Are You Sitting Comfortably?

How often does one spend a Sunday in a church hall observing a skeleton sitting in a chair? It sounds like something from the Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) but our skeleton was not of the once flesh and blood variety, but a model – although we did dress him up to look like a cool dude – used for educational purposes.

I was, in fact, in a Feldenkrais workshop. I’ve written about the Feldenkrais Method before: pioneered by Israeli Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1940s and 1950s, it’s about developing awareness of how you move, exploring ways of letting go of the holding patterns in your body and reconnecting your movements into a fluid whole. I am a big fan of Feldy as we call it.

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The workshop was all about how to sit more comfortably, be it at the computer, on the plane, the train or in a theatre or cinema. Many of us spend far too much time sitting, which can put a lot of strain on our back, neck and shoulders. I was particularly happy to spend a day tuning into my body and relaxing the muscular effort having spent five hours in the car the day before.

A work colleague and other fellow fundraisers who were spending a weekend in Woodend (near Hanging Rock for those not so familiar with county Victoria), invited me up to join them for a day. Now, I had imagined that the person living in Woodend would be doing lunch and had taken some special biscuits and some chocolate as a present.

As it turned out I joined them halfway through a day out and caught the end of a farmers’ market at Trentham, about 25km further on from Woodend. As I bought some olive tapenade to add to my contributions to the lunch I was looking forward to, Bertie cocked his leg on the tarpaulin covering the stall. Luckily the lady didn’t notice so we continued merrily on our way on as he sniffed around for scraps and barked loudly at other dogs.

Our hostess and tour guide for the day bought some live chickens to add to her brood, and then we stopped at the bakery for coffee and refreshments. This would have been the ideal place to have lunch but I was advised to hold back as we were heading to a winery where they served cheese platters. What’s more vanilla slices were promised for afternoon tea.

After the coffee (chai in my case), we ambled round the various shops – giftware, New Age, vintage (we’re talking Edwardian and Victorian with pince-nez, lace-up boots, corsets, crinolines and outfits that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jane Austin film) and other quirky stores. Poor Bertie had to put up with being tied to various lamp posts when sunny paddocks beckoned just outside the township.

Retail therapy accomplished – I only bought a loaf of spelt bread from the bakery – we popped back to the house, a wonderful rambling building up a long driveway, to drop off the chicks. Part country chic and part scruffy, the house was once a coach house and had an observatory dome for star-gazing, a spacious verandah strewn with wisteria seed pods (did you know that wisteria belongs to the pea family?), a large garden and tennis court.

The winery was yet another 25km in the other direction and so it was close to four o’clock when we got there. At this point I realised that I’d have to drive straight home from the winery thus forfeiting the vanilla slice, but I was consoled by the thought of the cheese platter – my stomach was startling to growl with hunger at this point.

The winery looked elegant in the autumn sunshine, the late afternoon rays glinting over the lake. But our business was inside in deep comfy sofas positioned around the fire. I looked around and saw wine lists and bottles lined up for tasting sessions, but no sign of food or menus anywhere. “Oh no, they don’t do food here,” said our hostess, “just big dinners cooked by well-known chefs that sell out months in advance.” I pretended not to mind (in other words I ate my words…) as the first sip of sparkling Pinot went straight to my head.

I spotted this in the ladies' room at the café

I spotted this in the ladies’ room at the café

At 4.30 p.m. I got up to go knowing I had to get back to Skype my mother (my father had been very unwell the previous week and we were long overdue a chat) and to attend the Feldy workshop on the Sunday. Before I set off I devoured hunks of the spelt bread topped with the salted caramel chocolate that I had originally bought as a gift. Not a bad combination as it happens! I did my best to keep the journey home interesting by listening to a German Berlitz CD and singing along to Hayden’s Nelson Mass, but I was a little weary and stiff from sitting by the time I got back. And I felt a little cheated of culinary comfort.

So what a treat it was on the Sunday to play around with different ways of sitting more dynamically, making circles with the pelvis (a favourite Feldy exercise known as the Pelvic Clock), connecting the head and pelvis, freeing up the thoracic spine and the ribs (the thing about the rib cage is just that, many of us keep our ribs rigid and imprisoned rather than free and flexible) and bending our torsos sideways into C shapes. Another exercise we did was getting up from our chair all the while imagining a pair of spectacles attached to our behinds; the idea was to get up in such a way that we had to tilt forward. That’s the fun of Feldenkrais – it’s a way of freeing up bodies and minds to move with greater ease. I’m still feeling the benefits after a long day at work today. Yoo Hoo!

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