Sample Profile

Description of movement categories in each KMP diagram as illustrated above

The KMP contains nine categories of movement patterns representing two lines of development. System I, or diagrams on the left side of the KMP, documents a line of development beginning with movement patterns available to the fetus and newborn and continuing throughout life. Tension-flow rhythms and tension-flow attributes describe inner needs, feelings and affects. The System evolves to pre-effort and effort diagrams reflecting more advanced patterns in response to learning modes and environmental challenges. System II, diagrams on the right side of the KMP, documents a line of development dealing with relationships to people and things. The top diagrams, bipolar and unipolar shape-flow, represent movement patterns available to the fetus and newborn that continue throughout life. They describe, respectively, symmetrical and asymmetrical dimensional body expansion and contraction. Next, shape-flow design represents movement pathways towards and away from the body, followed by shaping in directions representing patterns that form linear vectors and finally shaping in planes represents elliptical designs within one or more spatial planes [This diagram has low reliability and is not presently being used].. The KMP graphically depicts 120 distinct movement factors (across 29 polar dimensions) and includes a body attitude description and qualifying numerical data.

Each of the nine KMP diagrams composing the KMP profile (Figure 1 is an example of a KMP profile) refer to a specific category of movement. The observational, developmental and interpretive characteristics of the KMP’s movement categories are summarized below. For much more detail, sample exercises, and discussion, please consult The Meaning of Movement text book about the KMP.

Tension-Flow Rhythms

The KMP outlines how development proceeds through a sequence of phases, during which certain movement qualities become more common and more instrumental than others in shaping maturation. Among the most basic are movements that consist of rhythmic and semi-rhythmic contractions (bound flow) and relaxations ( free flow) of muscle tension. The KMP labels these, tension flow rhythms. (see Kestenberg Amighi, et. al, 1999). For example, one of the earliest rhythms is a smooth steady alternation of bound and free muscle tension that an infant uses to suck milk from a nipple or bottle. As development proceeds through each phase, individual preferences for different movement patterns surface and change and are reflected in the qualities of movement that are most likely to play a prominent role as maturation proceeds.

Variations between free and bound flow are rhythmic, often irregular, in their intervals. Ten rhythmic patterns have been identified, corresponding in pairs to the five major developmental phases: oral, anal, urethral, inner-genital and outer genital (Kestenberg, 1975). Within each of these phases is a subphase of rhythms promoting mobility and indulging qualities and a subphase that promotes stability and fighting qualities.

The ten basic rhythms are sucking, snapping/biting, twisting, strain/release, running/drifting, starting/stopping, swaying, surging/birthing, jumping, and spurting/ramming. At the height of each phase, we expect to see the largest proportion of rhythms typical for that phase, but all of the rhythms are still available to the individual. For example, the oral/sucking rhythm would be most prominent rhythm in the oral indulging phase. Frequency distributions appear to reflect consistent individual differences. The rhythms seems to arise from biological zones which support functions, such as sucking milk, urinating, defecating, etc. However, these rhythms tends to spread to other parts of the body, such as the fingers or toes. Different areas of the body may move in concert or may express varied rhythmic patterns.

People sometimes move using very distinct pure rhythms, but often they also move using mixed or blended rhythms in varied patterns. Individuals preferences for specific tension-flow rhythms indicate their preferred methods of drive discharge. Looking at a large sample of tension flow rhythms, the observer can construct a preliminary profile of that person’s needs constellations and predominant personality patterns. For example, someone who exhibits a high frequency of running/drifting rhythms tends to be heedless of time, easily lost or losing things, and enjoys relaxing more than confronting time. Typically dominant at the age of about two, this rhythm is often common, but it may persist and continue to be dominant throughout life. Comparison of tension-flow rhythm patterns in interpersonal relationships, such as between mother and child, reveals the areas of potential complementarity or conflict in the relationship, in terms of needs.

Tension-Flow Attributes

Tension Flow is a manifestation of animate muscle elasticity as well as inanimate phrases which we call neutral flow. a continuum of muscular elasticity. Bound flow is used in restraining movement. It occurs when agonist and antagonist muscles contract simultaneously. Free flow is the basis for a releasing movement that occurs when a contraction of the agonist muscles is not counteracted by the antagonists. Neutral flow refers to a limited range of flow observed in limpness, de-animination, illness or numbing.

