We human beings have, in comparison to anthropoid apes, long necks, and long necks which can appear in their full length because our shoulders are dropped. We carry this top part of the spine vertically: this means that the shoulders do not have to become more massive to carry a head which is tilted forward. All these features combine to allow the mobility of the head, and of our sight. We can turn and tilt our head, right at the top of the spine (and for greater movement also involve the spine) with unique facility among comparable mammals. We do not use the neck as a limb, which allows a creature on four feet to reach out for food on the ground or hanging from above.
Our head, poised on the top of the spine, is our awareness, our presence. We have a tendency to think of the neck as solely or principally the back of the neck. This attitude goes together with the false belief that our head connects to the spine at the back of the skull. If, in a more accurate picture of ourselves, we see the head as balanced, almost centrally, on a vertical, flexible spine, then we can start to live with the whole three-dimensional column of the neck. In the past there were such close associations, because of beasts of burden, of ‘neck’ with ‘yoke’, with carrying a burden, being weighed down – also with submission, bowing the head. In this context, stiffening the neck becomes an act of obstinacy or defiance. These are all images to do with the individual losing freedom and independence. I want to emphasise the idea of the head as our awareness, presence, and the neck as that which allows us to be free with our attention. Our head is free to move and be directed where we decide. In this picture of ourselves, we recognise the neck as needing to be both stable and mobile, but also a potential bottleneck. It’s a place of intense vulnerability because so much is passing through there and because it is the place where the head, our attention, meets all the rest of our life-and-movement-body which fulfils the plans we hatch in our heads, which expresses who we are.
So, in the practice of the Alexander Technique, whether the neck is free or stiff is a crucial indicator of what is happening throughout the whole person. From the neck we move up and out into the awareness of the person concerned and down into the instrument of the body. The freedom and ease and mobility of each are affected by the other, via this place of meeting, the neck. The neck is not solid. It includes the throat, through which we breathe and eat and drink and sing and speak. These activities allow us to keep in touch with the freedom of the neck in an intimate and human way which prevents us getting narrowly focused on the neck itself. The neck is a channel, a conduit belonging to our unique human upright presence. Keep all the different kinds of traffic flowing.