‘Neck to be free’ is a frequent expression for the purpose of reducing excessive muscular tension around the head–neck–back area as a preliminary for the head going forward and up. Several other expressions exist in the literature. This entry considers all such expressions regarding the neck.
F. M. Alexander
Before Alexander formulated any orders or directions for the neck to relax or be free, he made references to the excessive muscular tension around the neck area.
In 1903 Alexander makes the first reference to the neck when he talks about ‘a strong and apparent contraction of the throat and neck muscles’ being a defect and a harmful habit. And states that if ‘the throat and neck muscles, the larynx and the shoulders remain passive’ then ‘the breath will pass noiselessly into the lungs . . .’
In 1906 he talks about the ‘undue rigidity of the neck’. In 1907 he writes about the neck being ‘unduly tensed and shortened’. In 1908 he refers to the ‘stiff necks’ of soldiers, and generally to the ‘neck unduly stiffened’.
It is in ‘Re-Education of the Kinæsthetic Systems’ (1908) that references to the neck feature more frequently, and where it is first described that the teacher provides the orders for, among others, ‘the freedom of the neck (i.e. requisite natural laxness)’.
In CCC Alexander writes:
The teacher further explains that, as the pupil’s sensory appreciation is unreliable, it is unlikely that he will be able to do anything himself to remedy these defects, but that if he will inhibit his desire to stiffen his neck, and give himself the guiding orders or directions to relax it, the teacher will be able by means of manipulation to bring about such a general readjustment of his body that, as a result, his neck will be relaxed.
In UoS Alexander does not mention the order ‘neck to relax’ but talks about the use of his neck which ‘was associated with a depressing of the larynx’ or a ‘wrong use’ of the head and neck, and of discovering a ‘new use’ of his head and neck, a use which ‘which was not associated with hoarseness.’
In UCL Alexander talks about a ‘certain’ use of the head and neck, and of ‘a particular relativity of the head to the neck and the head and neck to the other parts of the organism tended to improve general use and functioning of the organism as a whole. . .’
Alexander continued considering how best to communicate the undoing of unwanted tension in and around the neck. Walter Carrington writes in his 1946 diary:
At tea FM said that he had, at last, decided that we must cut out in future teaching all instructions to order the neck to relax or to be free because such orders only lead to other forms of doing. If a person is stiffening the neck, the remedy is to get them to stop projecting the messages that are bringing about this condition and not to project messages to counteract the effects of the other messages.
And Goddard Binkley in his diary of lessons with Alexander:
‘So, in our work, it’s not just a question of relaxing the neck. That is the wrong point of view. The point is to stop doing with the neck what needs to be done only with the arms or legs, etc.’
However, Alexander continued to use the directions ‘neck to be free’ in his teaching. Goddard Binkley makes several references to Alexander referring to freeing the neck in his diary of lessons, for example he quotes Alexander for telling him:
Once you get that widening of your back, you will be all set. And you get it by allowing the head to go forward and up, by freeing the neck…
All I want you to do is to pay attention to your neck and head, so that your neck is free and your head will go forward and up.
You convert this step of inhibition into the primary activity of freeing the neck, allowing the head to go forward and up, lengthening and widening the back, expanding the chest, and so on. [See also pages 54, 88.]
For more descriptions of Alexander’s neck directions in his teaching, see Descriptions of F. M. Alexander.
First generation teachers
Lulie Westfeldt who trained with Alexander on his first teachers training course, used the term ‘neck free’.
Patrick Macdonald often used the phrase ‘Let the neck be free’.
Marjorie Barstow would often use the phrasing ‘allow your head to delicately balance on the top of your spine’, thereby indirectly indicating a freeing or a non-doing of the neck.
Margaret Goldie preferred the phrase ‘quiet’: ‘Get it into your brain that you want to be quieter at the head and neck.’
Some teachers emphasize a preventative phrasing, e.g. ‘not to stiffen the neck’, ‘not to tighten the neck’.
Pupils have reported their own phrasings; for example, a pupil of Alexander in 1919 wrote: ‘We have to be taught to walk without using our neck and needless abdominal tension.’ Another pupil of Alexander’s wrote in 1942: ‘I was to keep my neck limber and not strain.’
- ‘On freeing the neck - Excerpts from a conversation’ by Walter Carrington, Christopher Stevens.
- ‘Why do we tense our necks?’ by Michael Protzel.
See also Directions.