Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Good Posture Means Wearing Your Own Hat, Not Someone Else's

In some of my recent posts, I've talked about the flip-flopping effect of slouching and then attempting to correct the slouch by pulling the shoulders back and lifting the chest.  Slouching isn't so great, but lifting the chest and pulling the shoulders back is slouching too.  It's slouching backward.  When truly standing up straight, we're neither forward nor backward.  Instead, we're balanced in the middle, comfortable and breathing effortlessly.  Recently, I ventured into to one of my favorite subway stations to try on some hats and further investigate this phenomenon.
Let's take a look at the photos below and make some sense of the title of this blog, "Good Posture Means Wearing Your Own Hat, Not Someone Else's".  

Welcome to the 23rd Street N/R stop in Manhattan, where the walls of the station are decorated with tile-composed hats similar in style to hats worn by various prominent figures (the name of the person printed below each hat).  The hats have been placed on the walls at levels that correspond to the heights of the people who would have worn them.  Here I am trying on hats.  Let's see what I discovered about my posture . . .   

Endeavoring to place my head under this hat belonging to someone shorter than I am, I tipped my head back and down and adopted a slouch.  I'm shortening myself here and clearly will not succeed in inhabiting my full height while wearing this hat.  It's also not very comfortable.  I feel compressed and lack energy.  My breathing feels shallow.

Let's find a higher hat.  How about this one?  It might be a little too high, but maybe I can fit into it if I stand up really straight!  

The problem here is that in my effort to stand up straight, as predicted, I slouch backwards and actually move farther away from the hat.  I'm lifting my chest and pulling my shoulders and head back, which leads me down in the opposite direction from the slouch, but I'm still aimed down, compressing my spine and rib cage.  I feel rigid, uncomfortable, and short of breath.

How about I put on my own hat and stand up at my own height instead of trying to fit into these other hats.  That feels better!  I'm standing much more upright than when I tried on those other two hats.  I feel relaxed, energized, and I'm breathing more fully without extra effort.
I used flip-flop between slouching forward and backward all the time and I wasn't even aware of it.  The Alexander Technique helped me figure out what it feels like to stand up at my full height . . . and wear my own hat!

If you'd like to read another Posture Police Blotter post inspired by NYC subway tile art, check out this one at Prince Street Station.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Futuristic Sensor Device May Train You to Slouch Backward

The following article and video about LumoBack appeared in yesterday's Wall Stree Journal.  LumoBack is a new, wear-able posture-sensing device. It's promoted as a digital "Mom" reminding you to sit up straight.  

Have you ever been reminded to stand or sit up straight?  Did you find the reminder truly helpful?  If you then attempted to straighten, was it comfortable, or did you feel frustrated and think that you could never have "good posture" and feel good?  This device may not be much more help than "Mom" (and it won't make you dinner or send you cupcakes in the mail).  

See the article and video below:



LumoBack is a bluetooth device that you wear discreetly around your waist that connects to your smart phone.  It buzzes when your posture is off and gives you more detailed feedback on the phone app, which include illustrations of correct posture. 

The writer says:

This illustration [on the phone] helps you know how to adjust your sitting or standing position. But it's unrealistic to constantly look at a screen to check your posture so most of the times I felt these vibrating nags, I had to guess how to improve my posture.

I agree, that it's unrealistic for us to trust our own judgement regarding our body position, unless we've had some training.  I would go a step further to say that the drawings on the phone are likely not terribly useful as people will probably attempt to imitate the images by stiffening, which may not be any more comfortable or sustainable than slouching.  The writer also says:

I know it's good for me, but I don't necessarily enjoy it.

Truly "good" posture should feel relaxed and comfortable.  It should feel "good" and lead to what ever you are doing feeling more enjoyable and sustainable.

Referring to a typical "momism", she goes on to say:

LumoBack or no LumoBack, your mother will probably still bug you about your posture. So save her the trouble: Keep your shoulders back.

Nearly all of my students explain to me that someone has told them to keep their shoulders back.  Most people have the idea that a military sort of posture of lifting the chest and pinning the shoulders back is the proper and healthy way to sit, stand, and counteract slouching.  To combat the fear of slouching forward, most people actually end up "slouching" backward.  Take a look in the mirror at yourself from the side.  Hold your shoulders back will pin your shoulder blades together and down, causing tension in the upper and lower back, restricting rib movement for breathing and compressing the spine.  When my students stop doing this, they typically report relief of pain or discomfort in their backs and that it's easier to breath.  Truly "good posture" is upright, balanced and comfortable, but typically, verbal instructions and images are not enough to change long-held postural habits.  We get used to our habits and unable to accurately gauge our body position and whether or not we're using the right amount of effort in the right places.

