"Whatever IS is, I want That, Only That, but That is what I want." ~ Not sure of the Author, Poem shared in class by the teacher.
When you step back without expectation to observe and truly listen and see what is before you without coloring your thoughts with prior expectations there is a sweet freedom where learning can take root and knowledge expands. When we are always looking for confirmation of what we think we already know to be true about the world we end up making the situations conform to our vision and miss the gems that are there or cannot see the healing path in front of us because we have not remained innocently open. This lab is a place where the dead heal the living.
Five days ago were were strangers coming together to learn. What we found was a room full of incredibly compassionate souls all wanting to heal the world of its wounds by seeing how this new knowledge could shape each practitioners work to help one person at a time. We cannot heal the whole world, but we can give our best to whatever is in our reach. Each day is a step to being a better human being and connecting with those around you.
Each of us had the opportunity to pick a learning project and follow it through. I choose to remove all of the muscles of the leg and the forearm while leaving the interosseous membranes intact to explore the stability verses mobility of the joints in each region. I was nervous I would tear through the membrane as that would destroy the integrity of the project and I would have to choose to make a different model. Patience is not my strong suit so I decided to embrace slowing down and committed to the delicate brushstrokes of the blade to clear the muscle tissue. Aided by slow deep breathing and the cheerleading support of Joe and Corrine I ended up with two beautifully clear and working models. I was able to demonstrate the tensile pull of the interosseous membrane between the tibia and fibula. We were able to watch the membrane tense up as we shifted the ankle into dorsiflexion and witness the pull of the membrane guide the fibula laterally and superiorly to make space for the talus bone to shift and fully come into dorsiflexion. I had time then to help Joe remove the brain and work to check the relationship of the suboccipitals to the dura mater of the brain. As Joe suspected you could pull on the muscles and feel the tension inside the skull. Although Joe and I would no have time to go look at everyone else's projects were were so happy and full with the current work I'm sure it will be weeks or months before all of the other projects that we observed will fully settle into my mind.
At the end of the last day we ceremoniously wrap each cadaver with care to return them to the facility so they can be cremated and reunited with their families. Jenna, Joe, Bea, Kim, Corinne, Karin and I stand around the table holding hands in a moment of silence. Bea breaks the silence with thankful words and we hold the space for a moment longer before we are ready to part for the final day.
Outside the lab I fly a few students is a little therapeutics and we are all happy to have a bit of playtime and hugs. A few hours later I would be on the redeye home.
Tonight I step back into my studio and prepare to lead a partner yoga Valentine's event. My heart, body and mind are so full. I have no idea yet how all of this week will begin to show up in my work, but one thing is super clear to me. I am OPEN! Whatever IS is. I want THAT!
" When viewing things in total boundaries are much less clear and attachments much more broad. Lines can be arbitrarily by the cut of a scalpel." ~Thomas Myders
Layer by layer we retract (Draw back, while keeping one aspect attached) the muscles of the torso to reveal the internal organs. At the abdomen we have to be careful with the opening soas not to puncture the bladder or rectum. The organs of elimination are soft and fluid. We have to glide the masses off to the side to search for the organs beneath When we began the initial dissection on Day 2 our cadaver (Eve) had a scar on her abdomen an we discovered that her uterus had been removed. We had to go to another model to see the organ. The uterus is so much smaller than int appears in textbooks. It is simply amazing that this small organ hosts the development of a future human. It is so small I chuckled to myself thinking this little thing is what all the fuss is about. The magic and chaos of femininity packaged in a few inches.
To get into the chest we have to cut through the ribs while keeping the lower border intact so we do not disturb the diaphragm. The lungs and heart are beyond amazing. I notice a few tears welling at the tables surrounding me. We pull the lungs laterally and make an incision in the pericardial sac to access the heart. I slide my hands around the organ and hod it in my hands. Eve is so small and her organs are like miniature versions of everything. The heart rests in my palms with very little weight and I too feel the beauty of the world spread from my fingers to every fiber of my being. I look to the side and notice the frenetic nerve running down to the diaphragm. Returning the heart to its container I move to the other tables for some comparative study.
