Skip to main content

Ep 267 - The Cosmic Cloth of the Suboccipitals:"The Rebel MT"with Allison Denney

An animated image of a human skeleton with the suboccipital muscles highlighted in color.

The suboccipital muscles have a lot more in common with deep space than one might think. The exquisite balance of all the dimensions that define us are evidenced in the structure and function of this particular cluster of muscles. Seemingly warping our individual universes, the suboccipitals require an awareness of the time-space continuum to help navigate how we approach this region with our clients. 

Author Images
Allison Denney, The Rebel MT.
Author Bio

Contact Allison Denney:     

Allison’s website:          

Allison Denney is a certified massage therapist and certified YouTuber. You can find her massage tutorials at She is also passionate about creating products that are kind, simple, and productive for therapists to use in their practices. Her products, along with access to her blog and CE opportunities, can be found at        


Rebel Massage Therapist:

My name is Allison. And I am not your typical massage therapist. After 20 years of experience and thousands of clients, I have learned that massage therapy is SO MUCH more than a relaxing experience at a spa. I see soft tissue as more than merely a physical element but a deeply complex, neurologically driven part of who you are. I use this knowledge to work WITH you—not ON you—to create change that works. This is the basis of my approach. As a massage therapist, I have worked in almost every capacity, including massage clinics, physical therapy clinics, chiropractor offices, spas, private practice, and teaching. I have learned incredible techniques and strategies from each of my experiences. In my 20 years as a massage therapist, I have never stopped growing. I currently have a private practice based out of Long Beach, California, where I also teach continuing education classes and occasionally work on my kids. If they’re good.






Milk + Honey

Award-winning day spa milk + honey is currently hiring Licensed Massage Therapists in Texas, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami.  

Milk + honey is committed to helping employees achieve their personal and professional goals by offering competitive benefits, and an industry-leading compensation program that takes a holistic view of performance and tenure, allowing team members to take charge and own their own growth

Visit or find us on Instagram at to learn more about what makes milk + honey a great place to work and submit your application.

Full Transcript

0:00:00.1 Speaker 1: Award-winning day spa, Milk + Honey is hiring licensed massage therapists in Texas, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami. Milk + Honey helps employees achieve their personal and professional goals by offering competitive benefits, personalized growth opportunities, and an industry-leading compensation program that takes the holistic view of performance and tenure. Visit to learn more about what makes Milk + Honey a great place to work. And submit your application today. That's This episode is brought to you by Rebel Massage, Deep Tissue Body Butter. Crafted because oil is too slick and lotion absorbs too fast. These organic, professional-grade bodywork butters give you the grip you've been looking for. The best techniques in the world can get lost without the right product to support them. Try the Get A Grip version for more specific, focused work or the Total Meltdown version for that grip with a little extra glide. Made by a massage therapist for massage therapists. Head over to to get your grip today.

0:01:31.0 Speaker 2: Einstein talked about space and time being part of a continuum. He realized that there is not a space separate from time, but rather that they are woven together in a sort of fabric that crosses multiple dimensions. Now, I don't know about you guys, but I have a really hard time grasping this. I mean, I get it on some theoretical level, but switching my awareness of space being this vast area outside of Earth and time being a linear means of measurement to merging them into a cosmic cloth is not the easiest transition. The new images that were recently released from the James Webb telescope clearly got me thinking. They are beautiful and awe-inspiring to say the least. And as they offer us a piercing glimpse into deep space, we can actually see how entire galaxies seem to bend around the force of other galaxies.

0:02:21.9 S2: The powerful gravitational field of the galaxy cluster, SMACS 0723, for example, bends the light rays from the more distant galaxies behind it. We are seeing the contortion of light as it travels through the fabric of space. Not only that, we are looking back in time at images that have taken billions of years to reach our little telescope. Woah. I could wax poetic for hours on the topic of feeling minuscule, relative to the grandiosity of space or the perception of the tiny blip that is my life as compared to the billions of years that the universe has been breathing. But what I really wanna focus on is that bend, that warping that happens as life moves around in its continuum of fabric.