Here I am bending a plastic knife.  This photo on the left mimics what we typically call "slouching" (dropping or pulling forward and down into the chest.)  

This photo on mimics pulling the shoulders back.  It looks like the same image, just flipped around with the "slump" in the opposite direction.

While viewing the video that accompanies the article (see at the top of the post), I learned that LumoBack may exhibit some of the same postural misconceptions as "Mom".  Pay close attention to the sequence of the woman in the burgundy shirt being monitored by the devices as shown on the smart phone on the right side of the screen. If you take a look at about 1m18sec into the video, you'll see a woman stand up out of a chair and the stick figure on her device "mirror" what she's doing.  When she is fully standing, she's leaning back (pulling her shoulders back aka "slouching backward").  The stick figure is standing perfectly straight, indicating that she exhibits good posture here, while she's actually leaning back and in effect pulling her upper body back and down.

Though I think that this device may help people become more aware of their posture and of how much time they spend sitting, it doesn't appear to always give accurate feedback, and even if it did, it doesn't provide a kinesthetic experience, like an Alexander Technique lesson does.  It could be useful, especially if used hand-in-hand with kinesthetic education, but left to its own "devices" I think it's likely that people will continue to find sitting up straight to be a pain and a strain.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Up Side of Tension

As I was just looking through some photos I took of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge yesterday, I thought I'd write a post in support of my good friend, tension, because I get a lot of support from him/her . . . it.                     

Tension gets a bad rap.  Relaxation = good.  Tension = bad.  Tell that to this bridge!  Suspension bridges maintain their support and structure through tension and balance and so do we.  You may associate tension with stress, when in fact, it's tension that keeps us upright.  You wouldn't be sitting at your desk or standing and holding your smartphone, walking, running, jumping or doing anything at all without tension.  

So, what happens when we get stressed?  We end up tensing muscles that we shouldn't be tensing, muscles that are intended for movement instead of postural support.  These muscles are only supposed to work in short bursts and fatigue quickly.  This chronic tensing of muscles that shouldn't be tense all the time often feels uncomfortable and results in strain and pain.  Because of this misplaced tension, our postural muscles, the muscles that should be holding us up all of the time,lose tone.  Postural muscles work to hold us up without any conscious effort on our part.  If you have the intention to stay standing or sitting, they'll work to hold you up without you having to tighten or move them, but they don't work so well if other muscles are doing the work for them.

Then what's the problem here if it isn't tension?  The problem is balance.  Your muscle tone throughout your body gets out of balance when you react to stress by overusing muscles that shouldn't be working so hard all the time.  If you are stressed and straining at your desk all day, holding your shoulders up or pressing them down, tensing your neck, arms, and your thighs, then you will train your muscles and brain to understand that this state is normal and is how you should hold yourself up.

Alexander Technique lessons help people feel that what they are doing normally isn't necessarily natural and may be the source of discomfort and pain.  If you learn to react to stress differently and not tense your moving muscles all day, then you're postural muscles will tone up and sitting and standing can feel comfortable.  We have our own suspension system and if any area is too slack or too tense,the whole structure becomes distorted and tends to pull down and in on itself.  Return to balance and you'll expand up and out, reducing strain on any particular part.  That's the "up" side of tension. 

Good thing that bridges don't have desk jobs!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mind or Body? Duck or Human?

Yesterday evening I was humbly enlightened by one of my children.  She and her sister presented me with two similar drawings pictured above.  When speaking of the creatures they had drawn, I described one as featuring a human head and duck body and the other as featuring a duck head and human body.  Upon receiving my description, my daughter replied, "A head is a part of a body."  I laughed at myself and agreed with her, stating that I disagreed with my initial take on the drawings.

This conversation may come across as a debate in semantics, but I think it's much more than that.  The language we use reflects our thoughts, beliefs, and habitual ways of living. People often talk about being stuck "in their head", which keeps them from feeling present and fully embodied.  We often think of exercising our minds and bodies separately as if they were disconnected parts of us.  A split is created between mind and body that weakens our ability to accurately feel what our bodies are doing and makes us more prone to strain and injury.

