What is the primary control? – A hypothesis of its mechanism




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There are some views about the primary control, and the representative one is as following: the primary control is a control to attain “the particular relationship of the head-neck-back”, and by attaining this condition we will be able to balance our body well and certain reflexes of the body in relation to the movement will function appropriately. As a result of this, the coordination of the whole body improves and we become able to move with less muscular tension. However, as this function that is said to promote and govern all the reflexes appropriately has not been yet found, we have not known the mechanism of the primary control. On the other hand, people who practice the Alexander Technique (AT) including myself should experience its effectiveness of the primary control, and thus we adopt AT for life and various activities. AT teachers should believe that there are some reasons in it.

Here I describe hypothetical ideas about what the primary control is and why it brings favorable effects. The hypothesis is following. The primary control becomes a control to lead an advantageous state of supporting the body. Attaining an advantageous state of supporting the body helps us to minimize muscular tension and limitation in the functions of the body, and in turn, we can decrease burdens on our body and improve the quality of our performance in various activities by this procedure. The primary control is, thus, an effective procedure.

Although it is a hypothesis, it is rational in terms of kinesiology and has been tested in a fair amount of my practices of AT lesson to pupils. This becomes a new interpretation of the primary control. When it is interpreted in this way, we can also know that the primary control does not completely satisfy the advantageous control of supporting the body. I also describe the points to be supplemented.

As to the advantageous way of supporting the body, more details are explained in my online report “An Advantageous Way of Using Our Body”

An Advantageous Way of Using Our Body

2017.10.26

The positional relationship of the head-neck-back

There are two perspectives included in “the particular relationship of the head-neck-back” in the primary control. One is the positional relationship between elements. The other is the dynamic relationship. It is accomplished when it meets these two perspectives of the relationship. Now I described each feature of the relationship.

At first, I describe the positional relationship. The appropriate positional relationship of the head-neck-back accomplished by the primary control will correspond to the relationship in the state of “Bone weight control” which I have defined. (More explanation is in my online report previously mentioned.) The state of Bone weight control fulfills the following two conditions.

1) The bones in the axial body are in the state that it transmits the load of the body to the articular surface of the bone adjacent below through the largest area of contact. It can be said that the bones are stuck on another with the most stabilized manner in this state.

2) The center of gravity (COG) of the body is at the appropriate position in relation to the support parts of the body. (Ex. The COG of the body in the sagittal plane is located in a little front of the ankle joint when standing straight.)

I show the state of Bone weight control in the standing position in A of figure 1. This state will be equivalent to an ideal posture alignment in kinesiology. The state of Bone weight control has advantageousness. The person in this state is able to suppress the generation of couples of forces in the relationship of the bones in the axial skeleton as less as possible. This implies that the person can make the tension in muscles and ligaments minimum to restrain the axial bones because of less moment of forces, and thus they can support their body with minimum muscular tension.

Figure 1. Examples of standing posture

We will be able to place our head, neck and back (torso) at this advantageous position by the direction “the head forward and up” within the practice of the primary control, and as a result we can attain the state possible to minimize muscular tension to support the body. What we should note here is that it only helps to attain the state possible to minimize muscular tension and is not guaranteed for us to actually minimize muscular tension only by this coping action. The dynamic relationship, which is the other perspective, is involved for this to be fully accomplished.

The dynamic relationship of the head-neck-back

The appropriate dynamic relationship of the head-neck-back means the relationship when the muscular tension in the neck is minimum. It is a state leaded by the direction “neck free”. The degree of the muscular tension in the neck expresses the dynamic relationship of the head to the spine (or the torso). If it is strong, the head is fixed to the spine and becomes hard to move. If it is minimum, the head is free and becomes easy to move. By practicing the direction “neck free” a person really minimizes muscular tension in the neck after having changed its positional relationship into the one possible to minimize muscular tension.

Why, then, does minimizing the muscular tension in the neck become the measure improving the quality of our movement? This is because it tends to render the muscular tension in the way of supporting the whole body minimum by minimizing the neck tension. It is saying that the way of supporting the body will be changed by changing the way of supporting the head.

We do the activity of supporting the body against the force of gravity by using muscular contraction not only at the time of standstill but also movement. If I say more concretely as for our supporting the body, it can be said that we keep the position and angle of some skeletal parts in the body which are relatively instability and easy to be moved. Some skeletal parts above correspond to the head, thorax, and pelvis, so the activity of supporting the body becomes to keep these parts not to be moved excessively. The activity of supporting the head, one of these sections, is fulfilled by the muscles in the neck as I mentioned before. Besides, the muscles to support the thorax are the abdominal muscles and the back muscles, and the muscles to support the pelvis are the muscles around the hip joint such as the iliopsoas and glutei.

