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 occipitalis, shown in red, helps articulate facial expressions.
The occipitalis, shown in red, helps articulate facial expressions.

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.

superficial back line
Image from http://www.anatomytrains.com/

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.





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