Six other attributes of Tension-flow have been identified. They describe tension changes along three dimensions:

Even flow or flow adjustment;

high or low intensity;

abrupt or gradual changes.

Tension-flow attributes are preferences for fighting or indulging patterns of arousal and quiescence. These preferences are present from birth (and even before); they show increasing stability as the individual matures, influenced both by developmental factors and by individual temperament. Although tension-flow patterns continue throughout childhood and into adulthood, they tend to become subordinated to more advanced movement factors when a person is dealing with space, weight, and time.

Interpretively, tension-flow is linked to affect regulation: bound flow and fighting attributes are associated with cautious feelings, while free flow and indulging attributes are associated with carefree feelings. More subtle or complex affects are related to combinations of tension-flow attributes.

Precursors of Effort

Laban used the term effort (1960; Laban & Lawrence, 1947) to describe movement changes (including tension-flow) in relationship to space, weight and time. KMP researchers discovered that efforts are developmentally preceded by precursors of effort, affectively charged ways of manipulating the external environment, which become motor counterparts of defense mechanisms and styles of learning. The KMP describes six pairs of precursors of effort: channeling vs. flexible, straining and vehemence vs. gentle, and sudden vs. hesitating. The first element of each pair is fighting, while the second element is indulgent. For example, channeling keeps tension levels even to follow precise pathways in space; this has a fighting character. Its opposite, the flexible precursor of effort, changes tension levels to meander around in space and is thus more indulgent. In terms of defense mechanisms, isolation can take the form of channeling, using an even flow of tension. Avoidance may be put to defensive use in the form of flexibility. Like defenses, the precursors of effort can be either problematic or constructive--isolation can be either affective disassociation or objective thinking.

The precursors of effort build upon tension flow attributes. When a person is attempting a new skill, she tends to begin with an inner orientation. She focuses on regulating her inner muscle tension to perform the task. But to be effective in regard to space weight or time, she must also attend to the external environment. For example, she tries to be strong and tenses her muscles as she lifts an object. But because of her inner orientation, the impact may be reduced. In fact she looks like she is trying rather than looking strong. Such movements that have both an inner and outer body orientation are identified as pre-efforts. When the mover becomes comfortable and competent in a task, she can be completely outer oriented and more effective. Then we see the emergence of efforts.


Efforts are the motor components of ways of coping with external reality in terms of space, weight and time. KMP speaks of relating to space in a direct or indirect fashion; one can relate to weight by fighting gravity with strength or indulging in gravity with lightness; one can fight time with acceleration or indulge in time with deceleration. Direct, strong and acceleration are fighting effort elements, while indirect, light and deceleration are more accommodating ways of dealing with space, weight and time. The line of development of an effort element may be traced back to a specific precursor of effort and, even further, to a specific tension-flow attribute pattern. The individual's mature constellation of effort elements shows their preferences in terms of attention, intention and decision-making.

Bipolar Shape-Flow

Symmetrical changes in bipolar shape-flow express shifts in affective relations with the environment as well as l self feelings. More specifically, Bipolar shape-flow is the symmetrical growing and shrinking expansion and contraction of the body in response to the surrounding environmental and inner moods and self-feelings. For example, a person may shrink in a cold space and grow in response to warmth. Likewise a person may shrink in reaction to feeling sad or lonely and growth in reaction to feelings of joy and glory.

The underlying prototype for bipolar shape flow is grounded in breathing. We grow with inhalation and shrink with exhalation. Growing and shrinking occur in three dimensions: horizontal (width), vertical (length) and sagittal (depth). Bipolar shape-flow expresses the individual's emotional state in the surrounding environment, and structures their discharge of fighting and indulging drives.

Unipolar Shape-Flow

In unipolar shape-flow, the body grows and shrinks asymmetrically, expressing attraction or repulsion toward discrete stimuli. We generally shrink away from noxious stimuli and grow towards pleasant stimuli. Unipolar shape-flow also occurs in three dimensions: horizontal (lateral vs. medial), vertical (cephalad vs. caudal) and sagittal (anterior vs. posterior). In a vertical unipolar movement the body grows only upward or downward (vs. a vertical bipolar movement which lengthens both upward and downward). Unipolar shape-flow evolves from reflexive behavior and becomes a system of extending the body in space (shaping of space in directions).