During the rest of the day we are working on differentiating some of the muscles of the thigh, leg and foot. This is particularly interesting in Eve as she has become so atrophied and her muscles so thin that they often look more like membranes than muscles. I keep having to go to another table to compare to make sure I am looking at what I thought should've been obvious structures. The lines blur and attachments are masses of bound fibers. Eve clearly had been non mobile for the later part of her life and the adhesions in her body are everywhere.
Some muscles have completely fused to work together and you can see how the body took shape to use what it needed. The Every part of the body supporting and compensating for the parts that were in struggle.
I think of the world around us and how if we could recognize that we are all apart of the same body we could be more like Eve. Merge the boundaries and deepen the attachments to make sure we all had what we needed to survive.
There are still so many places on our planet that remain unexplored. I'd love to one day peel back the mystery and understand them." Annie Leibowitz
A new day presents new skills and new challenges. The comfort level of being in the lab continues to develop and the coordination of the individual teams with the larger group is moving smoothly. We are now responsible for getting the Cadavers out of the coolers and putting them away at the end of the day. Now that we are beginning to peel back the layers and move deeper the body will have a limited time in its untreated state as decomposition begins to occur. The odors are getting stronger and essential oils in our masks keep it manageable for now.
With each layer of body tissue we pass through we cultivate a new level of understanding. The scalpel is used more like a paint brush to help uncover the mysteries rather than cutting. I am reminded again and again about the importance of maintaining the beginners mind. Many students are rushing to diagnose or confirm suspicions so that they "know" that they are "right". Of course it is our human nature to want to understand and feel that we have the answers. Todd , one of our educators and leader of the lab, routinely makes students put their books away and take in what they are actually seeing rather than trying to get it to conform to what they already think they know. It is in this place of curiosity that the most amazing discoveries are made. It is here in the place of complete observation that I feel most like a child again learning how to walk and talk in this new endeavor.
When you look at photos in a book or study anatomy in any other setting everything is separated and clearly drawn out. In text books it is completely obvious what you are looking at and you see each piece as its isolated unit. We are taught often what the individual myofascial unit (muscle) does and move on to the next. It is clear that the bodies on the tables have not read the text books nor do they care about neatly arranged ideas. Every cadaver before us is completely unique. The layers of Muscle and fascia, nerves, veins and organs are completely intertwined. Often it is extremely difficult to see where one piece ends and the other begins. You have to question everything. Is that a new change in fiber direction indicating a transition from the internal oblique to the external oblique or is a hemostat being pulled to tightly as you as feathering back a layer. Are we taking the time to see what this precious terrain presents to us or are we desperately trying to get it to conform to what we believe to be the norm.
Today we began prone (face down) We place support under the form much like you would for a massage or a yoga class so the back lines up with out a torque on the neck. Or goal for the day was to remove the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis of the back body (the skin and the fat) as well as to retract (be able to peel back) the layers of the abdominals beginning with the external obliques, moving down to the internal obliques, transitioning to the transverse abdominis and then removing the sheath of the rectus abdominis while preparing to open up the abdominal cavity to flip the abdominals over and view the posterior aspect of the rectus abdominis. The take away from all of the groups is that the abdominal obliques are much more delicate and thinner than any of us would have expected. This will certainly be taken into account the next time I am leading a movement class with core work. My thoughts on the core are still forming in my head due to this experience so you will not get a ramble from me about that at this time.
It is so clear how viewing muscles in isolation helps us learn the parts, but does us a great disservice when it comes to understanding the interdependent nature of the whole. The tiniest pull on one section affects a whole chain across the body. You can witness how a pull on a hip flexor on one side of the body could shift movement up into the neck on the opposite side of the body. We often treat the source of pain and may be missing the greater cause if we do not step back and look at the bigger picture of the human form rather than chasing after the symptoms.
The professionalism of everyone has been amazing. You do not know when moments will jump up at you or trigger sensitivity. I checked in with my table mate as she stepped back for a moment. Jenn felt she couldn't work on the hands because it felt too personal for her so we switched areas to allow her to come back to her clinical mind. I felt a moment well in me upon removal of the scalp. I closed my eyes for a moment and reminded myself that is is a cadaver, simply a body and no longer a person At the same time I feel a deep love for the form before me or rather for the soul that once inhabited this space. I feel more connected to everything around me recognizing that as a larger body of society we are all like individual muscles and organs and when one of us is not functioning it fully affects the entire body.