0:03:13.5 S2: It is comparable to, and dare I say possibly related to, the same gravitational pull that we feel right here on Earth. No, not the gravity that pulls an apple to the ground, although that is a thread in this tapestry, and Sir Isaac Newton was a genius. But the gravitational pull I'm referring to is the one that we feel when another person enters a room. Just like in space, the bigger human forces have a stronger pull and the more muted ones might slip by unnoticed. This happens not only on an emotional level, like becoming similar to the people you associate yourself with, but also on a chemical level, like that the neuroplasticity in your brain actually changes under the influence of social circumstances. And if I'm really still, I can feel it. Not the folding of galaxies into the ripples of time and space, but the pull of another person in my presence. There are some people that it feels so easy to be around, some that feel like a shock wave and all the variations in between. I mention this not to remark on how I think we should all strive to be a stronger force in this fragile existence and pull our clients into or out of certain directions. I mention this because I think that if we become more aware of the silent forces that flow like currents and less focused on the noise society tends to make, I believe that we will have a greater effect on any change we might be striving to achieve.

0:04:45.7 S2: There is no doubt that the tissues in our bodies experience the same push and pull. Muscles can overpower, fascia can constrict, and some parts of us are just too quiet to be heard. Listening to our clients goes beyond hearing the words that they speak, it involves tapping into that fabric that tells their complete story. Allow me to showcase the suboccipitals. This tiny little cluster of muscles has its own gravitational pull on the anatomical elements that surround them. They are actually woven in and around each other to create the subtle but intricate movements of the skull, otherwise known as the bony casing that houses our own personalized universes. And they are conversely warped by the skull and numerous other clusters of bones and tissues that surround them. And although this may seem insignificant, the position of our head and cervical spine directly influences our proprioception, the awareness we have of where we physically are in space, and dare I include time. Whether or not the skull and spine are throwing off the suboccipital or vice versa, that the tight, tense, or weak suboccupitals are twisting a skull and spine off access, just might only be part of the equation.

0:06:03.9 S2: Let's take a closer look. There are eight suboccipital muscles. Well, four, but they mirror each other on both sides of the spine. And four plus four equals eight [chuckle] Take that, physics. But their names are about as exciting as SMACS 0723, which I mentioned earlier. But before I start listing them, a decoder vocab moment might ease the pain just a bit. The following words are creatively used in combination to name the suboccipital muscles. One, Rectus, meaning upright. Meaning it travels more up and down than side to side. Two, Obliquus, meaning at an angle. Meaning it's neither vertical nor horizontal. Three, Capitis, meaning of the head. Meaning it influences the place where one might wear a cap. Four, Posterior, meaning behind. Five, Inferior, meaning below. Six, Superior, meaning above. Seven, Major, meaning the larger of two. And eight, Minor, meaning under 18. No, I'm kidding. Meaning the smaller of two.

0:07:14.1 S2: From this alone, you could probably label the muscles if you saw them on a muscle chart. And because it would take me forever to drone out all the origins and insertions, let me just put it to you this way, all eight of these muscles fit in a tiny little portion of your neck about the size of an Altoid tin. They hover around the base of the skull, and don't drop below the second cervical vertebrae. Their attachments at the skull remain close to the midline and their various grasps on the C1 and C2 are like a somewhat organized silly string spritz under the spinous and transverse processes. The way these muscles intertwine and give us the freedom to move our heads in endless directions beyond just yes and no is truly a multi-dimensional marvel.

0:08:02.3 S2: Following each of these muscles like you might try to use stars to trace a constellation, we begin to get a glimpse of the matrix it forms. The littlest of these, the rectus capitis posterior minor is the most medial, launching from the posterior tubercle of C1 and tucking itself right under the external occipital protuberance of the skull. Moving slightly laterally along the skull, we find the rectus capitis posterior major, which dives down onto the spinous process of C2. Here, it joins forces with the obliquus capitis inferior, which veers away from its skull-obsessed cluster to reach out to the transverse process of C1. And following this path, we stumble onto the obliquus capitis superior, which reaches back up to the base of the skull, just above the inferior nuchal line. Together, the important thing to note about what they do, what their actions are, is that they move the head around.