Many of us tend to make this activity of supporting the body excessively as holding the body with excess muscular tension throughout the body. It means that the person who has this tendency could support their body and achieve their movement, even if the person made muscular tension less. I call this habitual pattern of supporting the body the “excess supporting”. When a person is adopting the excess supporting, they will have more burdens on their body, stiffen their movement, and limit functions such as breathing and the utterance because of excess muscular tension. This is, thus, a disadvantageous pattern.

The person who adopts the excess supporting will support their whole body firmly. The person will, then, strengthen the muscles of the neck, the abdominal muscles, the back muscles, and the muscles around the hip joint excessively to support the head, the thorax, and the pelvis correspondingly. They support all of the head, the thorax, and the pelvis as a set at the same time. Then, practicing the “neck free” will become a partial coping action possible to take away the excessiveness from the way of supporting the head, and in turn, by this coping action the excessiveness in the other parts will tend to be taken away together as well. Therefore, it is easy to minimize the muscular tension for supporting the whole body by minimizing the muscular tension in the neck through the primary control.

The advantages of reducing the muscular tension in the activity of supporting the body are in fact very large. We are easy to give excess effort with unnecessary muscular tension for many of our activities, and this unnecessary muscular tension originally comes from this habitual pattern of supporting the body. We are able to avoid the unnecessary muscular tension especially at the time of movement by realizing the advantageous state of supporting the body. As a result of this, we are able to move effortlessly and smoothly and to perform activities without limiting the functions such as breathing and the utterance.

Minimizing the muscular tension in the neck will help us to reduce the muscle tension for supporting our body. What I want to note here is that not only the inhibition of the tension in the neck but also the inhibition of the tension in the abdominal muscles will help it. In fact, we can detect the tension in the abdominal muscles easier than that in the neck muscles. There are some advantages for us to be aware of the abdominal tension in order to reduce the tension in the whole body. So, I recommend people to be aware of it together with the neck tension.

The reason of “the back lengthen”

I now describe another reason that the primary control leads the advantageous state of supporting the body. It is because the direction “the back lengthen and widen” will be a sense possible for an executant to receive in the advantageous state through the Bone weight control.

One characteristic when a person realizes the advantageous state in the standing position through the Bone weight control is that the person will receive more weight of their body at the front side of the body. This comes from the fact in kinesiology. The position of the center of gravity of the body in the standing position in the sagittal plane is in a little front than the ankle joint which becomes a fulcrum. In addition, the spinal column becoming a prop is positioned in not the center but the posterior side of the body. The center of gravity of the head is also in front than the atlas (the top vertebra) becoming a fulcrum. So, the body bears the force to be declined slightly forward in an appropriate state.

It is our original way of supporting the body not to fall forward with using the muscles in the posterior side of the body, such as the erector spinae and glutei. However, many people tend to be opposite and declining backward a little through making the retroversion of the pelvis. In this case, the person will use the muscles in the anterior side of the body more for not to fall backward. In addition, there are other people who make their spinal column bend backward using the back muscles excessively. In this case, the person will also use the anterior muscles more matching against the pull of the back muscles. In either way, the person will make the abdominal muscles and the anterior muscles in the neck be involved more in the activity of supporting the body. If this pattern is established as a habit, the person will tighten the abdominal muscles and the muscles in the neck immediately and make them overuse with the back muscles for supporting the body, especially at the time of the movement when it requires some more support. This is going to be the pattern of the excess supporting.

If a person performs a movement that does not require much force or fast speed, the person is able to support the body with mainly using the back muscles during the movement and let both the abdominal muscles and the anterior cervical muscles relaxed at a certain degree. Nevertheless, when the person has the habitual pattern to use the muscles in the anterior side of the body, the person will strengthen these muscle tension immediately and fall into the excess supporting. When in the state of excess supporting, it may cause low back pain by the excess tension in the back muscles and will limit function such as breathing and the utterance by the excess tension in the abdominal muscles and the anterior cervical muscles.

I have mentioned that the state of Bone weight control becomes our original state, and we receives the body weight more at the front side of the body in this state. The back muscles will work being lengthened slightly through receiving the pull caused by the moment of force which is the force declining the upper body forward. It may be said that the back muscles comes to work passively to compete against the pulling force. (Figure 2) In this condition, the kinesthesia that the person comes to get becomes “the back lengthen”. So, when the person gets a sense “the back lengthen”, the person is in the state receiving the force that the upper body falls forward a little. Therefore, having the direction “the back lengthen”, we are able to lead the appropriate state of supporting the body. We are also able to confirm by ourselves being an appropriate state by getting this sense.

Figure 2. The state of Bone weight control.
The back muscles are stretched by receiving the pulling force of gravity.

