Importance of the head-neck junction

Towards a neurophysiology of the AT

Work at Lund University

Allowing the right thing to happen

The flexibility and versatility of human behaviour is only possible because most of it relies on the body's reflex muscle systems. When these are working properly, they bring about a smooth integration of the body in all its activities.

The reflex systems will not be forced. The way to health and poise is to know how to get out of their way and allow them to do their job properly.

This may seem a strange thing to say in era which has coined the phrase No pain no gain. But there is a century of neuro-physiological research to support it.


There is no doubt that the AT works. But we still lack a thorough understanding of what is happening at a neurophysiological level when a pupil has a course of Alexander lessons. But we have an increasing number of pointers.

The bedrock is provided by classic study of the postural reflexes published by the physiologist Professor Rudolph Magnus in 1925 which he and his research team had begun work on seventeen years previously. The results of this study helped Alexander crystallise his own thinking on what he came to call "the primary control".

Alexander was undoubtedly right in identifying the special importance of the head-neck junction to the overall working of the body but his discussion of it is couched in his own rather peculiar language which may deter some scientists. The attached paper The special importance of the head-neck junction is an attempt to describe the working of the head-neck junction and its special role in the neurophysiology of the body in ordinary scientific terms. The aim is to make the AT more accessible to scientific understanding and critique. Any comments or criticism are very welcome.

The AT has, in fact, attracted some distinguished scientific attention. In 1941, Sir Charles Sherrington, the founder of modern neuroscientist and its greatest thinker, praised Alexander for "insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psychophysical man. To take a step is an affair not of this or limb solely but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment - not least of the head and neck".

The distinguished Dutch scientist, Nikolaas Tinbergen, Professor of Animal Behaviour in Oxford University, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1973. He surprised and somewhat outraged the scientific world by devoting half his acceptance speech to praising the Alexander Technique.

He had been so impressed with the effect Alexander lessons had on his daughter, a cello-player, that he and his wife had signed up for lessons themselves. He told his audience of scientists that "...between the three of us, we already notice with growing amazement, very striking improvements in such diverse things as high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep,, overall cheerfulness and mental alertness, resilience against outside pressures, and also in such a refined skill as playing a stringed instrument."

In the last sixty years other distinguished scientists and the general progress of science have provided further insights into how the AT works and delivers its benefits. The attached paper Towards a neurophysiology of the AT attempts to draw together the work of Magnus, Sherrington and subsequent researchers into a preliminary neurophysiological overview within which the AT can usefully be considered.

You will find the latest draft of the paper here or through the neurophysiology link in the sidebar. It is a work in progress and any comments will be gratefully received.

Dr Mikael Karlberg and his colleagues at Lund Univesity carried out series of studies into the working of the head-neck relationship during the 1990s. There is no reference to the AT in this work which probably explains why it has not had the visibility it deserves in the AT. I produced a paper giving an AT-oriented summary of this work a couple of years ago which is available (here) or by clicking on the link in the sidebar. I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who has more up-to-date information on any AT-relevant work currently being carried out in Lund or elsewhere.