It's easy to get the idea that since with your head you think, listen, see, hear, smell, taste, that the rest of you, your "body" just takes you around and gets you places and you exercise it so that it will look good.

There's a lot going on cognitively and in terms of our senses in our heads, but our heads are just as much a part of our bodies as everything below.  The more we live as a whole person, the more present we feel.  We feel more integrated and lively, less likely to strain or injure ourselves when working out, and more likely to be aware of our posture when we're tapping away on our electronic devices.

One of F.M. Alexander's books on the Alexander Technique is titled "The Use of the Self".  "Self" gets around the division unifies mind and body.  When learning the Alexander Technique, people learn to use themselves well.  Sometimes the tune of "using yourself" rings oddly to the ear, which makes sense.  It's not something often said if we think of mind and body as separate.

So here's the big question that you can feel free to answer in the comments below . . . Would you rather have a human head and duck "rest of body" or a duck head and human "rest of body".  :-)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Improve Your Relationship with Your Chair

The more we sit and compute, the more of an adversarial role we tend to take with our chairs.  Just recently the Posture Police were called in to resolve the fight pictured above between a beagle and lounge chair.  

Earlier this week Businessweek published an interview with Alexander Technique teacher, Teva Bjerken advising on chairs in a SOHO furniture shop.  At the end of the article, she idicates after having rated many chairs, that if the person uses their body poorly, they may use any chair poorly.  Agreed!  A well-designed chair does not guarantee that a person will sit in it well.  Nonetheless, a chair designed well for the purposes of working at a computer can encourage less strenuous sitting.

Here are some guidelines to consider when purchasing a desk chair or modifying one that you already have.

1.  It's the right size - Make sure that you can adjust the chair so that your feet touch the floor when you are sitting all the way back.  A foot rest and or added back support can help if you would prefer to modify a chair you already have.

2.  Not too cushy - Whether you'd like cushioning at all is up to you, but either way you should ideally be able to feel the firm surface of the seat of the chair.  Sitting on something firm helps to prevent us from sinking down and too much cushioning near the front of the seat can put a lot of pressure on the backs of the thighs.

3.  Angle of seat - Make sure that the seat isn't angled back.  Instead check that it's flat or even angled slightly forward and down toward your feet.  This will help to keep your thighs from tensing up.  A foam wedge can do the trick if you'd like to modify a chair that you already have.

4. Back of Chair - For working at a computer, make sure that the back is straight up and that when you lean back, you're butt is all the way back in the corner so that you use the support and don't slump.  Save chairs that angle back for lounging.

So, Snoopy, after taking these tips into consideration, have you decided on a chair that will suit your needs?

snoopy sits upon his house typing 

You manage to sit human-style with very little trouble.  No chair required.  You look upright and comfortable.  Is that a PC or a Mac you are using?

Check out the Businessweek article for more information on choosing a chair.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Posture Check-List for Using Your Devices

New and varied technology is being developed so quickly, that these rectangle screens on which we view content, make content, send emails and messages, and place phone calls are generally being referred to as "devices".  A nice blanket word for a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or tablet that morphs into a laptop, and vice-versa.

If we thought that we were developing back, neck and shoulder pain sitting at a desk in front of a computer, we now don't even get a rest from our technology-induced postures when we are on the go.  The good news is that using a device does not have to be synonymous with strain.  

Here are a few things to keep in mind when using your devices:

1.  Move down, don't drop down - Typing on a smartphone or tablet usually involves holding it far than your eyes and looking down at it.  What causes strain is when you collapse down toward the thing that you are looking at.  Resist the urge to push your chin forward and sink down into your chest.  Instead of collapsing down, move down.  Start by looking at your device by first only moving your eyes, then let your head tilt by moving your brow first, not your chin.  

2.  Lift your device higher - This may seem obvious, but it is commonly ignored.  Move your device closer to your face with your hands so that you don't have to move down as far to see it.  Make sure that you don't lift your shoulders or pull your shoulder blades together as you lift.

3.  Less "work" doesn't mean less strain - Touch screens and the soft keyboards on laptops hardly require any effort to use . . . hardly any effort for the finger that is touching them, that is.  The low impact-typing that is required can actually be more of a strain than a relief.  The keys on ergonomic keyboards are designed like the old-school keyboards from the 80s and 90s.  You actually have to exert some effort to press the keys down and that effort demands that your arms, back, and even your legs be  engaged in a very positive way.  When softer pressing is required, it begs very little support from the rest of the body.