I love you all.
“Dusk is just an illusion because the sun is either above the horizon or below it. And that means that day and night are linked in a way that few things are there cannot be one without the other yet they cannot exist at the same time."
― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook
A sea of bodies swarm outside the Laboratory of Anatomical Enlightenment. Some students are hanging in the periphery either quietly scoping out the pool of potential lab partners while others gaze at the ground clearly nervous or perhaps more shy about meeting so many people at one time. My insides want to be on the outer edge of the circle looking in, but I see the author of my favorite anatomy books and decide that now is not the time to give in to my shy nature.
I introduced myself to Joseph E. Muscolino and tried not to act like a total dork. I am not a start struck kinda gal, but I definitely get a bit giddy around really intelligent people whom I deeply respect. He was delightfully welcoming and easy to speak to. I was cool on the outside but doing little back flips on the inside when he asked if I would like to be one of his team members, (inside: duh,,, yes!!!!! Outside: That would be lovely, I also have two friends here with me would you be willing to add them to the team...) The team was then created, Joe, Me, Corinne, Bea, Jenna, Kim and Karin. More delightfully still was that Karin, originally from the UK but living in Dubai, is the teacher to many of my friends there and we got a bit girly about the many mutual friends that have been on our journeys. The world and connections merged even more as I continued the conversation with Joe and Km and found again mutual friends creating more familiarity and trust as a group.
The early part of the morning is all logistics. It is clear that we must have very set standards and guidelines to have this entire process work with all the teams and have all of the individual projects coordinated amongst all of the groups. I was comforted by the balance between academic clarity and an openness to the emotions that might come up as part of the process. Unlike a pure medical cadaver lab where you are encouraged or rather it is insisted that you completely disconnect from all emotional response, here they educators (Thomas Myers and Todd Garcia) create a safe atmosphere to have this be a spiritual, emotional, and deeply human experience as we are learning.
Each person shared where they were from, their name, what they did for a living, and what specific anatomical structure they were most excited to see. Some students were certainly trying to impress the crowd with their background and knowledge, Usually one of the facilitators pried at them in a jovial way to bring them back to earth, most of the others were nervous as could be (myself included). This sweet gentleman Craig was asked to expand upon a concept and got so flustered he proclaimed that he just forgot every muscle in the body he was so nervous. I loved him all the more for his vulnerability. I stated I was a yoga teacher and acrobat who was interested in the Median Nerve and the intrinsic muscles of the hand. I got put on the spot when Todd asked me to do a handstand right then and there in the lab. I figured that was easier than choking on my wods in front of strangers and popped up to my comfort zone and held a lovely handstand. My nerves had calmed by being in the happy place of my physical side. It also made it easy for people to come talk to me later (much better for me as I feel shy and awkward about approaching strangers, but I am fine if people approach me. I still have to work out that human idiosyncrasy
before reaching enlightenment). In anycase That was not an expected moment, but the universe seemed to be helping me out of my first full day, back to school jitters.
About an hour before lunch we are introduced to the cadavers and we get an opportunity to check out each one before deciding what one we might be working on. All of the subjects are in their seventies and have transitioned due to natural causes. Each one has chosen to give of themselves in death as a gift to be studied. Each body will be treated with extreme care and while we may be dismantling the individual structures,all of the remains will be returned to the facility in Utah to be cremated and returned respectfully to their families of loved ones.
Our team lands with the smallest subject in the room. The Cadaver is female and extremely thin. We have chosen her because with very little adipose (fat) on the body, she would be a great model for subcutaneous nerves and it would be easier to see veins and nerve pathways. The group decided to name her EVE and we circled around to take an overall scan and check her general range of motion at the joints before beginning the dissection. It was so fun to watch the little kid show up in Joe as he checked the details of the ROM (Range of Motion). He has run his own cadaver labs, but always with treated cadavers which means they are all stiff. When you work with untreated cadavers as we are the body will respond to movement much the way it would in its animated state. For the record since there is no life force present there is no pressurization in the body which means that when we make the cuts there will be no splatter of fluids. It is amazing how many non anatomy studying friends thought that one cut and blood was going to spurt out. I think people watch too many weird scary movies. This is not the case here.
