the primary control

The concept of “the use of the self” in the Alexander Technique is profound and multi-layered – layers that are slowly revealed in the course of the learning process.  However, when the Technique relates to the question of “how a person uses himself”, it refers first and foremost to a simple, natural relationship that exists in every human being: that between neck, head and back. Because of its centrality, this relationship is called the primary control.

With practice, learning the Technique reveals to the student the importance of the connection between this primary relationship and his or her physical and mental state. In the course of one’s life, this primary relationship gradually loses its natural freedom, balance and fine tuning. Consequently, the person as a whole loses natural freedom, balance and fine tuning, and so on.

The physical dimension of the loss of freedom and balance in the relationship between neck, head and back appears in the following way: The neck contracts, the head is pulled backwards and downwards and instead of fulfilling its simple and natural function of leading the system, resting balanced, easy and free on the spine, it becomes unbalanced, which burdens the back, shortening and contracting it. Since this process is reciprocal, things occur both “all together and one after the other”. As a result of this process, the person as a whole gradually sinks inward, losing stature, equilibrium, and natural freedom. This is a slow and subtle contracting that continues for many years and, while it is difficult to notice, its effect is critical and costly.

When a system contracts and shrinks from one year to another, its functioning cannot be optimal. This finds expression in many ways, both visible and hidden, that differ from one person to another. Among them: Pressure on the spine and dislocated discs (particularly in vulnerable areas like the lower back and the neck), loss of freedom of mobility in joints, headaches, dysfunction and imbalance of central systems that have difficulty functioning under pressure (such as the respiratory, vocal, circulatory and digestive systems, and so forth), tension, irritability, heaviness, fatigue, discomfort, stress, anxiety and other difficulties and pain. Moreover, a contracted and shortened system is one that gradually loses its natural vitality and simply has difficulty fulfilling its full physical and mental potential (even if this lack of fulfillment is sometimes hidden from view).

Therefore, according to the Technique, in order to improve a person’s physical and mental functioning as one, and in order to restore freedom, balance and natural vitality, it is worthwhile directing attention to the primary control and improving the way we use it. As a result of improving the use of the primary control, the process described above slows, stops, and changes direction. As the direction changes, so freedom and equilibrium are renewed in the primary control, and the functioning of the person as a whole gradually improves.

All we have to do is to restore the use of the primary control.

Frederick Matthias Alexander