The Sagittal Cut (part III) the diverse interests of somanauts

Something I really appreciate about being in the lab, is the freedom to explore. There is a systematic way that as a group, we go about our somatic exploration, but there is room to deepen any exploration you choose.
Generally, the first few days are quite structured and, once we reach the viscera, somanauts begin to veer off into areas of personal interest. This is where I learn the most.

Once in a #dissectionlab, I had a tablemate who wanted to cut everything in half to have a look inside. Our method generally, is to peel away the layers in the same way you would peel an onion but this guy wanted to cut right through. As a result, I saw some amazing things in that lab.

Our donor, “Art”, was a 98 year old gift of beauty. He came to us with a speedo suntan and an erection that would be the envy of many– the embalming process fills the body with fluid, giving the male donors something they can be proud to show off in the lab.
When we opened Art’s gallbladder, he revealed to us a large gallstone which our tablemate cut it in half. WOW! The stone when whole, was about the size and shape of large macadamia nut. It was black with a deep emerald green hue, which in and of itself was beautiful. What we found inside was astonishing. It was a clear crystal stone! We joked about how things might have gone down if he’d had it surgically removed and turned it into a piece of jewelry: “my, what a gorgeous stone!”… “Thank you. I made it myself. IN. MY. GALLBLADDER!”

Another time, someone in the lab was interested in bone. This person cleaned off all the bones and held together the joints while moving them in anatomical ways. I had never before seen such obvious rotations and glides that are somewhat unique to each body. For the anatomists out there, this is really something to see (think about the pivot of the radial head against the ulna).
Imagine having a dental assistant in the lab, pulling teeth. Artists sketching what they see. Curious minds shaving away the tissue of the lungs to reveal the tree like structures of the bronchioles. Dissecting the matrix that holds together your fat cells…

The body has so much to reveal, and the different views shown to us by differing fields of interest are so valuable. Which brings me to the WHY of The Sagittal Cut: Each time I have been in the lab we have looked at the brain in the same way. Basically, the skull cap is removed so that we can pull out the intact brain and have a look at the underside where the cranial nerves are (so cool). So a few years ago, I set out to do the familiar. Just before the first cranial cut, Gil suggested I do something different: cut sagittally. So I did, and although this gave a really cool view of the pineal and pituitary glands, the corpus callosum and cerebellum, this was all very foreign territory to me and overwhelm made me miss almost everything.

After returning home and going back to work, holding a head in my hands at the end of a treatment, I had so much regret over not exploring the sinuses, the nasal cavity and the muscles that move the jaw and the eyes.
The following year, I attended an unfixed lab (where the bodies are not embalmed). This was such a different look into the body, that all previous experience was set aside to take it all in. It would be another year before I got back to the head to explore all the things that continued to pique my curiosity.

Pictured here are green aventurine stones, not actual #gallstones but I wanted to you have a visual of the beauty.

The Sagittal Cut (part II) Getting to know the donors

Our donor in my biased opinion, landed in the best place one could ask for if you were to have a voice with which to do so. In Gil’s lab, the gift of body donation is emphasized often. We have an obligation to look at every aspect and wring out as much learning and discovery as we can. My group affectionately referred to our form as “Sir”, and days into the week, we were given a bit of his story: he had inhabited this body for 89 years before passing it on to us to explore. No irony for us to find out that “Sir” had been an elementary school teacher. This was the first time for me that we were given more than the age of death and the recorded cause. You can imagine the “ooooos”, the outpouring of love and acknowledged coincidence of how we called him Sir.

While we do remain quite clinical in the lab, the person, their life and personality are very close to us. We have no information, but the body tells a story. Well, we like to think it does and theorize a lot about why things look the way they do. We know these are theories but human dissection in many ways is self-dissection. When you explore something as deeply as this, it penetrates every cell. We want the donor to be a person, and we want to know them.

Day one in the lab consists of getting to know our lab mates, meeting the donors, choosing and naming one, and finally beginning our work.
Our bodies are comprised of many layers and in Gil’s lab, we look at one layer at a time.

Day one is reflecting the skin, which means we expose the underside of this elastic covering and reveal the superficial fascia that lays below. In the layer of the superficial fascia, you will find capillaries, nerves, lymphatic vessels and nodes. The face is unique in that this layer also houses the muscles of expression. These muscles have no boney attachment and are too thin to palpate but they are responsible for the unique lines and character of our wrinkles as we age. I loved exploring the facial muscles. I learned the names of the muscles as they emerged and began to look differently at the faces around me that were so animated, as together we uncovered the fatty layer of superficial fascia. Gil talks about this being the sensual, emotional and under appreciated layer. All kinds of inspiring conversations begin during this phase of dissection.

The superficial fascia (or adipose) layer we are told, is undervalued and under appreciated in medical labs. It is only seen as “fat” and the sooner it’s out of the way, the better. I have not participated in any dissection other than Gil’s, so I can only comment on this to say that when I supervise lab visits for the massage students (where the dissection is already done), there is no adipose on those bodies. I have seen enough bodies to know that its absence is not because it did not exist.

Once the superficial fascia is removed, skeletal muscle is revealed. This is an exciting stage of dissection. We get to see the muscles as they emerge. These are structures we can recognize and name, but seeing them wrap around the bones is something a textbook can never accurately reveal on a flat page. It’s a bit like going to the monuments in the countries of the world you have only seen in pictures. They look exactly like the photos, yet are not even close to what you experience.

