This week, I’m at the Laboratory of Anatomical Enlightenment in Phoenix, AZ. I’m here as part of a training hosted by Tiffany Cruikshank, Founder of Yoga Medicine for a week long exploration of the body. The format of the training is lecture on day one and then 4 days in the lab, dissecting a cadaver.
While this might sound like something you personally might not be interested in or might not want to do, for me, it’s not only incredibly relevant to what I do as a yoga teacher and a teacher who trains people on the anatomy of yoga, but I find it endlessly fascinating. To work with the body both in the movement practice of yoga and then have an opportunity to work with the body in the context of dissection is an honor, a privilege and an chance I was not willing to pass up.
While I don’t want to get ahead of myself with the expectation that I can blog daily about my experiences, I do want to make an attempt to do so. Doing it is not only a personal experience for me, one of a “documentation effort” of sorts, but is also a way to share, even in a small, somewhat “one dimensional way” my experience here. There will be no pictures, of course, but I hope that in sharing just a few take-aways from each day, you will perhaps pick up on something that interests you and be encouraged to explore further. I also am so grateful to have this opportunity and want to share it with people as much as I can, to whomever might be interested. If you follow my blog, books, online courses, trainings and videos, you know that my teaching is focused primarily on the anatomy of the practice and as such, this falls right in line with that.
Along with the obvious restriction on not sharing any photographs, I also will not share anyone’s personal thoughts or anything shared with me by other participants. We live in a world where sharing is the norm, especially with social media. I recall a time when I went to a teacher training and there was no Facebook (yes, true!) and we went, disconnected from the world and returned to just “tell” the stories of what we experienced. Now, we have pictures from trainings, shared as they are happening. But this one is different. No pictures, just words and just my own experiences and thoughts, from a high level only.
Today we started with lecture only, to get us all acquainted to what to expect and the procedures and processes and structure for the rest of the week. From tomorrow through Friday, we will be in the lab every day. One other note: these donors have intentionally donated their bodies for purposes of learning by others. When we are done, they will be returned to their families for burial. To say that we are grateful to them for their selfless sacrifice is an understatement. We are all honored to be in their presence and to learn from them; to learn the stories that their bodies will tell us through our careful attention to detail. We are excited to learn and to bring back what we have learned to our own students and through that sharing, to exponentially increase the impact of their sacrifice and the wisdom in their bodies.
So, having said all of that as a backdrop, let me hit the highlights from today:
The body in books and the live body are not the same. I can say this from my past experience from working with cadavers but I expect this experience to be even different. What we need to remember is that the presentation of the body, even in the most advanced (as we know it today) 3-D versions of software, is just an image. And, further, it’s presented with a eye towards consistent structure. Once we move to working with actual human bodies, we find that things look a bit different and sometimes things are bigger, smaller, not exactly where you’d expect (within reason) and have different qualities to them. For me, this is one of the most interesting aspects of this experience: that is, to take what I know from books and working with live bodies in yoga practice and add in another dimension of learning: working with donors in the lab.
The structure of the body is more than just bones, joints, muscles and skin. We know much more today than ever before about the overall covering or “container” known as fascia. One of the fascinating things we heard today was that you have six times as many neurons in the fascia as any other organ in your body. This makes your fascia stronger in sensing how your body is doing, more than your other five senses could on their own. This has huge implications for us a yoga teachers when we think about the impact we can have on people just by taking them through a movement practice like yoga. It also points to the impact of poor lifestyle habits (like hunching all day) and even exercise choices that only take us through one range of motion a lot, without doing something to counteract that movement ( as in running, for instance).
The body’s structure is more like a tension model than a pure structural model made up of parts. I’ve mentioned in a prior post, this concept of Biotensegrity and it’s explained more here. The idea is that the body always has some “integrity” to it, or form, and further, that muscles are not “only” contracting sometimes and other times, they’re doing nothing more than relaxing. They’re always doing someTHING in order to keep us in some sort of form, or to use that word again, to give us integrity. This has implications for what we do on the yoga mat too, but so many times, people come to yoga because they have this desire to get “stretchy.” Once we learn more about the concept of biotensegrity, we start to realize that we’re really looking for balance in the body between tension and stretch, not really looking to just stretch. We also start to see, once we look inside the body, that there is a more of a “gliding” relationship between tissues, not necessarily one part of the tissue moving further away from another part (as we hear when we describe a muscle contraction… the insertion moves closer to the origin). This gliding action is something I hope most to see throughout this week.
Those were big take aways from today and I think those are two good concepts to leave you with from Day 1. I will do my best to keep up with writing and am setting an intention to do so. As with many of these trainings that I’ve attended, sometimes you start out with intentions but things change along the way as it’s an organic process. But I’ve made a list of what I hope to be my daily schedule and am looking forward to keeping to it as much as possible.
I wish you a wonderful week and if you are interested, here is a free download for you on some anatomy, below.
Thank you as always for reading!