Check out the contrast in this photo between the person in the foreground and the people in the background. They are using their necks differently.
The person in the foreground seems to know that the neck joint is where the skull meets the spine. This joint is called the atlanto-occiputal (AO) joint referring to where the atlas (the top-most vertebra of the spine) meets the occiput (the bone that makes up the lower and back part of the skull).
Using the spine (and not the AO joint) to look down, as the men in the background are doing, is an act of forgetting about the neck joint.
It may surprise you that the AO joint is behind your eyes and between your ears. You can see that the person in the foreground is pivoting from there to see her phone.
When we have chronic tension (which can be the cause of pain), the skull gets pulled onto the spine making us less ready to move at the AO joint. Often we do not notice because we get so use to our habits that they feel right -- even when these habits look very clear to an observer like the habits of the people in the background of this photo may now be very clear to you.
To start to free up your neck joint, invite ease in the AO joint (high up behind your eyes and between your ears). Then try these two tips:
Explore motions of the AO joint. The AO joint operates in two ways: one is a pivot (looking side to side) and the other a glide (looking up and down).
First, find your best body balance standing or sitting (without leaning).
Second, look and then allow your head to move to one side re-initiating the invitation for ease at your AO joint throughout the movement. Continue this back to the middle. Pause and then look to the other side.
Third, look slightly up and down inviting yourself to keep the front and back of your cervical spine lengthening.
Try the Five-minute Unfix which describes a way of lying down with your head on a stack of books. Where your head rests in the "unfix" position gives you a reference point for high the AO joint is where you want to be inviting ease. You can then try the movement explorations above in the "unfix" position while gravity helps you undo other habits of tension.
How was that? Share a comment below (or by clicking the image). I would love to hear what you discover, what you see in others, or what other tips you have for moving at the AO joint.
Last updated: November,19 2017
References: Types of Joints at www.teachpe.com/anatomy/joints.php