Dispatches From the Lab

Sitting on the plane, casually chatting with the person beside me, the inevitable question arises, "So what will you be doing in Phoenix?" I take a moment to decide if I should tell him the truth. Do I really want to open that can of worms? I go ahead anyway. "I'm taking a cadaver dissection course" I reply with a small smile. He pauses, looks at me again and says "Really? Are you a forensic scientist or something?" I laugh, "Not at all. I'm a yoga teacher."

I've been asked a few times now, why would a yoga teacher take a course like that? Do I have some perverse, Dexter-like curiosity about the human body? Curious about the human body, oh yes. Serial killer potential? Nope. 

This course was designed for movement professionals and led by Tom Myers (Anatomy Trains) and Master Dissector Todd Garcia. Each day started with two hours of insightful and beautifully somatic movement practice with renowned Pilates teacher Elizabeth Larkham, followed by seven hours of work in the dissection lab. There were 40 of us from all around the world. Yoga teachers, pilates instructors, personal trainers and all sorts of other movement educators.

An intense five days, both on the body and the mind; and yet it was one of the best experiences of my life. A rite of passage that forever changes those who go through it. We went from skin to bone, head to toe on eight unembalmed (or live-tissue) cadavers. There were about six of us per cadaver doing the dissections. I won't get into all the details out of respect for the donors and those of you who are squeamish, but wanted to share the deeper lessons that I received during the week with my cadaver and the seven others who graciously donated their bodies. They were our silent teachers, an immeasurable gift they consciously chose while in life and one that we all were so grateful for.

The anatomical understanding and immersion was incomparable. As a visual and hands-on learner, it was one of the best ways for me to deepen my anatomical understanding. And yet, there was no way that is was just an anatomy course. Just as we cut through through the layers of the cadaver to uncover the whole, so to was the layering of my experience. There was a dynamic transfer of information happening on all levels: kinaesthetic, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. 

All of my questions, all of my painfully human wonderings were laid bare on the table before me. As I cut away each piece of tissue, layer by layer, I was cutting into my own awareness. Cutting into my assumptions and beliefs about this human life. The human form before me was everything and everyone. That was me lying on the table. That was me, offering myself up for greater exploration, offering up my secrets for further excavation, for the great unveiling. There was no separation between me and the knife, cutting away, cutting away to the bone, to the core of it all. Inside the body I found treasures, discovered nuances, patterns and repetitions.

In many spiritual traditions, they say we are not this body, but how can we be anything but while we are in it? It is through this body that I am me... all of me. It was through the offering of another human that I found a sense of the deepest layers of who I am: what I am capable of, and most importantly, all that I do not know. 

Who are we if we are not this body? This vessel, this storyteller, this keeper of secrets and recorder of life? 

Who am I if I am not this body? This mover, this heart feeler and sensual receiver?

Who are you if you are not this body? This teacher, this offering laid down in simple supplication? 

Every cell in our body tells a story. Every layer has something to say. The offering from those eight silent teachers has granted me access to the simplest and yet most complex of miracles. 

And I can't wait to do it again.