Working with Rhythm: Smoother movement for better coordination

As an Alexander Teacher, I have been trained to observe and analyze my students’ movements and behaviors, so that I can teach them tools to maximize their efficiency while minimizing physical and mental stress.


One measure I use to that end is movement quality. I use a couple different scales, one of which is the range from smooth to jerky.

Efficiency and smoothness can typically be enhanced in the unspecialized activities of daily living. During Alexander lessons, it is common to use the activity of standing up and sitting down in a chair to explore habit and learn more advantageous ways of coordinating our own movements.

Upon sitting, many people shift slightly behind their balance and “plop“ into a chair. There is often a point during sitting when people have the feeling they can’t bend their knees anymore, so they may pitch their upper body quite far forward, or they may pull their lower back up and press their knees together, to overcome the stiffness they experience in their knees, ankles and hips.

When standing up, there is often a lurch or jerk to get the seat off the chair, and sometimes another jerk or a tendency to lock the knees at the point of arriving in the final upright position.

In conjunction with my hands-on assistance, I help my students explore the rhythm and smoothness of their movement. Sometimes, I ask them to allow me to guide or steer their movement, so my hands generate the initial energy to begin moving. In that case, the student is learning to provide postural tone and balance support, while reducing the activity in the musculature that initiates movement. At other times, I leave my hands on to observe how they move, on their own, and to impart a calm, fluid state through my touch, as the student initiates and guides their own movement in space.

Either way, the student is learning ways to start, move and come to a stop with as little excess effort as possible. The process of slowing down creates time and space for them to reduce unneeded exertion. The mildest degree of success indicates improved smoothness and efficiency. Through this activity, the student is gaining a skill they can self-apply throughout the day.

It can also be a simple frame in which to observe oneself. If my goal is to be smooth and efficient in my actions, I have a scale to assess how I am doing. I can tell if I am more or less jerky as I work with my desire to be smooth.

Looking at the contrast of smooth/jerky when watching others move can also help a student relate to the idea.

Not every idea is useful for every student, so I like to have a wide array of ideas, tools and examples that can be demonstrated at my disposal. This is one of many approaches to directly influencing our activities in a helpful way.

Try this:

Watch yourself in a mirror while doing this exploration.

  • Touch your nose with your index finger with your non-dominant hand.

  • Try it again, moving as quickly as you can. What do you notice about the effect speed has on the smooth/jerky continuum.

  • Touch your nose with your non-dominant hand, with you main aim being to move smoothly in your arm joints and leave your head and neck poised freely on top of your head. What did you notice this time, regarding speed and the smooth/jerky continuum?

  • Explore standing up and sitting down with the goal of increasing smoothness. What do you notice?

    ©2019 N. Brooke Lieb