COMPANION

Head Forward and Up

F. M. Alexander

The direction ‘head forward and up’ is part of a series of directions constituting new means-whereby. F. M. Alexander wrote about the development of his technique in UoS that he discovered that in order to prevent his head being pulled back and down, he needed his head to go forward and up.[1]

In CCC Alexander writes about the phrasing ‘head forward and up’ as follows:

4. Head Forward and Up

This is one of the most inadequate and often confusing phrases used as a means of conveying our ideas in words, and it is a dangerous instruction to give to any pupil, unless the teacher first demonstrates his meaning by giving to the pupil, by means of manipulation, the exact experiences involved.[2]

The meaning of the phrasing ‘head forward and up’ has been discussed more than other directions (e.g. ‘neck to release’, ‘back to widen’, etc.).

Dr Andrew Murdoch’s suggested anatomical reasons for the primary control in his booklet, The Function of the Sub-Occipital Muscles (1937)[3]:

The greater weight of the anterior half of the cranial globe and the muscular contraction of the anterior recti muscles bring the cranial globe forward relatively to the spine whenever the powerful contractions of the large extensor muscles of the neck and the contraction of the posterior recti muscles have been inhibited. This inhibition of the contraction of the large neck muscles allows the cervical curve to become lessened, and with the resulting decompression of the inter-vertebral discs, the spine lengthens in an upward direction carrying the cranial globe with it.[4]

In his 1946 diary (21 March) Walter Carrington quotes Alexander for saying that head forward and up is a ‘matter of non-interference’:

In class FM talked and demonstrated brilliantly, but there was nothing very new in it. He did mention that Waterston had assured him with his own lips that there was no mechanism known to physiology that could move the head forward and up. This bore out his own contention that the ‘forward and up’ direction was a matter of non-interference but of allowing something to take place naturally.[5]

Lulie Westfeldt

Lulie Westfeldt writes:

‘Head forward’ might have several meanings. Most people think of it as head forward in space. Alexander in using the words meant head forward in relation to the neck. It took a long time and hard work to find this out. One realized in time that his hands, which he used in demonstrating and teaching, were always tending to take the neck back and the head forward in relation to it. Once one had discovered this, one could ask him a direct question and get his confirmation that ‘head forward’ meant ‘head forward in relation to the neck’. The head’s tending to go forward in relation to the neck causes the alignment of the head and neck to improve, in that the head is balanced on top of the neck instead of being retracted back upon it.[6]

Both Walter Carrington and F. P. Jones describes the ‘head forward and up’ as a result of a release or ‘freeing’ of neck musculature which causes the skull to rotate slight forward on the atlanto-occipital joint, since the centre of gravity of the skull is in front of the point of pivot of the supporting condyles. The ‘up’ is then described not as the result of any lifting or doing, but as a result of lengthening of musculature, predominantly the muscles of the spine and back.

F. P. Jones

See Freedom to Change.[7]

Walter Carrington

In his short article, ‘Head balance’, Walter Carrington writes:

This free poise consists of an arrangement whereby the muscles of the neck are always counteracting the weight of the head and restraining it from falling forward with an elastic tone that is neither rigid nor collapsed. This elasticity of tone permits a freedom of movement but a degree of constraint that prevents the weight of the head from acting out of control.[8]

Wilfred Barlow

Wilfred Barlow described ‘head forward and up’ as the prevention of backward and down.[9]

Patrick Macdonald

It is useful to consider the ‘forward’ as an unlocking of the head at the atlanto-occipital joint by refraining from tightening and pulling it backwards in the accustomed way, and the ‘up’ as a tiny extension of the spine, which is achieved following this unlocking. The movement, if any, is, in an experienced pupil, so small as to be hardly a movement at all.[10]

Illustrations

The ‘head forward and up’ has been illustrated several times, especially in introductory books to the Technique. Sometimes the forward and up has been illustrated as the vector formed by the axes of a forward direction and an up direction.

