Dispatches from the Lab - Part 1

Curiosity about life and death and everything in between.

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While the holiday cheer is happening all around me, I am off to shop for medical gloves, lab coat and mask. Why does a movement educator and yoga teacher need these things you ask? Am I playing dress-up with my son? Nope. I am heading out after the holidays to sunny Arizona for a cadaver dissection course.

The course is specialized for movement therapists where we will work on an un-embalmed cadaver to learn about the muscles, joints, fascia and body tissues and how it can be applied to our understanding of movement. 

I have had quite a varied reaction from people when I tell them what I am doing. From disbelief and excitement, to many questions and some dry heaving. And because of those different reactions I wanted to share my experiences of the course.

For any culture which is primarily concerned with meaning, the study of death - the only certainty that life holds for us - must be central, for an understanding of death is the key to liberation in life.
— Stanislav Grof

Our culture has an interesting relationship with death. We fear it, we try to stave it off through a wide variety of measures. And yet, the only certainty in life is that we are going to die. For many, that is the hardest part of life to actually deal with. It feels easier and safer to just brush that knowledge off to the side. Yet when we do that, we miss a valuable opportunity for our growth and evolution. Exploring our eventual end of life is a integral part of this journey of being human.

And now here I am, all signed up to confront my own death, my own embodiment and what it means to be human. Because this isn't just an anatomy course. How could it be? 

So far in my life, I have had very little experience with dead bodies. The closest I have come to seeing one was my great grandmother's funeral many years ago. She was embalmed and laid to rest in her casket and my siblings, cousins and I all stood around her daring each other to touch her. Terrible, I know, but I feel like it speaks to our culture's habit of putting our dead just out of reach from us, separating us from the experience. Culturally, we no longer sit with the body of our loved ones, tending to them one last time in the comfort of home and the grounding presence of family around us. Depending on the death, the body is usually whisked away out of sight and reappearing preserved and even more separate. As a result, us kids were reasonably curious about the state of our great-grandmother as it was the first taste of death for us.

 

When I picture myself on that first day of the course; looking down on the generous body, this silent teacher before me, I feel a deep sense of awe and humility. The honour of me, a non-medical student, having the opportunity to do what the curious have done for thousands of years - learn directly from the source, a fellow human. The immense awe for that person who chose while alive, to donate their body to further scientific, and human understanding. 

While my own study on a cadaver isn't going to advance science, it will have an impact not only for myself, but for all those I work with. All of my continuing education enables me to do my work more effectively; helping people feel and move better in their bodies. And when we can feel good in our body (and hearts), this frees up more space and energy to do what we love in the world. And so the cycle of learning and sharing continues on and on.

I have no idea what to expect, I anticipate going through a wide range of emotions but won't know what it will be like until I am actually there, scalpel in hand. And don't worry, I'll keep you posted along the way because we all can learn from each other. In life and in death.