs pose or supporting the forehead in other deep forward folds like tarasana is so deeply relaxing, and why energetically forward folds are associated with the third eye. Thank you so much for this fresh perspective!
thank you for this article…the skelatal image highlighted made it really figurative and interesting. There is so much to learn from fascia thanks to Thomas Myers. When I teach I always remind my students every 20 min. about tension in their jaws and softening their face (or simply smiling) especially when in a challenging pose. When I do privates, I always make it a point to massage the forehead near eyebrow.
Wonderful new Jennifer, congrats! Thank you for your articulation and relating everything to real life, real emotion and expression. This back line sheath amazes me!
Congratulations! What a wonderful way to start an article. After nearly 3 years of experiencing intense pain and a feeling of never ending ‘pressure’ in the Occipitofrontalis and nuchal ligament area, I often dreamed of just being able to remove my head from my body to get some relief. I was constantly experiencing spasms in my back as well as facial drooping and spasm. It was scary and coupled with hemiplegic migraines, I was always worried that the temporary paralysis that came with that would stay for good. When I found the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls early this year it changed everything. By massaging my nuchal ligament and the occiput area, I finally found relief and as you mentioned above, I began to learn how integrated our body muscles are and that one tension ridden area could lead to pain/discomfort in another one. Since maintaining a weekly ball rolling routine, I’ve been nearly 100% free of the pressure/pain and even the migraines for almost a year.
Very nice article and awareness! I cue relax your scalp while people are in savasana, and now I think I will get a little more creative with it! Thanks for the inspiration!
Thanks very much for this post.
I learned about the feedback loop between posture and facial expression and bring mindfulness to facial expression in my yoga practice, but I never understood the connection to the occipitalis. Thanks for offering a greater visceral connection to facial expressions in asana practice.
Thank you for summarizing and sharing the facial connection to the rest of our physical conditions via the superficial backline. I love the concept of “face-asana”, because it truly does take a conscious effort to manipulate the muscles of the face into relaxation. There is nothing more soothing and relaxing then rolling out the facial muscles.
Thank you and congradulation, I have experienced many times a sens of wellbeing and feeling relaxed while my forehead was resting on the floor in Child Pose. I now understand the connection, thank you