Some books illustrating ‘head forward and up’:

  • The Art of Changing by Glen Park.[11]
  • Directed Activities by Gerard Grennell.[12]
  • Mind and Muscle by Elizabeth Langford.[13]

Articles

  • Both ‘The function of the sub-occipital muscles’ by Dr A. Murdoch,[14] and ‘Reorientation of the view point upon the study of anatomy’ by Dr Mungo Douglas[15] considers the sub-occipital muscles and their role in head balancing.
  • ‘Head at the end of its tether – An analysis of primary control’ by John M. Wynhausen suggests that the ‘head forward and up’ happens by the action of the muscles sternocleido-mastoid and platysma.[16] This view was subsequently severely contested in two letters, ‘Writers and the end of their tethers’ by Heather R. Kroll, Donald L. Weed, and ‘Writers and the end of their tethers’ by Kathleen J. Ballard.[17]
  • ‘What do we mean by the head in the Alexander Technique?’ by Galen Cranz.[18]

Criticisms

The philosopher Richard Shusterman has understood the phrasing ‘head forward and up’ as a position, and criticised it:

In many positions of untroubled rest, there is obviously no need to hold the head forward and up to achieve the regularity of our movements of breathing, and still more obviously no need for conscious control of this position. Even in consciously willed movements, such as rolling oneself over in bed, the postural orientation of the pelvis (or other body parts) can be equally or more important than holding the head forward and up; indeed for some movements (like swallowing), pulling the head back can be more advantageous.[19]

See Walter Carrington for a rejection of ‘head forward and up’ as a position, for example that it means you cannot drink a glass of milk, etc.;[20] and Dilys Carrington[21]; and Kirk Rengstorff’s notes from training with Walter Carrington.[22]

See also Directing–Directions, Primary Control.

References

[1] The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), p. 14.
[2] Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), p. 113.
[3] Dr A. Murdoch, The Function of the Sub-Occipital Muscles booklet (author?, 1937). Also in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 251–64.
[4] A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), p. 260.
[5] A Time to Remember by Walter H. M. Carrington (The Sheildrake Press, 1996), p. 10.
[6] F. Matthias Alexander: The Man and His Work by Lulie Westfeldt (Mouritz, 1998 [1964]), pp. 138–39.
[7] Freedom to Change [Body Awareness in Action] by Frank Pierce Jones (Mouritz, 1997 [1976]), pp. 144–49.
[8] ‘Head balance’ by Walter Carrington in An Evolution of the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Dilys Carrington (Sheildrake Press, 2017), p. 87.
[9] The Alexander Principle by Wilfred Barlow (Gollancz, 1973), p. 165.
[10] The Alexander Technique As I See It by Patrick Macdonald (Mouritz, 2015), p. 69.
[11] The Art of Changing – A New Approach to The Alexander Technique by Glen Park (Ashgrove Publishing, 1989), p. 85.
[12] Directed Activities by Gerard Grennell (Mouritz, 2002), pp. 34–35, 91.
[13] Mind and Muscle by Elizabeth Langford (Garant, 1999), pp. 94–95.
[14] ‘The function of the sub-occipital muscles’ by Dr A. Murdoch in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 251–64.
[15] ‘Reorientation of the view point upon the study of anatomy’ by Dr Mungo Douglas in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 109–14.
[16] ‘Head at the end of its tether – An analysis of primary control’ by John M. Wynhausen in Direction vol. 1, no. 4 edited by Jeremy Chance (Fyncot Pty Ltd., 1988), pp. 138–40.
[17] ‘Writers and the end of their tethers’ by Heather R. Kroll, Donald L. Weed, and ‘Writers and the end of their tethers’ by Kathleen J. Ballard in Direction vol. 1, no. 5 edited by Jeremy Chance (Fyncot Pty Ltd., 1989), pp. 196–97.
[18] ‘What do we mean by the head in the Alexander Technique?’ by Galen Cranz in AmSAT Journal Journal no. 4, Fall 2013, pp. 52–57.
[19] Body Consciousness – A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics by Richard Shusterman (Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 206.
[20] Explaining the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2004), p. 127.
[21] ‘Human movement’ by Dilys Carrington in An Evolution of the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Dilys Carrington (Sheildrake Press, 2017), p. 266.
[22] ‘Alexander Teacher Training Course Notes 1955–59’ by Kirk Rengstorff in An Evolution of the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Dilys Carrington (Sheildrake Press, 2017), p. 307.