The technical side today we removed the skin from what ever was visible from the supine position (lying face up). First cutting down to the dermis and leaving the fat layer known as the hypodermis intact. This was a bit more difficult on our subject as she really didn't have much in the way of fatty tissue anywhere. The table next to us had a more plump specimen so a peek next to us gave us a prime example of the hypodermis. Our group also had less to do when it came down to removing the fatty layer to reveal the fascia profunda where we can begin to see all of the superficial layers of the musculature. We kept a few of the skin flaps because we have such a great example of the subcutaneous nerves and some beautiful examples of veins particularly in the right arm and the left leg.
On the human side of the journey I was grateful for Thomas reminding us of how things like death get swept away from us, out of view and out of site. He brought it home that Sex, Mental Illness and Death used to be something we had to deal with in tribes and cultures, but as populations have expanded we have now separated this things out of the human process. We touch upon them from time to time, but we do not have the scope of the full human experience in the way we once did. Death is an essential part of life. In yoga it is one of the Kleshas (the obstacles) not the death itself, but rather our clinging to life,; our over attachment to the physical form when we all know the conclusion is inevitable. Part of the path is surrender. Part, may be faith or at the very least comfort in the not knowing the outcomes of transition but being willing to take the next flowing aspect of the journey.
After a super long day that is much more physically intense than one might imagine as well as fatigue from complete mental focus it is good to chge the pace and the scenery. I was happy to learn that an acroyoga acquaintance of mine had opened a studio called AcroBody about 10 minutes from where we were. Four of us ventured over after lab to take a HandStand class. It was the perfect medicine to dive back into the physical practice after all f the mental work. All of our legs were tired from standing all day at the tables dissecting so the inversions were a great release to get onto the hands and get the feet up in the air.
It is time for bed now since we have four more days of a long and tight schedule. I am a sponge for the knowledge that will present itself. tam thankful to be working with such and amazing team. I thank you for sharing in my adventures and will check in with you tomorrow.
May our thoughts be clear, our words be kind and our hearts remain open to give and receive love.
An interesting blend of excitement and nervous anticipation dance in my belly as my college, and dearest friend Corinne, fly from Philadelphia, PA to Phoenix, AZ for a week long Facial Dissection Study at the Laboratory for Enlightenment. I have spent plenty of time in a lab during my studies, but have not worked with dissection in 20 years and never human. What makes this a bit more intense in my mind is that the bodies we will be working with are more recent, live tissue (meaning no embalming or processing) cadavers. I have become keenly aware that somewhere, someone has lost a family member and that the remains of that human form have been given as a great gift by the deceased to allow students like myself the opportunity to learn in a way that can simply not be recreated in a text book.
As I enter this week I begin with the deepest gratitude for the spirit whom I will never meet, but whose body I will systematically dismantle. I have sat with the gravity of it all and have shed my tears for the family and friends that will have had to say their goodbyes and are still processing the release of their loved one. I will share my journey this week with the greatest care for the sacredness of my academic adventure, intellectual discernment and spiritual journey reflecting on life, death and movement.
There are 48 students in the program and we will be working in teams of approximately 5-6 students per cadaver. I am looking over the list and pretty excited to meet the rest of the crew. In addition to all of the students from the US there are students flying in from Denmark, China, Australia, Netherlands, Canada, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the UK. I gelt a little bit star struck, thrilled and intimidated when I noticed one of the names on the list as a highly respected anatomist (I have 5 of his books….). Hoping I can get over my goofy shyness to try to get into his group. I know the way to learn the most is to surround myself with people who know so much more than me, no matter how intimidating it can feel. I do love steeping back in with a beginners mind and I am feeling open, ready, and extremely humble.
Exploring the bodies of the dead so that we may gain knowledge to help the living is made even more profound to me this week as I will also get to meet my niece Everly Vira (Born 8lbs, 14 oz a few days ago). My Sister-in-law lives about 10 minutes from the laboratory and I will have a night to go over and bask in the beauty of the newly born. The cycle of life will be fully present before me.
Boundless Yoga Staff & Students
We are continuously interested on how our reactions and responses to our personal journeys, albeit travel, adventure, new job, etc. mirror and reflect our social, emotional and spiritual ups and downs. We try every day to apply what we learn about ourselves on the yoga mat to our personal lives. Thank you for tuning in as we share some of those aspects with you.