“True primary movement” is the movement which precedes other movements and which therefore provides the controlling factor in influencing subsequent movements. It can be regarded as the precursor of the term “primary control” (Fischer ed. 1995, p.281).(2)
Most Alexander practitioners understand the true primary movement as ‘going up’ (lengthening of the spine) … (Williamson, 2021b, p.81).(3)
We shall probably never know for sure exactly to what Alexander was referring when he wrote: [He then gives the quotation from Alexander that ends with] a proper knowledge and practical employment of the true primary movement in each and every act (ibid).
At the outset let me point out that respiratory education or respiratory re-education will not prove successful unless the mind of the pupil is thoroughly imbued with the true principles which apply to atmospheric pressure, the equilibrium of the body, the centre of gravity, and to positions of mechanical advantage where the alternate expansions and contractions of the thorax are concerned. In other words, it is essential to have a proper mental attitude towards respiratory education or re-education, and the specific acts which constitute the exercises embodied in it, together with a proper knowledge and practical employment of the true primary movement in each and every act (Alexander 1996, p.200. Fischer ed. 1995, p.57).
Most people, if asked to take a "deep breath," will proceed to—I use the words spoken by thousands of people I have experimented upon—" suck air into the lungs to expand the chest," whereas of course the proper expansion of the chest, as a primary movement, causes the alae nasi to be dilated and the lungs to be instantly filled with air by atmospheric pressure, without any harmful lowering of the pressure (Alexander 1996, p.200-201; Fischer ed. 1995, p.58).
Then follows due increase in the movements of expansion and contraction of the thorax until such movements are adequate and perfectly controlled. Further, these expansions are primary movements in securing that increase in the capacity of the chest necessary to afford the normal oscillations of atmospheric pressure, without unduly lowering that pressure … (Alexander 1996, p.208; Fischer ed. 1995, p.64).
… a proper mental attitude towards respiration is at once inculcated, so that each and every respiratory act in the practice of the exercises is the direct result of volition, the primary, secondary, and other movements necessary to the proper performance of such act having first been definitely indicated to the pupil (Fischer ed. 1995, p.63; Alexander 1996, p.206).
At the outset let me point out that respiratory education or re-education, will not prove successful unless the mind of the pupil is imbued with the true principles which apply to atmospheric pressure, the equilibrium of the body, the centre of gravity and to positions of mechanical advantage where the alternate expansions and contractions of the thorax is concerned (Brown ed.) 1992, p.31).
Most people, if asked to take a "deep breath," will "suck air into the lungs to expand the chest," whereas, of course, the proper expansion of the chest as a primary movement causes the nostrils to be dilated and the lungs to be instantly filled without any harmful lowering of the pressure in the nasal passages (ibid, p.32). [‘in the nasal passages’ added to the MSI text].
In a future work I hope to deal more fully with the scientific aspect of practical respiratory re-education. At present I simply state the great principle to be antagonistic action, perfect employment of which is the forerunner of that control which ensures the correct use of the muscular system of the thorax in its fullest sense as the primary motive power in the respiratory act, also adequate muscular development, non-interference with the larynx and nasal dilation (Fischer ed. 1995, p.43).
… the student who is taught from the very beginning of his respiratory re-education to convert the air exhaled into whispered tones (consciously employing the true motive power) and the proper vowel or vowels will have learnt what should always be one of the simplest forms of vocal effort … (ibid, p.47).
… in re-education there must first be conscious employment of the mechanism governing the respiratory act and the control of the motive power in vocalization; … (Fischer ed. 1995, p.37).
… voice production from the earliest age with proper control of the respiratory mechanism is one of the best possible things, and any one trained to use correctly the true motive power in voice production could not injure the heart and would be in the same position reared in the colonies, where, from early age, they live mostly in the open air and shout and sing from morn till night (Fischer, ed. 1995, p.37).
The employment of Mr Alexander's method, under medical supervision, has shown that it restores the control over the true thoracic mechanism; … secures the maximum of thoracic mobility ...prevents thoracic rigidity in physical effort … and renders a rigid thorax adequately mobile, … (Fischer, ed. 1995, p.27-28).
Such erroneous ideas [about nasal breathing] are cherished by those who conceive them, simply because there is a sad lack of practical knowledge concerning the all-important subject of nasal breathing and the true motive power in respiration. …
Mr Alexander's method secures that absolute control over the thoracic mechanism which enables the student to secure an adequate air supply through the nostrils in physical effort, in singing, speaking, and during sleep, and also in ordinary conversation, and the founder of the method has proved these facts to the satisfaction of many members of the medical profession of London (Fischer, ed. 1995, p.29).
Many theories have been advanced in explanation of the cause of causes of the prevalence of the lung disease known as consumption, but there can be no doubt whatever that it is due chiefly to the decay in the breathing power of mankind, … . The decay referred to may be described as an almost complete failure of the thoracic mechanism, which causes the motive power in breath-taking to be thrown almost entirely upon the throat muscles; … (Fischer, ed. 1995, p.20).
Such defects [bad habits associated with poor breathing] could not exist if the thoracic mechanism performed the functions ordained by Nature. The motive power for the respiratory act belongs solely to the thorax; and the existence of this natural action ensures that the throat and neck muscles, the larynx and the shoulders remain passive; the breath will pass noiselessly into the lungs, while those passages will be dilated instead of being contracted (Fischer, ed. 1995, p.20).
The primary movement of breathing must be thoracic, that is, the thorax or chest-box must be expanded naturally without drawing in any breath by suction. The thorax must be made as mobile as possible. (Daily Express 1904). (See also Staring, 2018, p.109).(11)
WC: ... People are inclined to suggest that FM got the whole idea of the primary control from Magnus. But in fact, he was well aware of the importance of the relationship between the head, neck and body for many years. ... After all, in MSI, as we've discussed previously, FM talks of the 'primary movement'.
SC: So the term 'primary control' is simply a later version of the 'primary movement'?
WC: Yes, absolutely. … (Carrington/Carey 1992, p. 109).
In The Use of the Self, the term position of mechanical advantage” is replaced by “primary control,” a different concept altogether (Jones 1997, p. 46)
Jones, Frank P. 1997. Freedom to Change. Moritz.
Murray, Alex. 2015. Alexander's Way. Alexander Technique Center, Urbana.