Nearly two years ago, I traveled to Hawaii for a six day workshop with my mentor Emmett Hutchins. Emmett was assisted in the course by Isaac Osborne from Caifornia, and the concept was four handed work. Most of what we did in the course wasn’t new to me, and in many ways the affirmation from the course was simply that I needed to continue the path I’m traveling and allow my Rolf roots to continue to nurture me while growing in another direction. The piece that most pleased me, however, was seeing Emmett himself and paying homage to him, his work, and his embodiment of his work.
For the past forty years or so, 82 year old Emmett (give or take a year or two) hasn’t sat in a chair with a back! By sitting without back support, he’s trained his spine to believe that straight is comfortable. Too many of us lean back into our chair backs. Therefore, we’re putting our weight into both the back and the back side of our sitting bones—what I think of as the ‘heels’ of our sitting bones. Just as I prefer us to think of standing slightly in our toes as opposed to our heels, so I think we should sit more in our toes and less in our heels. Emmett does this, and has been doing for over forty years! Remarkable.
Recently while pondering this idea of sitting without support, I found another important piece for me. I’ve realized that if I sit in my backless chair, or sit without touching the back of my chair, foot position is also important. When I place my feet slightly behind where they’d normally go, behind my knees, I’m in my toes of my feet too; even though I’m sitting, I’m in my toes. As I sit with the toes touching the ground and the heels off the ground I can feel myself using the toe and ankle hinges. To me, this is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves—to use our toe and ankle hinges more fully. This toe work exercises all the calf muscles in a way little else does. I’ve long believed the deepest muscle of the calves, the tibialis posterior, is critical to good overall health, and that most of us don’t exercise it or even know we have one! When we sit backless, with toes in a flexed and moving position and exercise the calves, we’re creating fluid and resilience all through the body.
Perhaps Emmett has already figured out this piece about staying in one’s toes while sitting; after all, he is one of the smartest people I know. Perhaps he’s never verbalized it this way. I’ve certainly never heard him explain the idea of remaining dynamic in the feet while sitting, but somehow, I suspect it’s exactly what he does. As they say, “The proof is in the pudding.” This older gent has a lot to teach us all, whether from watching, listening, or emulating.
Thanks, Emmett Hutchins, for a shining example for the last thirty years!