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 body mechanism and our movements. Elisabeth Walker, who trained with 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 and easily on the atlanto-occipital joint at the top of the spine. ~ Forward and Away ~ Elisabeth Walker 2008.
Alexander discovered that his vocal mechanisms and whole organism functioned best when he stopped tightening his neck muscles when he spoke and moved around. This tension pulled his head back and down, restricted his voice, shortened his stature, interfered with his balance, his co-ordination and the way his body worked. This happened both at rest and in movement.
Inhibition and Direction
Alexander found that to change, he first needed to inhibit this habit of tightening his neck muscles, which interfered with the way his body worked naturally. Then he needed to give himself directions to act in a way that allowed him to freely and easily 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 learn to be aware of how we interfere with this primary control relationship through our habitual patterns of tension, contraction and ‘mis-use’. We then ‘inhibit’ and unlearn those habits. We learn to give ourselves instructions and direct before and during activity. This allows the Head-Neck-Back relationship to re-establish itself and function as it is designed to do.