You may find it useful to purchase an ergonomic keyboard at your desk, but when you are out and about with your device, give yourself an extra reminder to be aware of your feet on the ground and of your back and neck and head as you touch-screen-type.  Also, imagine that the sensation of your finger touching the screen is traveling through your arm all the way to your back.  
If you really want to experiment with high-impact typing, then invest in a typewriter!  Kidding!  (Sort of.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Harmony Between the Arms and Ribs. Your Cup of Tea?

Last weekend I enjoyed a meal at Gustorganics in the West Village.  One of the highlights of the meal was the cup of Chai tea that I ordered.  The tea itself was delicious and spicy, but what captured my interested even further was the innovative tea bag and how it gave a lovely example of how the arms and ribcage can work together in harmony.

The arms are easy to forget about when they are hanging by our sides and often become tense and pull up into the shoulders and in turn the upper ribcage or we let the arms hang loosely, which is really no better, as they then drag down on the ribcage.  In either case the ribs are not allowed to move freely as they would otherwise and breathing becomes restricted.  When lifting the arms, it is common to lift the shoulders necessarily and tighten the upper back, also restricting the ribs and breathing. 

Ideally, our arms should be like wings extending like elastic from our backs as if there were a continuous sheet of muscle going from the back, along the back of the arms, all the way to the backs of the hands and the finger tips.  The arms can be lively and consciously engaged, but not stiff, even when they are simply resting at our sides.  

When we use the arms like wing-like extensions of our backs, the ribs can move more freely and expand more during breathing.  The ribs start way up at the collar-bone and most of them wrap around from the spine to the sternum.  I mention this as it is a common misconception that the ribs are only in front.

When the arms and ribcage interact in a unified, connected, elastic way, the result is a springy feeling, rather than a tight or heavy feeling.

The handles on the teabag reminded me of the arms expanding out and allowing the springy fabric of the bag to expand like the ribs.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spatial Intent - Know where you are already going and then figure out where to go.

Spatial intent is different from movement.  It's not a position.  It's not posture, but it determines our posture.  Our spatial intent is where we are aiming ourselves and underpins everything we do.  Spatial intent is usually unconscious.

I have a background in acting and I often ask my students what their "super-objective" is at any given moment when they are walking along the sidewalk in NYC.  In acting, a character's super objective is their most basic fundamental intention that colors all other objectives and actions.  When I ask this question, common responses are:

"To get where I'm going."

"To avoid bumping into people."

These examples are objectives, but more fundamentally, a person walking along the street has the intention to stay upright and to breathe.  Many of us can take this for granted and let breathing and uprightness become relegated to background noise.  We manage and get by.  We keep breathing and we don't fall down.  Generally, though people stay upright and breathe inefficiently, with much more effort than they need.


Because even though they are managing to stay standing, sitting, or to maintain whatever position or movement they wish to maintain in the face of gravity provided by planet Earth, they are aiming themselves down.  Aiming down, diminishes our naturally ability to be springy, creates strain in the neck, back, shoulders and legs, and makes breathing more effortful.

People often search for solutions to problems such as an aching back, a sore neck, or tight shoulders and they search for the solutions outside of themselves.  They try a new exercise, they switch jobs, or they do something relaxing.  There is nothing wrong with any of these things, but they likely won't change that the person is chronically aiming themselves down in space.  

Look at the cartoon image above.  The character is eagerly looking for the right way to go, yet finds himself bewildered.  There are many directions to take, but they aren't labeled and the paths they will lead to aren't clear.  He's looking for something outside himself to point him in the right direction, but take a look at how he's standing and his body is compressed down and simple act of looking up to read the signs distorts his back.  

Perhaps if he understood where he was already going (down) and resolved that issue, he would be able to read the signs and understand where they are pointing.

When people first begin Alexander Technique lessons, they are asked to slow down their movements, do do things more deliberately, and to learn to feel through the guidance of the teacher, where their spatial intent is. They then learn to use their own thinking and internal directing to shift that intention.  

Acknowledging a downward intent and reversing it to aim yourself up is a milestone in achieving presence and clarity, feeling more confident, and releasing tension that causes strain-related pain.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Fun-House for Posture!