Shape-Flow Design

Along with changes in body shape, body movement also creates designs in personal space. These movements can be either away from the body (centrifugal) or toward the body (centripetal). They are classified in terms of their linearity, their degree of amplitude and their angularity. Shape-flow design is notated somewhat like tension-flow, but utilizing spatial rather than tension parameters. Shape-flow design patterns reflect the individual's style of relating and feelings of relatedness. They are influenced by cultural conditioning, congenital preferences, developmental stages and situational factors. This movement category is difficult to notate reliably.

Shaping of Space in Directions

Shaping in directions is formed by the linear projection of the body into dimensional space. These directional movements bridge distant objects with the self. Directions in space include moving across the body and moving sideways (horizontal), moving downward and moving upward (vertical), and moving backward and moving forward (sagittal). Directional patterns are associated with precursors of effort, defenses against external stimuli, and learning behaviors. Closed-shape directions (moving sideways, upward and forward) form boundaries, limiting outside access to near space or to the body. For example, moving across the body creates a shield against frontal and side attack, while moving sideways eludes attacks from the back and side. Learned responses are linked to these defenses; for example, moving backwards, a defense against frontal attack, is associated with suddenness, allowing the mover to quickly avoid an aggressor. Likewise open shaped directional movements open access to the body. This can be a defensive move for example, in showing that one is unarmed. Or one can step sideways to elude an attack. These simple movements can serve multiple functions in addition to these defensive ones: learning, identifying objects in space, labeling, and bridging space, amongst others.

Shaping in Space in Planes

Shaping in planes configures space by creating concave or convex shapes. It is through these shapes that relationships are expressed and formed. Horizontal shaping consists of enclosing or spreading movements through which one can relate to others and explore small and large spaces; vertical shaping consists of descending or ascending movements through which one can make demands or express aspirations; sagittal shaping consists of advancing in anticipation of what’s ahead in the future or retreating, reviewing perspectives from a distance or reviewing the past. Interpretively, shaping of space in planes expresses multi-dimensional relationships with objects and their internalized images.

The Two Systems

The tension-flow/effort system (System 1), shown by the diagrams on the left side of the KMP (Figure 1), depicts developmentally evolving patterns of dealing with internal and external reality. The shape-flow/shaping system (System 2), shown by the diagrams on the right side, depicts developmentally evolving patterns of spatial movement expressing growing complexity of object relations. The two systems resonate interpretively: fighting tension-flow/effort patterns are affined (fit well), with shrinking shape-flow and closed shaping; pleasant and indulging tension-flow/effort patterns are affined with growing shape-flow and open shaping.

Other Integral Features of the KMP


The KMP is statistically constructed, and organized to optimize its use as a descriptive tool; however, it can only summarize the complex processes involved in human movement. The raw notational data supplements the profile, offering a view of the individual's characteristic patterns of phrasing. For example, certain patterns may appear more in the introduction, main theme, ending or transition of a phrase.

Gestures and Postures

Movement can occur in gestures, using just one part of the body, or in postures, involving the entire body (Lamb, 1965, 1987; Ramsden 1973). We can sometimes see movement phrases that begin with a gesture, leading into a posture and perhaps ending with a gesture. These sequences are called gesture-posture or posture-gesture merging, and are generally not integrated until adolescence. Interpretively, postures indicate a more whole-hearted involvement than gestures, since they require greater bodily participation. The load factor is a statistic that measures the complexity of a movement. Does a movement involve a quality that only relates to space, such as direct, or does the person move directly with lightness, thus relating also to weight? Combining two or three qualities in a movement action makes the movement more complex and potentially more effective. Another important statistic is the gain-expense ratio, that compares the total number of movement elements (gain) observed in one category of movement (one diagram) to the total number of tension flow changes (expense) observed. In other words it asks how many changes in muscle tension did a person use in order to achieve certain effects. A child typically will use many tension flow changes in compared to an adult. In old age we generally a great diminishment in energy expanded on each task. The more elements used, the more control over impulses is observed. The more flow changes are used, the more impulsiveness the individual expresses.

Flow Factors

Both tension-flow and shape-flow are fundamental in the experience and expression of affect. Bound flow corresponds to inhibition, discontinuity and to affects related to danger (anxiety), whereas free-flow corresponds to facilitation of impulses, continuity and to affects related to release and safety.