What I want to note here is that the sense “the back lengthen” does not have any standard, so it is difficult to specify “how much the back should lengthen”. It becomes hard to identify the adequate condition. I recommend people to have “the sense receiving the weight a little at the front side of the body”, which is actually expressing our original state. This sense has been evaluated with a standard: whether the weight is felt more at the front side or back side, and it becomes easy for us to identify the adequate condition.

The reason of “the back widen”

I now describe what does it mean by another direction “the back widen”. This becomes the direction to achieve the advantageous way of supporting the arms. The person adopting the excess supporting tends to support their arms too much as well. Originally we do not have to support our arms with the active contraction of the muscles around the shoulders and scapulas, and all we do is to let the arms be hanged. However, some people contract muscles actively to support the arms. This tendency is often seen particularly at the time of movement. When a person adopts this excess arm supporting, the person will render the muscles in their arms and neck tight and may suffer problems such as the arthritis or the inflammation of a tendon sheath. They will make their arm movement stiff. It becomes a disadvantageous way of supporting the arms.

The advantageous way of supporting the arms is to let the arms be hanged without the active contraction of the muscles in the arms. In this case, the weight of the arms will pull the head and the sternum. It is because the clavicles and scapulas, the arm bones, are connected with the cranium through the trapezius, and the clavicles are jointed with the sternum.

In this case, the muscles both in the posterior side of the neck and around the scapulas are going to be stretched moderately toward the arms by the weight of the arms when the head is supported adequately. (Figure 3) In this condition, the kinesthesia that the person comes to get becomes “the back widen”. Therefore, having the direction “the back widen”, we are able to lead the advantageous state of supporting the arms. We are also able to confirm by ourselves being an appropriate state by getting this sense.

Figure 3. The skeletal structure of the arms (seen from above). 
The muscles in the posterior side of the neck and around the scapulas are stretched 
by receiving the pulling force of the arm weight.

As well as the case “the back lengthen”, the sense “the back widen” is difficult to specify “how much the back should widen”. So, I recommend people to have “the thought letting the arms be hanged from the head and sternum” and “the sense that both the head and sternum are pulled”. This direction gives a specific condition, so it becomes easy for us to identify the adequate condition. In addition, it is easy for us to image it and to apply it to the movement of the arm.

The practice of the primary control is surely helpful. However, seeing from a point of view with interpreting the primary control as the direction leading the advantageous way of supporting the body, it can be said that there is insufficiency, and there are some points to be covered. The major points not covered are the following: 1) the control of the pelvis, 2) the control of the position of the center of gravity of the body in relation to the support parts, 3) the inhibition of the excess tension in the abdominal muscles. If the primary control is the control which includes these factors and it has expression which is easy to identify the ideal condition, we will be able to achieve the advantageous way of supporting the body for surer. As a result, we are for surer able to reduce burdens on the body and improve the quality of the movement.

The new interpretation as the way of supporting the body

We support our body except in the position of lying down. However, we don’t think that we are doing it. It is because we will succeed it even if we don’t think about it. In other words, we build an automatic program for the way of supporting the body in the brain (mainly the cerebellum) so that it will be done without thinking, and we are depending on it. The content of this automatic program makes us support our body too firmly as the excess supporting, and thus we will have unnecessary muscular tension and limitation of the functions. Furthermore, this automatic program is “end gaining”. The program will just be targeting for the end such as “the body is supported” and “not falling down”, and it has no consideration of effectiveness nor efficiency in terms of the way of supporting the body. Even if we leave it as it is, we will actually succeed to support our body and accomplish most of our daily activities. However, we end up increasing burdens on the body and deteriorating the quality of our movement. It will also be difficult for us to alleviate psychological strain.

I think that a method to correct the way of supporting the body to an advantageous one becomes the Alexander Technique. Such an interpretation is not common. It is usually interpreted as following: we tend to pull our head down and back with adding the excess muscular tension in the neck because of the startle response or the fight-or-flight response, and we will be better if we inhibit these responses. So, the muscular tension in the neck or in the whole body will be caused by these responses. If we interpret in this way, we will not explain the AT rationally as we have not been able to explain it well. My interpretation is that the excess muscular tension is caused by the habitual way of supporting the body. The habitual muscular tension may be ignited by these responses such as the startle response, but the pattern of the muscular tension originally comes from the way of supporting the body. In this way we are able to explain its principles and methodology of the AT more reasonably as I describe the primary control here. We will be able to apply the Technique to various activities easier with this.

Anyone inevitably do the activity of supporting the body in most of the time. Why not pay attention to it again? Why not try the new interpretation as the advantageous way of supporting the body? It is worth testing it. 

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