0:08:58.9 S2: A lot of muscles in the neck have actions that include, "Fill in the blank. Action of the head and neck." Like the splenius capitis which rotates the head and neck to the same side, but not these. These only tug at the skull. From the books, they rotate and laterally flex the head to the same side, and they rock and tilt the head back into extension. From life though, they give us the ability to look up at the stars and gaze around in wonder. Working with these muscles can be equally as poetic. There are lots of handy tips and tricks out there on the inner web, and I will offer a few thoughts here, but keep this in mind as I do. Picture what it would be like to go into outer space. Imagine the silence. Envision the magnificence. Take a breath and feel the quiet. Then recreate this feeling before even starting to palpate this area with your client. Let the fabric of time and space guide you just beyond the skin and into the forces at work.

0:10:08.1 S2: With your client supine and you seated at the top of the table, slide your hands under your client's head so that their skull rests in your palm and your fingertips drop just inferior to that nuchal line. Notice first what you feel, but then also what you see. Is your client fidgeting? Are they guarded? Do you observe any tension in their jaw, in their fingers, in their toes? Maybe suggest softly that they give these areas permission to rest. Using the flat finger pads of your pointer and middle fingers, start to slide down the nuchal cliff and past the more superficial upper traps, semispinalis capitis and splenius capitis muscles. Ask your client to take a deep inhale, and as they exhale, make your way into the more intricate suboccipitals. Remember that there is a good amount of fascia and connective tissue here to help maintain stability, which can take a little more patience to navigate through.

0:11:07.0 S1: But once you're there, take a moment to orient yourself. With a little pressure directed up away from the table, or even curled up a smidge towards your client's nose, check in to see how they're doing. This might be enough. Issues like headaches, posterior discrepancies or TMJ might be linked in here, so make sure your client is as dropped in as you are. If they're ready for a little more, do not move your hands, instead, have your client ever so slightly pull their chin up away from their chest and toward you. And then have them do the opposite, allow their chin to fall back down towards their chest. Then have them lift their chin again, but with a slight rotation to the left, and then back down, and then back up with a slight rotation to the right, and then back down again. And then play around with adding a sliver of a lateral tilt into each side. Be specific though, in how you articulate this. Asking a client to bring their ear to their shoulder engages the muscles that move the head and neck, and you might get pushed out by those stronger forces. See if your client can begin to move their ear lobe toward the middle of their neck, this gives them a better idea of isolating the smaller movement, and it gives you a lot more information. This methodical, subtle, but active engagement and stretch will begin to direct you to what you need to do next.

0:12:34.0 S2: Maybe you started more medially and you repeat these steps moving laterally, or vice versa. Maybe you focus on one side first and then the other. Maybe you start with broader finger pads and home-in on one point specifically, or maybe you just hold your pressure and let the fabric unfold. Healing, after all, is an exquisite balance of all the dimensions that define us. It is a sound that, if we are quiet enough, we can begin to hear. It is a reflection, that if we are still enough, we can recognize. It is a wisdom, that if we are honest enough, we can learn. It is not separate from our anatomy, just like space is not separate from time.

0:13:19.5 S2: And here we are, the end of the episode. Thank you to the extraordinary crew over at ABMP for helping me get my words into your ears. And if you want to get any of your words into my ears or, more accurately, into my brain, via my eyeballs from a computer screen, drop me a line at, that's I always wanna hear your questions, comments, suggestions or salutations. Also, if you're interested in checking out anything else I'm doing, head over to where you will find all sorts of fun things to click on, like homemade organic products for your practice, cool links to continuing education classes, thoughts I have typed up and posted here and there, and other Rebel Massage dabblings.


0:14:11.6 S1: Members are loving ABMP Five-Minute Muscles and ABMP Pocket Pathology, two quick reference web apps included with ABMP membership. ABMP Five-Minute Muscles delivers muscle-specific palpation and technique videos, plus origins insertions and actions for the 83 muscles most commonly addressed by body workers. ABMP Pocket Pathology created in conjunction with Ruth Werner puts key information for nearly 200 common pathologies at your fingertips and provides the knowledge you need to help you make informed treatment decisions. Start learning today. ABMP members, log in at and look for the links in the featured benefits section of your member homepage. Not a member? Learn about these exciting member benefits at