By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Perhaps New Yorkers adopt spiritual pursuitsnot to mention the artsso tenaciously because we have no room to store skis or boats, or set up home gyms. Yoga takes a minimum of space and equipment, and going to classesor theaterssatisfies a need to hang out in airy spaces with congenial people.
But the crazes for fitness and spiritual and personal fulfillment continue to spawn new products. Putting aside the Caldrea pineapple-nutmeg-scented countertop cleanser (its slogan is "the spirit of keeping home"), which gleams in its spray bottle and reminds us of how badly we need to clean our desk, we were taken by two items that adapt traditional children's toys to adult purposes.
On The Ball
Are you sitting down? Unless you're straphanging on the subway, we'd bet on it. Readers of this publication, especially those following along online, spend hours daily in chairs, most of which, including the high-priced and ergonomically engineered, are doing their backs no favors. Even the highly touted Aeron chair, with its see-through mesh seat and back and adjustable armrests, tends to lock a person into sitting immobile, while most recent research encourages more action on the part of people who sit for a living.
The Sit-A-Round ball chair keeps your nether parts alive.
(photo: Ted Morrison)
So we were delighted to encounter the Sit-A-Round Ball Chair, essentially an "exercise ball" fixed to a wooden platform mounted on a swivel base, which allows you to sit at your desk and be in continuous motion at the same time, encouraging continual gentle postural correction and keeping your body and mind alert.
"A designer in Holland, working with the big gymnastics ball, discovered that kids' concentration went up if they didn't have to sit still," says June Ekman, a former dancer who lives in Manhattan's flower district and holds the patent on the chair's unique construction. A proponent of "active sitting," she noticed that when the mother of a colicky baby sat down on the big red exercise ball in Ekman's studio (she teaches the Alexander Technique there and at Sarah Lawrence College) and bounced up and down a bit, the kid, held in her lap, immediately stopped crying.
That was over a decade ago; spending weekends in the country, Ekman consulted a neighbor, Lawrence Wilson of Uniondale, Pennsylvania, who happened to be a patient craftsman and engineer. It's taken the pair more than 11 years from concept to market, checking out dozens of competing chairs along the way. Ekman and Wilson wrestled with the design challenges. They came up with a seat that responds to the body in the same way that a big gymnastic ball does, but is more manageable and blends better with standard home or office decor, resembling a mushroom in its washable black velour slipcover. They've finally begun to produce, through Jobri in Konawa, Oklahoma, the Sit-A-Round Ball Chair; it's manufactured in Taiwan and available through catalogs and a Manhattan furniture concern (see below). It takes about 15 minutes to assemble and comes with its own pump.
This cute object allows users to balance directly on their ischial tuberosities (in the dance and yoga worlds these are called "sit bones"), sitting erect but not straight. Basically, you're sitting on air. The chair swivels 360 degrees, but doesn't "scoot," which feels inconvenient to some users but is a boon to others; if it did slide around while you were on it, you might topple off.
Viewers have likened the ball chair to "the Blob" or R2-D2; one user, after perching on it for a few minutes, declared that it made him think of a prairie dog's scrotum, the round sac on which the gregarious rodent sits to survey the plains. Various test sitters around the Voice offices noticed that the ball encourages lively sensations in the pelvic region, as opposed to the general deadness that results from hours in conventional chairs. Like sitting on a horse, it forces you to use your thighs; dancers who "rode" it commented that staying upright astride it works your lower abdominal muscles and the erector spinaemuscles of the back. The ball gently massages your seat and thighs, instead of cutting off circulation as do many conventional chairs.
Ellen Kolber, a certified industrial ergonomist who assesses workers' positioning in office environments, suggests that the Sit-A-Round would make an ideal "second chair" in a work space. "You're using your muscles to keep yourself upright," she observes, "and that increases nutrition and blood flow to the spine."
The Sit-A-Round is available in two sizes, suiting people from about 5 feet to 5-11; a version for kids is in the works. The seat easily adjusts to an ideal height at which your knee joint is open more than 90 degrees. Because the ball chair has no back, it's awkward to slump on; the user is basically forced to sit upright and tilted slightly forward, a position that requires an alert, attentive attitude and keeps you looking interested in whatever you're doing; after a while you notice that you really areinterested.
From a Southern California company called Big Teaze Toys comes the "I Rub My Duckie" waterproof personal massager. Designed by Anthony Levine, the same former Mattel toy designer who brought you Krushed Kitty (New Yorkers, who spend way less time on freeways than people in other places, may not immediately identify this object, but it apparently blew the various Garfield-inspired stuffed-cats-with-suction-cups off car windows around the country), the Duckie looks exactly like the classic bath toy, but it's a little heavier, due to its cargo of two AA batteries.
Things are in the saddle and ride humankind.
(photo: Staci Schwartz)
In fact it's a compact, waterproof vibrator, with its sting in its tail. When not being applied to its intended purpose, it will putt-putt around the tub like a little tugboat, looking over its right shoulder out its painted-on blue eyes. A randy mom could leave Duckie on the side of the tub without incurring embarrassing questions from the youngest members of the household, and it's guaranteed not to electrocute anybody. It comes in iconic yellow and in black.
But does it work? Will it get you off? Maybe if you're one of those people who find sex funny, or small birds sexy, or if you have the right companion to help steer this aquatic device into its intended harbor. Our tester, alone in her bathtub in the middle of the night, nodded off before the massager could finish its work; she prefers natural products to the smooth plastic and vaguely industrial hum of the duck, and opines that a slow and firm hand, whether her own or that of a friend, is a far superior tool for this task. Other users, including men, found it stimulating. Good Vibrations, a sex-toy distributor that features the Duckie on its Web site, gives it a staff thumbs-up, recommends "the beak and tail areas for optimal clitoral stimulation," and also suggests putting condoms on the toys, "as it is the only way to keep them clean and bacteria-free."
Sit-A-Round Ball Chair: $249.95, Ball Dynamics, 14215 Mead Street, Longmont, CO 80504, 1-800-752-2255, www.balldynamics.com, or at Beck Office Furniture, 31 East 28th Street, New York, NY 10016, 212-696-2020. Other innovative "task" seating can be explored at www.humanscale.com. I Rub My Duckie: $20, 1-800-289-8423, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.goodvibes.com.