Adventures in dissection

My dream of completing the 6-day dissection with a group of MELT Instructors and the amazing Gil Hedley came true this year. Some 15ish years ago I met Gil, who proceeded to blow my mind. He shattered a foundation of anatomy, uprooted my understanding of function, and basically helped me own my beliefs. He pushed me down a road of curiosity that today is just as vast and winding as it was then.

I haven’t been in the lab since 2010. Aside from some “guest appearance” at Gil’s dissections to give a hug and see what amazement was brewing, I’ve been knee deep in building a brand, writing a manuscript, and researching, learning, and applying science into a simple approach of self-care. Yet in each lecture, every presentation, Gil remains a constant thread in communicating how vast and unbelievably complex and intricate the human form is.

After sharing Gil’s work in a training, participants would come up and ask, “What degrees do you have to have to attend one of these dissection courses?”

My answer, “Well, none. Just an open mind and a desire to learn”.

I’ve been asked for years to bring MELT Instructors into the lab with Gil. A busy schedule and trainings had this possibility off the table for years. Last year I started coordinating this event, invited MELT instructors into the lab with Gil to explore a preserved form to better answer the questions they have about their own body, practice, and the science behind MELT. In total, 30 female MELT instructors ended up embarking on a somanautic journey through the still form. Some of the instructors that chose to come to this once in a lifetime opportunity were of no surprise. Yet some that came were a total inspiration to me. Weeks of preparation were developed. I asked them to watch each of Gil’s videos (available on YouTube for free) and journal, question, and through calls, discuss what they wanted and hoped to learn in the lab. I prepared them and did my best to encourage they not be too hell bent on any one idea or finding as the human form void of life may or may not answer the questions they preconceived during the pre-dissection months.

We arrived in the lab based in San Francisco. An amazingly, clean, bright, brand spanking new-looking facility astonished me and set my mind at ease. In years past, most labs I’d been in were dank and cold, fluorescent lighting filled the windowless, basement settings. This place was bright with an entire wall of windows, a big open space, and new equipment. In the room were 6 forms under white blankets awaiting the reveal of their lifeless bodies, preserved and ready for us. As the attendees entered the room I could feel the excitement, fear, and expectations in the air.

Gil is a unique man and his dissection approach is unlike any other dissection experience. He prepares us with a thoughtful day-by-day outline to read and learn from before we even step foot into the lab. Then, the lab begins with an hour-long group “share circle” to set the tone of the day and allow us all to settle into the process. He doesn’t talk about gross anatomy for a moment, but rather pulls out his poetry book and selects two or three bodies of work he’s written from his experience as both an anatomist and human being and reads them to us. His perspective and reason for doing what he does is quite profound. I listen to his works while looking around the circle at each face, most of which I recognize and know well. Out of Gil’s 5 assistants, I’d done labs with 3 of them. There were only 5 participants in the room I was meeting for the first time. We then come around the forms in a circle as he gives the only rules necessary in the lab:

  • If you use your hands to talk and gesture, don’t do so with a scalpel in your hands.
  • When you walk around, have the scalpel down along your side.
  • When it doubt, don’t cut it out. Ask about what you want to know or don’t know but want to.

That’s basically it. He shows how to use the hemostat and scalpel on the form, how to reflect the tissue in the easiest possible way, and what we are going to work on that day. The spontaneous lectures, explorations, detours, and questions that arise from day to day are unique, entertaining, and enlightening.

Day one, the removal of the skin layer. This is rarely if ever done in dissection in general. To only remove the skin means leaving the tissue it’s so closely attached to on the form. This layer is called superficial fascia. It’s the layer where superficial fat loves to live, collecting itself in the honeycomb like architecture fascia creates. The layer left over is soft and fluffy, yellow from the abundance of fatty deposits that give our body shapes and curves and sometimes reveals itself in rolls and cellulite. It’s no wonder so many people despise this layer. However, this amazing layer is also where billions of sensory nerve endings live, the onset of our environment outside of us is taken in first through this fluffy layer of fascia and nerve endings.

Odd that people would be perfectly fine with liposuction where you are basically sucking out the intuitive layer of your body. Once removed, you can truly see how everything, every “layer” you can define in a cadaver is really a model of connection, not separation from layer to layer. It’s in stillness we can reflect, observe, and define elements to better understand them. However, if you sit back and don’t cut, you can then gain the understanding and magnitude of this brilliant tissue that supports, protects, and stabilized all of the fun elements of the human form we view in anatomy. So we do just that. We conclude the day with thoughts and conversations about the forms – as they begin to change their shape our own form begins to change along with it.

Day two is on the way. For now, I leave you with this. For every hug, every smile, everything you witness in a day that makes you feel good, remember, you sense these things whether touch is present or not. Your mind imagines all that’s around you to evoke what’s already within you. Connection starts at the level just beneath your skin – it’s not just a brain thing.

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