F M Alexander used the term 'Primary Control' to refer to the way in which our Head Neck Back relationship is a primary influence and dynamic organiser, for the co-ordination of our whole body mechanism and all our movements. Elisabeth Walker, who trained with FM Alexander, says that he saw the primary control as being 'a master reflex in co-ordinating the whole psychophysical organism'. This subtle control is only possible when we do not interfere by tightening our neck muscles, but allow the head to balance freely on the atlanto-occipital joint at the top of the spine. ~ Forward and Away ~ Elisabeth Walker 2008.
Alexander discovered that his vocal mechanisms and indeed his whole self as a working unity, functioned best when he stopped his habitual pattern of tightening and shortening his neck muscles so that he pulled his head back and down whenever he spoke and moved around. This habit restricted his voice, shortened his whole stature, interfered with his balance, his co-ordination and the way his body worked both at rest and in movement.
Alexander found that the first thing he needed to do was to stop tightening and contracting himself as he moved, then he needed to instruct himself to act in a manner which allowed his bodily mechanisms to freely lengthen into movement. Importantly, Alexander discovered 'that to lengthen I must put my head forward and up. As is shewn.... this proved to be the primary control of my use in all my activities'.
In Alexander Technique lessons we can learn to become aware of how we interfere with this primary control relationship through habitual patterns of tension, contraction and ‘mis-use’. We then unlearn those habits and ‘inhibit’ them. At this point we learn to give ourselves instructions to use our body differently, we direct ourselves during activity, in order to allow the Head-Neck-Back relationship to re-establish itself and function as it is designed to do.