Trying to find the words to explain what this weekend meant to me is nearly impossible. But I will try in efforts to share this experience. Bear with me as some of what I share may not be particularly important to you but it may perhaps spark a change in another. And this, I would most certainly hope for.
I recall my first introduction to Anatomy Trains while in massage therapy school in 2004. I was completely fascinated not only with the context of the material but also in the way that Tom Myers wrote so poetically about a concept quite abstract. It was perhaps a four page article in a magazine that I photocopied many times and referenced often. Since then, I have been a fan of his and also I became quite proud in my new endeavor, becoming a massage therapist with a person of his kind leading the way. It was a career change from my decade in the pharmaceutical industry and western medicine into alternative care. If you told me then that I would be dissecting an unembalmed cadaver next to him about a decade later, I perhaps wouldn't have believed you. But not only have I now done so, but I've also had the chance to meet him several times and listen to him speak volumes based on his experiences and beliefs over the last 6 years.
Now Michol - his brilliance, kindness, and insane intelligence is insurmountable. I was introduced to him first through ViPR as I again immersed myself in all learning opportunities in efforts to better understand the body and actually trained for ViPR clearance during its initial launch at EQ not as a trainer but as a massage therapist. I was fascinated at first by this new fitness tool, it's endless possibilities and also it's direct relationship to the fascia. This was most intriguing to me as a body worker, never mind it's capability to introduce fun to working out! Since that moment, I researched, read, asked as much as possible about Michol, ViPR and the Institute of Motion.
It was during my constant search for knowledge that I came across the initial launch of Anatomy Live. I was actually bugging out over it to be honest. Michol and Tom together? During the inaugural event, I was just starting my private practice after working over seven years for great brands and felt that this was an opportunity best reserved for a later date. And so a year later, I registered with sheer excitement. However, a month before, I severely injured my wrist and was unable to participate in a hands on workshop involving both intricate and global movements. And so iOM and Anatomy Live graciously deferred my participation until this year.
It was worth the wait and as the cliche goes, all in perfect timing. My own personal, professional and emotional development had been catapulted as I ventured into a private business, representing myself as an individual and also exposing both my strengths and weaknesses to all those around me, it was finally time for an event such as this for I knew it would change me as a person - forever.
As we gathered outside of the Laboratory for Anatomical Enlightenment, I was nervous. Nervous about what was to commence, nervous being around such leaders in the industry, nervous about the unknown and even more nervous about how an empath like me would endure what was ahead of me. I am so sensitive to what my clients present to me sometimes unknowingly, I was terrified about what or how I would 'feel' in the hours ahead.
Todd Garcia, the Lab Director, started the day with a talk. And even though we were all eager to begin, this talk put us all on the same page and at the same level before beginning. A colleague had asked the question I was most curious about - He wanted to know from Todd if we were to prepare for an emotional response to our experience ahead and how we can better support each other if so. Or do we come as anatomists and check our emotions at the door. Todd so eloquently said -
Wow I thought. How fortunate we all are. I believe at that moment, we experienced a group hug without the actual act. We signed our consent forms all at once, literally, to collectively bring our energy and whole selves to this once in a lifetime and rare experience. Time to gown up.
Bad abs/hips was written on the bag. And nothing else. My fascination with the hips made me content to be at this table. As we uncovered the donor, there was a distinct smell. The smell of illness and disease. When I walked around and witnessed the other dissections, the odor was different. And this made me even more curious. As the cadaver laid in front of me, I touched her ever so gently, gave thanks for this miraculous gift and welcomed what she was so brave to offer. And then immediately, my nerves calmed and I began to explore.
The first cut - the anterior compartment of the thigh. Was I about to cut into this? Was I really about to uncover what lies beneath? She had tremendous adipose tissue beneath her skin. We were to reveal the most superficial layer of fascia but as slender as she looked, the amount of adipose tissue was surprising. We noticed a scar on her R hip, indicative of a procedure as the cut was precise and deliberate. The team somehow thought it was a hip replacement and was eager to get to the hardware. I felt there was so much more yet to discover. And so I went at my own pace as my table mates powered through. I know we have a lot to cover in a day but I was in no rush. Time meant nothing to me at this moment.
There was a severe lack of muscle tone in her body. Lack of internal rotation particularly with the R leg. Limited hip flexion and restricted dorsiflexion at the ankle. We were in awe with how we can move the body with such ease and this is what makes an unembalmed cadaver a unique experience. My colleagues proceeded with the lower body as I began again at her torso, gently uncovering her pectoral muscles as I cut away at her breast tissue.
We proceeded to uncover more, discover more and even ask more. I will reserve other findings for those that want to know more about it as we revealed all we could in the course of one full day.
As nervous as I was, I was also surprised with how composed I remained. How grateful I felt throughout the process and how surprised I was with some of the findings. How thin the trapezius was. How the latissimus worked on the scapula. How the ITB was so thick and where it joined with the Glutes and TFL. How connective tissue laid its intricate web in efforts to support us and often, immobilize us. We also found a bifurcated sciatic nerve and saw how it entrapped the piriformis. So wondrous the body is! The learning was immense.
I walked over to the table next to me and they had uncovered the hip capsule. How cool to see! And as Tom shared how strong and powerful the hip joint is and how difficult it is to dislocate, I kept thinking about my hip that had been dislocated twice. He pulled the femur out of the socket and it made a suction sound as the labrum was so thick and strong. Something about that sound or perhaps because it has been such a long day, I felt the need to tap out. Feelings surged to the surface. Fear, anxiety, submission. As if my past injury keeps rearing it's ugly head. That happened to me? That is what I'm experiencing? That is the labrum which is torn? That is where a bone spur is forming causing me pain? When the experience became PERSONAL, it became too much. I left the lab. Degowned and stepped outside. Guzzled down some water. Breathe I said. Compose yourself. This is not about you. But it is. Come as you are Todd said. And THIS is me.
I allowed my feelings to arise as they were real. And I went back in to complete the day. I saw lung cancer. I saw liver cancer. I saw the diaphragm and all of its wonder. I saw and felt what then became the unifying spirit of us all. Emotion. Including pain. Pain is not meant to be stored in the body or it shows up as we had seen today. Certainly there are biological responses that happen in the body when something disrupts homeostasis but pain is perceived elsewhere I believe. Which is why often pain varies from one person to the next. Or the intensity varies over time and space. Or why memories even will induce pain. Or how a positive emotion could even mask that same pain.
At that specific moment as the majority of the class were gathered around either the diseased lung or the excavation of the abdominal cavity, I was just returning from outside, stood alone and looked around the room. Laying there were the deconstructed cadavers, each with their own story we were only attempting to preclude. I looked around and realized that perhaps when we allow things to get stuck within, we are unable to move past our experiences. And so with today I surrender my history. I embrace what I have endured. I allow things to move through me by sharing my experiences. Somehow I sensed that these amazing donors felt the same and that this was their last wish to find a way to make sense of all they kept inside. Let things move through you. This pain is not meant for you to carry. What remains, gets stuck and may bring so much discomfort and dis-ease. I know their souls are now moving freely in a way they were unable to in this realm.