Many people these days are unhappy with their posture.  Unfortunately, posture is often thought of as a mechanical way that people hold or align themselves, which can be changed by the person holding or aligning themselves in a different way.  This reasoning ignores that posture is an effect of how we go about our lives.

Posture is an attitude, a physical manifestation of how we respond to the stimuli that we encounter every day.  We respond emotionally, psychologically, and physically.  Posture is how our attitude looks from the outside and reflects how we feel on the inside.

The environments that we spend time in on a daily basis affect how we feel and in turn affect our posture.  A few years ago, I read an  article in the New York Times about a house that had been built on Long Island by an architect couple that is intended to help maintain health and feeling young.

I recommend reading the whole article, but as you are reading this blog, take a look at the headline photo and you'll get an idea as to what is meant by "tentative": uneven, sloping, bumpy floor, odd angles, and distortion of perception.

The architects' intention in creating this home was to create an environment that the inhabitants have a tentative relationship with.  If you are reading this from a comfy couch in your living room, you may find this concept absurd.  Why would anyone want to live in a home that is more like a fun-house than a house?

I encourage you to read the article to learn more, but I will give you my perspective on this phenomenon as an Alexander Technique instructor with insights on posture.  

As civilization has developed, in many ways humans have become more and more "comfortable" and life has become more and more predictable.  Our daily lives are likely to involve walking on many flat surfaces, hours of sitting, and navigating through environments that change infrequently.  We've invented things like traffic lights, that are useful and promote safety, but keep us less on our toes about crossing the street.  We stare at computers and make repetitive movements, tuning out our surroundings.  People send emails while walking on the sidewalk, relatively confident that they won't trip over a tree branch.  We zone out and we get lost in thought or listen to music on our drive or walk home.  The path is well-worn and we don't expect to encounter any lions.  

Sometimes our tuning out of the present moment gets us into trouble, but most of the time we get away with it.  We get away with it for the moment, but we loose receptivity to what is around us and something slowly happens to our bodies.  We physically pull into ourselves and sink down because we lack the energy that comes with alertness.  Then when we need to suddenly focus, we overreact and launch into action with too much effort.  All of this compression and tension puts a lot of strain on the body and results in what we call "poor posture", which can negatively affect health and make us look older.

Alexander Technique lessons can help people reactive the balance that they've lost in their own bodies and help them to stay alert, focused and present without strain.

Even if you've never had an Alexander Technique lesson, something can be learned from simply putting yourself in a new situation.  Take a different route home.  Make an effort to tune into what you are hearing around you as you type on your computer.  Go for a hike and notice how navigating rocks, branches, and uneven ground engages your mind and body in a way that the treadmill at the gym doesn't.  You may even experiment with rearranging your furniture at home once in awhile or if you are brave, purposely create obstacles to navigate.  If you have children, leave the toys out on the floor once in awhile and walk through them without stepping on them.  Use your creativity and challenge yourself.  You may stand up straighter, breath more easily, feel happier, and look and feel younger!

Share your experiments in the comments below!
Would you live in a house like in the New York Times article?  Make sure to read it:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/garden/03destiny.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0#

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Personal Space: Posture and Presence

audiences,crowds,meetings,people,women,one-eyed,communicationsIf you live in New York or any other large city, you likely find yourself in close quarters with many other people on a regular basis, such as on the subway during rush hour, in an elevator around lunchtime, or walking shoulder-to-shoulder along the street.

How do you define your space?  Do you practically tie yourself into a knot on the train as to avoid contact with another human or do you boldly make elbow room for yourself?  Do you smile sweetly at the person in the neighboring seat who has just fallen asleep on your shoulder or do you nudge them awake?

Our sense of how much space that we'd like to ourselves varies from person to person and culture to culture.  Were those tourists who asked you for directions the other day standing uncomfortably close to you, oblivious to your discomfort?

Moving along from rush-hour commutes and other crowded situations, you might also notice how much space you prefer to place between yourself and other person with whom you are sharing a conversation.  If you tie yourself in knots on the subway, you are likely pulling back in some way from everyday conversations.

Start to pay attention to how you use your body in different social settings.  Start with the more extreme ones that involve crowds and then begin to notice your more subtle habits related to the space between you and others.  Do you pull away?  Do you spread yourself out?  Somewhere inbetween?

