“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: ... 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; Fischer ed. 2022, p.95).
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; Fischer ed. 2022, p.96 ).
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; Fischer ed. 2022, p.102).
… 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; Fischer ed. 2022, p.101; 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 original 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, Fischer ed. 2022, p.81).
… 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 … (Fischer ed. 1995, p.47, Fischer ed. 2022, p.85)..
… 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; Fischer ed. 2022, p.73).
… 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; Fischer ed. 2022, p.67).
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; Fischer ed. 2022, p.61-62).
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, Fischer ed. 2022, p.63-64).
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; Fischer ed. 2022, p.52).
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; Fischer ed. 2022, p.53).
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)
Alexander is explicitly clear: in breathing, the ‘primary movement’ is not lengthening, it is the movement of the thorax.
Physical Culture and Body Building3.(A perfect system of physical development, having a correct and natural primary movement for each exercise) (Fischer ed. 2022, p.347)
That this does not relate directly to breathing is borne out of the fact that Alexander's preceding points are ‘1. The Treatment of Disease’ and ‘2. The Cultivation and Development of the Human voice’ (ibid).
The whole physiology of walking is, indeed, perfectly simple when once these fundamental principles are understood. It is really resolved into the primary movements of allowing the body to incline forward from the ankle on which the weight is supported and then preventing oneself from falling by allowing the weight to be taken in turn by the foot which has been advanced (Alexander 1996 p.172), Alexander 2021, p.235).
Those who are fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to undertake to act as teachers are well aware of the difficulty of finding an adult who can, as we say, think of more than one thing at a time, or perform satisfactorily any evolution requiring the co-ordinated use of even two parts of the organism. Co-ordinated use of the different parts during any evolution calls for the continuous, conscious projection of orders to the different parts involved, the primary order concerned with the guidance and control of the primary part of the act being continued whilst the orders connected with the secondary part of the movement are projected, and so on, however many orders are required (the number of these depending upon the demands of the processes concerned with a particular movement). Ordinarily, in attempts to use two or more parts in remedial work, the primary projection ends with the correct or incorrect use of the parts concerned with the primary movement. This applies to all other projections concerned with other parts of the movement, and is another instance of concentrated effort connected with a procedure based on the " end-gaining" principle. The projection of continued, conscious orders, on the other hand, calls for a broad, reasoning attitude, ... (Alexander 2004, 170-171, my emphasis).
We see that ‘primary movement’ relates to ‘the primary part of the act’ in the preceding sentence. Primary movement does not mean lengthening, It simply means the first part of the movement or activity. This is similar to the quote from MSI describing walking, but this time Alexander is not describing any specific activity. He is writing about ‘technical evolutions’ in general. But the most important difference is that the main point here is giving directions, the ‘projecting of orders’, not the movements themselves. The quote from CCC is from the chapter Concentration and the Sustained (Continuous) Projection of Orders.(14)
Teachers are familiar with the adult who says that he cannot think of more than one thing at a time, or perform satisfactorily any evolution requiring the co-ordinated use of even two parts of the organism. Such co-ordinated use calls for the continuous, conscious projection of orders to the different parts involved, the primary order, concerned with the guidance and control of the primary part of the act, being continued while the orders connected with the secondary part are projected. This calls for a broad reasoning attitude ... (Brown ed. 1992, 66).
We see that the ‘primary movement’ is omitted. As mentioned above, the main point in this passage is the projecting if orders. ‘Primary movement’ has no particular meaning beyond what it says. It is the ‘first part of the act’. It does not mean lengthening. This leaves us with only one case of ‘primary movement’ in Authorised Summaries, namely the one where it is explicitly linked with thoracic movement.
SC: So the term 'primary control' is simply a later version of the 'primary movement'?
WC: Yes, absolutely. … (Carrington/Carey 1992, p. 109).(17)
[...] since the force of gravity perpetually operates in a downward direction, the primary movement required is a counteractive force in an upwards direction (Carrington 1996, p. 225).(19)
In Man’s Supreme Inheritance, F.M. talks about the primary movement, and the primary movement is, of course, up. I remember so well being struck by it when I first read it. The primary movement is up. You initiate the movement by undoing the catch, by taking the brake off (Carrington 1994, p. 32).
It is a bit strange that Carrington gives two different explanations for ‘primary movement’. If he had asked Alexander himself, he would very likely have stuck to the one explanation he got, and he would very likely have quoted Alexander. He never does. This indicates that these are Walter Carrington's own misinterpretations of Alexander's books. Note that he says: ‘... when I first read it’.
If the "primary movement" is the movement which precedes other movements and which therefore provides the controlling factor in influencing subsequent movements, then it can be regarded as a precursor for the term "primary control" (Fischer 2022, p.387).
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)
13) Alexander's ‘true primary movement’ is most closely related to ‘widening of the back’:
THE PUPIL WILL NOW BE ASKED TO CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THE TORSO IN THIS WAY, CONTINUING TO REHEARSE HIS ORDERS, whilst the teacher so adjusts the torso that the large " lifting " muscles of the back will be employed co-ordinately with the other parts of the organism in bringing about such use of the respiratory mechanisms that they will function to the maximum at the particular stage of development reached from day to day. Success in this part of the evolution will bring about a change in the condition of the back which would be described by the ordinary observer as a " widening of the back."
These orders are the means whereby such use of the mechanisms may be brought about, associated with a satisfactory readjustment of the back, as will cause the floating ribs to move freely, and also tend to develop the maximum intra-thoracic capacity and to establish the most effective use of the respiratory mechanism during the sleeping as well as the waking hours (Alexander 2004, p.120).
He knew that he had found the true and primary movement for each and every act. He came to call it the "primary control". (Trevelyan 1991).
In Man’s Supreme Inheritance, if you comb through it very carefully, you will find that Alexander uses the phrase “the primary movement.” Alexander wasn't concerned with the anatomy or physiology of the primary movement, but he was very much concerned with the practical reality that if a primary movement wasn‟t taking place, then his breathing was interfered with, his voice interfered with, and all sorts of things were going wrong. (Carrington 1999, p. 79).
It is a fact that Alexander Technique teachers trained by Carrington are indeed actively propagating those views in their own writings ... (Staring 2018, p.111).
Carrington, Walter. (1996). Beyond Words. In J. Sontag (ed.), Curiosity Recaptured: Exploring Ways We Think and Move (pp. 223-228). San Francisco: Mornum Time Press.
Fischer, Sean (ed.). 2022. Articles and Lectures. (Third edition). Mouritz.
Murray, Alex. 2015. Alexander's Way. Alexander Technique Center, Urbana.