FM Alexander used the term ‘primary control’ to refer to the dynamic relationship of the head to the neck and the rest of the body. When discovering his technique, FM came to realise the way the head was oriented in relation to the body (the head–neck–back relationship) constituted a master reflex – or primary control – that determines the coordination, tone and manner of behaviour of a person’s whole psychophysical organism and has extremely wide-reaching effects. (This master reflex is seen in all living creatures as the head leads and the rest of the body follows within the field of gravity.)

Note this master reflex is most clearly seen in action in the physical startle pattern and fight–flight–fright stress response – responses that can be far too activated in most people due to the pressures of dealing with modern life. (Also see How the Alexander technique was discovered and how it works.) An appropriate use of this primary control of our psychophysical organism is only possible when we do not interfere with this master reflex by tightening our neck muscles, but rather allow our head to balance freely on the atlanto-occipital joint at the top of the spine.

In lessons in the Alexander technique, we become aware of how we interfere with this primary control through our habitual tension, contraction and misuse. We then learn to inhibit these harmful habits and to give directions to use our selves differently in order to allow our head–neck–back relationship – or primary control – to function as it was intended. Once the primary control is functioning more effectively, improvements to a person’s whole psychophysical self begin to occur and their overall balance, health and wellbeing start to improve. As part of this, people tend to become calmer and less reactive to stress.

See other glossary terms and definitions.

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