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.


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!

Bee Amazed

I always used to be terrified of yellow and black insects that buzzed and had a sting. Growing up in England, wasps were a constant menace in the summer invading picnics, walks, sunbathing sessions or flying through an open window and buzzing angrily around the house.

I still have vivid memories of unlocking the door to a hotel room in France and finding three hornets (and they can really sting, and multiple times) flying around. Even after the concierge had dispatched them to the next life with several applications of spray, I felt compelled to check there weren’t more of them hiding under the bed, under the pillow, in the cupboard or down the loo. And on holiday in France in 2003, there was a swarm of wild bees in the attic above my room. Although it was unlikely they would drop through the beams and descend on me in the night, I found it hard to relax with the intense humming-kind of sound going on above me. It was all a bit too reminiscent of one of Roald Dahl’s Tales of Unexpected.

I’ve got much less hysterical about wasps which is just as well as I get as many in my Melbourne garden as I did in London or Oxford. And I’ve recently learnt a lot about bees and developed a great respect for these magnificent creatures – thanks to my friends Felicity and Marc in Anglesea. Felicity is a writer and illustrator and she is currently working on a marvellous children’s book, Bye Bye Honey Bee. Check out her website at

I returned to Anglesea last weekend and visited Felicity and Marc’s beehive for the second time. What a deeply humbling experience it is to get up close and personal with bees and to observe how they work as a community, every member doing their bit for the whole. And, needless to say, it’s the girls who do all the work. In a typical colony there’s one queen bee, approximately one thousand male drones whose only job is to inseminate the queen, and about 60,000 female workers who are responsible for all the feeding, cleaning and nursing jobs and for defending the hive – unlike the boys, the girls do have stingers. Go girls…

Before I visited the hive for the first time back in May, I underwent an induction into the world of all things bee-related. Incidentally, there isn’t an adjective that describes or relates to bees. There’s apiary meaning a collection of beehives or apiarist meaning a beekeeper but no handy world like apian to sit alongside feline (beeline being already taken), canine, leonine, avian etc. Anyway, back to the story. Felicity and Marc lent me two fabulous documentaries: Queen of the Sun by Taggart Siegel (the director of the Real Dirt on Farmer John) and More than Honey by Markus Imhoof. There’s so much to learn about bees and their role in food production and the health of our environment. Sadly, the bottom line is that bees are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to environmental Armageddon. But before I get too bogged in the problems of industrialised farming, let me take a minute to wow you with some amazing bee facts.


Yours Truly in a bee suit

Yours Truly in a bee suit

Did you know that:

  •  One third of all food wouldn’t exist without bees
  •  Correctly stored, honey never goes off. Sealed honey vats found in Tutankhmun’s tomb were STILL edible despite being buried under the     sand for over 2,000 years.
  •  Bees have to visit approximately 2 million flowers and fly 55,000 miles (approx 88,500 km) to make one pound of honey.
  •  Worker bees perform a waggle dance which is a figure-eight dance that indicates to other bees in the hive where and how far the best sources of nectar are. If I had to choose a favourite bee factoid it would be this one: it’s so clever, it’s like a ‘beeline’ GPS system.

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