Primary Control – a constant influence on everything we do


FM Alexander demonstrated with the aid of a newly born chicken a fundamental principle that affects our whole co-ordination, balance and movement….

In the process of having Alexander Technique lessons we learn about a most significant discovery of FM Alexander’s in the early part of last century.  We learn that the relationship of our head to our neck and the relationship of both to our back has a fundamental influence on the working of our whole ‘self’ influencing our ‘posture’, every movement, feeling and thought we have.

When this very subtle head/neck/back relationship is disturbed, imbalance and a loss of healthy co-ordination is brought about which upsets the efficient working of our body. This may be experienced in very many ways, from simply back pain, neck tension or poor ‘posture’, to a loss of confidence, ability to perform well in activities such as sport, music, public speaking and even how we feel.  Such misuse of our organism ultimately causes deterioration and can lead to serious health conditions.

Symptoms such as back pain, neck tension etc are only the tip of the iceberg so to speak, as the whole of ourselves is involved in everything we do; there is no part that functions separately….the body works as a whole. Treatment to any specific symptom really cannot be entirely successful if the underlying cause is not addressed, namely a loss of overall poise and co-ordination. The influence of the head/neck/back relationship is fundamental in this.

The head/neck/back relationship refers to many subtle factors, including the free poise of the skull on top of the spine, the alignment of the neck out of the back, the muscle tone throughout, the integrated muscle co-ordination as well as the healthy tendency to lengthen in stature rather than shorten.  Maintaining healthy head/neck/back relationship continuously moment by moment while doing activities and during movements such as bending, walking and while sitting and standing etc is what FM Alexander referred to as maintaining good Primary Control because of its overall and fundamental influence on our health, wellbeing and performance.

There is an entertaining and very clear example of how the Primary Control influences our whole co-ordination included in the most excellent book by Frank Pierce Jones, ‘Freedom To Change’ pub. Mouritz.  FP Jones was a pupil of FM Alexander in the 1940s and his book gives an extremely full account of his experiences and over 25 years of personal research into the effectiveness and working of the technique.  If I may quote from page 63 where he describes a visit to the eminent American Biologist, Professor George E. Coghill….

“…Alexander told me that while he was in Gainesville, he had an opportunity to demonstrate the principles of the primary control with one of Coghill’s chickens as well as with Coghill himself.  The chicken, which was one of a group of newly hatched chicks, was walking around in a peculiar fashion which intrigued and perplexed Coghill. Alexander picked it up, examined it carefully, and discovered that a bit of yolk-covered shell was caught in the down at the back of the chicken’s neck and was pulling the head back and down. Alexander freed the neck from the shell and the chicken ran off, its gait indistinguishable from that of the others.”  The fixing of the chick’s head in an off balance  position by the stuck shell was influencing the chicken’s overall balance and co-ordination and the freeing of it instantly demonstrated how overall functioning is improved when this delicate head/neck/back relationship is not interfered with.

Learning to maintain good head/neck/back relationship for ourselves in Alexander Technique lessons can literally change how we function on every level.  We feel lighter, freer, more agile as well as being more expansive.  It affects every aspect of our lives…. how we move, sit, stand, walk, bend, run…. and even how we feel.