Blog Series: Understanding the 5 Principles of the Alexander Technique - Part 5

In this five part blog series, I explore and break down the five principles of the Alexander Technique in depth (and in order!:)


The five principles of the Alexander Technique are in order:

1. Recognition of the Force of Habit

2. Inhibition and Non-Doing

3. Recognition of Faulty Sensory Awareness

4. Sending Direction

5. The Primary Control


This post will focus on the fifth principle: The Primary Control (click the links above if you missed the proceeding articles in the series.)


In a way, the primary control is what the Alexander Technique is all about. It was F.M. Alexander's big discovery...and it goes a little something like this...


The primary control is the dynamic head-neck-back-feet relationship in the body that organizes the overall direction of the body. For good or for bad, we all are using our primary control every second of the day, but we are seldom conscious of it.


So what is the optimal relationship for the head-neck-back-feet?


Alexander discovered that when the head at the atlanto-occipital joint releases forward and up in relation to the spine (rather than being contracted and pulled backwards and downwards), it allows the spine to lengthen, the back to widen, and arms and legs to free, and the whole body to oppose gravity with expansion and lightness.


This relationship in the body is present in all vertebrate animals. When we are quite young, our primary control naturally works well. And as we get older, we begin to give into the force of gravity and collapse the body. Then it is time for a tune up with an Alexander Technique teacher!


Drawings taken from "The Alexander Principle" by Wilfred Barlow

It is the primary control because it is the relationship in the body that holistically impacts all others. And it is control because a good or bad use of the primary control will determine whether the other parts of the body are being used well or not.


For example, I have many students who come to me with repetitive use injuries, such s tennis elbow or tendinitis. There is an injury to the smaller muscles of the arm. But instead of looking directly at the arm as the root cause, we look at the overall use of the self and the primary control. If the whole weight of the head and back is consistently collapsed on the arms when you are attempting to make your tennis serve or play your instrument, then there is no way you will be able to achieve the level of freedom and release from pain in the smaller parts of the arms.

From the front cover of BMJ 337 (2008)

The primary control is directed consciously with a set of verbal and physical impulses. The verbal directions for the primary control are as follows, and they are given in order, as well as perceived to be happening almost simultaneously (that is how fast these impulses happen along the spine):


-Allow the neck to be free

-For the head to release forward and up

-For the back to lengthen and to widen

-For the feet to send to the floor


These directions should be repeated throughout the day as we engage in varying activities.


There is ample scientific evidence outside of Alexander's work that supports the importance of this relationship in the body. Similar concepts of alignment can be found in many Eastern and Western somatic practices, as well as physical therapy and modern medicine. Where the Alexander Technique tends to differ, however, is the emphasis that the head leads and impacts the entire use of the rest of the body, and that all of the parts are working together holistically.


The primary control really is about the use of the self, the entire mental-physical-emotional self, that can be indirectly impacted by having a free neck and releasing the head forward and up. It i s one of the most important discoveries of the last century, and one of the most empowering tools for self-development, healing, and the raising of consciousness that I have ever experienced.

90 views