Primary Control and Stress
A review of my last newsletter: In order to understand the concept of Primary Control one needs to become familiar with the connection between head and neck. Primary Control is far more than an anatomical concept, but this is where we begin.
The Atlanto-Occipital Joint is located on the underside of the skull: between the Atlas (the first vertebra on top of the spine) and the Occiput (the part of the head that forms the back and underside of the skull).
Do you remember how to access the place where your head rests on the spine, the atlanto-occipital joint? We cannot feel this area, nor can we touch it, except with our thoughts and imagination.
First, imagine a connection between your two ears and gently rotate your head forward and back to neutral around this axis. Then add a thought of 'up' to this forward rotation? Remember that after some more physical experimentation you will imagine the movement more than doing it. Again, think of this area between your ears and ask yourself to be free in the neck, to release the head in this forward and up direction.
forward and up
Now that we have enlivened this anatomical space let's consider the larger implications of Primary Control: improvement of our whole psychophysical use, conscious control over the way we go about things - big topics to be sure.
F. M. Alexander writes about The Primary Control, that it "governs the working of all the mechanisms and so renders the control of the complex human organism comparatively simple."
I would like to offer a different segue into the understanding of Primary Control: From the perspective of our emotional reactions I have come to think of all interference with a freely balanced head as a form, of "fear response". Please imagine for a moment a terribly loud noise throwing your whole system out of equilibrium. Or put yourself in a more permanent place of anxiety. What is happening in your head-neck-back relationship? How would you play fear, angst, shock, insecurity or the like on stage? I would argue that in all your playacting explorations you have used an element of shortening and fixing of neck muscles. You have pulled your head back and down, you have shortened your neck and narrowed your back - you have interfered with an optimal organization of your Primary Control mechanism.
In my students and in myself I can observe that even the smallest stimulus has the potential to cause us to react with a form of fear response; we tighten the neck and hold the breath. Considering the amount of stress every human being encounters on a daily level, simple obstacles like commuting in heavy traffic or being in a hurry, we can safely assume that we are constantly and unconsciously interfering with our Primary Control in some form that resembles a fear response.
In Alexander Technique lessons you learn to notice, accept, compare and self-regulate.