If you tend to pull away from the folks on the train, watch what happens to your face during a face-to-face conversation.  You may find that you tighten your face, which may come across as reserved or guarded.  If you are tightening your face, then you are likely tightening your neck and the front of your chest.  Your breathing may become shallow and your voice tight.  If you find yourself engaging in habits like these, see if you can allow your face, eyes, chest, and the front and back of your neck to soften.  Don't let yourself sink down or loose your awareness of your feet on the floor in the process.

If you tend to strain toward other people you also can benefit from letting your eyes soften.  Allow the other person to be in your field of vision without straining toward them.  Become more aware of your back.  A simple way of beginning to increase your back-awareness is to tune in to sounds that you hear behind you.

Noticing and adjusting your habits relating to how you hold your body when you are around other people can help you release tension and compression, and improve your breathing, and posture.  You may also become more confident in social situations and find that people find you more open, engaged, and present.  With less restriction in your breathing, your voice can be richer and more resonant.  Alexander Technique lessons can further bring your awareness to your habits and help you to change them!

Please leave a comment below if you have made note of the physical habits that you have developed to define your personal space.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Connect the Dots! You're a Star!


Happy New Year!  In my last post, I talked about the challenge of being and feeling more integrated in your body, being able to sense your body as whole and unified as opposed to separate parts that are vaguely linked.

Today's post will walk you through a practical experiment that can help you to feel more connected throughout your body.  Changing how the parts of your body work together is just as mental as it is physical.  We use our proprioceptive sense to feel our position in space and the position of our parts relative to one another.  If you close your eyes, can you can likely touch your nose with your index finger or sense your position in space when walking through a dark room.  That's your proprioception at work as messages from nerves in your muscles are sent to your brain to tell you where you are.  We use our proprioception all the time, but it usually goes on auto-pilot and stays in the background of our awareness unless something goes wrong (like you trip, for example.)  We can turn up the volume on our proprioception just by paying attention.  It may seem like it requires a lot of concentration at first, but with practice and Alexander Technique lessons, it can become second-nature. 

Try this:  Bring your attention to your right hand.  Do you suddenly sense your right hand more clearly?  I suspect that the answer is yes. Now that we've established that you can turn your proprioceptive sense off of autopilot by bringing your awareness to a particular area of your body, go ahead and do the following experiment:

1-Stand with your arms stretched out to the sides and imagine that you are a star. (Avoid lifting your shoulders, but don't press them down or back either.)  Your head is the top point of the star, your arms the two side points, and your legs the two bottom points.  Your torso is the center of the star.  The goal here is to allow all of the points to expand away from the center.  Most people pull the points of their star into their center, which often results in back pain and shallow breathing.  

2- Bring your attention first to the center of your back and then, like playing connect the dots, draw a mental line from the center of your back along the backs of your arms to your elbows, to your wrists and out to your fingers.  

3- Bring your attention to the middle of your upper back and mentally connect the dots from your back up your neck to the joint where your head meets your neck (feel where that is with your hand - it may be higher than you think) and then to the top of your head.  

4-Draw two more mental lines from your lower back down along the backs of your legs to your knees, to your ankles, to your heels.

5-Now put your arms down at your sides and repeat the three steps.  You can still imagine that you are a star, but now the side points are folded.

Make sure that you are just thinking about drawing the lines by bringing your attention to each area of your body.  Do not use muscular effort.  Don't hold your breath.  If you start to feel stiff and your breathing becomes shallow, stop and restart.  Make sure that you are really only thinking the directions.  If you are confused, bring your attention back to your right hand and notice how just bringing attention there increases sensation and apply that to the star directions.

Speaking of directions, what you are experimenting with is what F.M. Alexander called directing.  The word in this context has the double meaning of giving yourself mental directions and for the directions to go in a particular direction - from the center of the body out away from the spine.

The aim of this "connect the dots" exploration is to encourage the body to be more open and integrated, to simultaneously encourage the head/neck and limbs to release habitual tensions and pulls and to encourage them to integrate and work together.

During Alexander Technique lessons, students learn how to clearly sense and direct their bodies so that they can sit, stand, walk, and do everything that they do in a more fluid, integrated way.  Benefits are a sense of feeling both calm and energized, freer breathing, and reduced pain related to strain.  People also often feel more confident and engaged with the world.

If you did the exploration above, I encourage you to share how it went in the comments below!