The head, again is unique because it changes form entirely once it’s fatty layer is removed. Because there are only a few muscles in the face region that attach to bone, the skull is fully exposed along with the strong muscles of the jaw and neck.

I don’t know about you, but when I look at a skull, I find it very difficult to see a face. Since this dissection, I now look at faces differently. I see how evidence of a person’s personality shows up through permanent lines in the skin of the face as we age. I see how the strength of the masseter muscle defines a persons jaw. I see how thick and layered the muscles of the neck are organized to hold the weight of the head, and how these have the potential to change based on our habitual posture.

This dissection has only just begun… The donors, while only a small group of us get to know them intimately, continue to share their gift through our telling and re-telling of what we came to know of them. We can never know how far reaching that may be.

The Sagittal Cut (part I)

I am often asked by clients, colleagues and friends, if I am going to “cut up dead bodies” this year. This phrase is meant to be playful and poke fun at my obsession with the human body, but I believe it’s also a way for the speaker to depersonalize what it is they think, I am actually doing in the lab.

Language is important in the lab. The gift of the donor is so profoundly appreciated, none of us would dare utter an indecent word related to the work being done. The language we use defines the dissection in ways that honour structure, function and organization. It’s a language of objectivity which allows for space between my intellectual cognition and emotional self. The term “human dissection” carries with it a very different picture than “cutting up dead bodies”. You can see how the two refer to the same thing but, they are not even close.

In April of this year, I participated in my favourite dissection to date. For the first time ever, I entered the lab with a plan of what I wanted to see. I spent all 42 hours engrossed in one project: the head and neck.
It is typically more of a challenge to objectify this region and the physical work of dissecting here is difficult because of the delicate structures involved. This made it easy for my lab mates to give me exclusive access to our donor’s cervical spine and cranium.

I had planned to explore the facial muscles, blood and lymph vessels, the muscles that move the eyes, the deep sinuses and how they connect to one another, the muscles of mastication, the bones and joints of the cervical spine and the muscles that traverse between the skull and the mid back. I wanted to see the passages of nerves into the brain, the glands of salivation, the trabeculae of the bones and the structure of the intervertebral discs.

Forty-two hours is not a lot of time, but I tell you, the wealth of information I took in during those hours will probably take me more than that time to write out. So here is your introduction to the writings to follow.

I have a feeling that there is a profound curiosity beneath the inquiries about my work with “dead bodies”, and those of you who have caught yourselves asking… You should read on.

The REAL Reason I Practice

Practice is not about improving my asana. It’s about seeing who I am and grasping an opportunity to explore my tendencies, emotions and reactions. As children, our parents navigate life and relationship for us; we learn these things for ourselves first by mimicking them. Without knowledge or intention, we become mini versions of our role models.

The beginning breather knows only the inhale and the exhale. A practiced breather learns to explore the spaces between. I begin each day as a beginner in this realm, and as I unlock the space between, I open up the potential for calm action. Like an exhale is the response to an inhale, I move through life on auto-pilot.

My asana practice gives me the experience of space. With space, I can choose when the next breath comes. In the space, I enjoy the bliss of presence and witness. I don’t have to live in a reactionary way. I am training to be the observer first, rather than having my reactiveness tell me without process, how I feel. In this, I am seeing the opportunity to change the patterning of my family. To re-wire the emotional tools I was given and have them better reflect who it is I am constantly becoming. I am not done. I will never be done becoming. “We are growing younger towards death” (words often heard in the lab of somanauts). The best way to connect to the experienced breather is to begin each day by moving my breath.

With practice, my chances are better for success.

Savasana for Beginners

What could possibly be so difficult about savasana (corpse pose)? Physically, it’s about the easiest position to get one’s body into. All you have to do is lay down on your back and decide whether or not you need a lift under your head or knees to ease any low back or shoulder pain.

For most beginning yogis, everything seems backwards when you are upside down, and it’s tough to decipher right from left. This is sort of the brilliance of yoga, it distracts your mind with the details of the body. Forced to investigate a sensation or movement within the confines of a few breaths can be all consuming, and It confuses you into complete presence of the moment. Whatever you were doing before you began your yoga practice, is nowhere to be found in your mind. That is, if you set yourself up well for the experience.

Going through the motions of asana when you have distractions close by, will usually end in a shortened practice or one that leaves you unsettled and anxious to get on with your day.

Creating adequate space in your day is the key to a yoga flow uninterrupted by the mind. I find my practice is best before my day begins, (and my day is best when it begins with yoga). When I come to my mat, I always begin by chanting OM three times. For me, this signifies that something deeper is about to take place, it warms up my diaphragm and creates space for deeper breath, which steadies me to begin.

Throughout my practice, I am observing my mind, my breath, my body sensations. If I don’t task my mind with these observations, I could easily stop to water the plants, check my email, attend to that thing that I just suddenly remembered I forgot… ‘Cause as soon as you begin to turn the volume of life down, you remember the things that you forgot.

This is why it’s called “practice”. Because we are never going to get it right, this is a lifetime journey. In order to actually turn down the volume, you must practice turning down the volume. The initial question: Why is savasana So. Damn. Hard? Because we have no experience with turning down the volume. Most of us can do ON or OFF, but to lay still idling? That’s a skill.

To get more out of savasana, first it’s good to know that without rest, your body cannot heal. Healing refers not only to physical injury/pain, but emotional unease, hormonal imbalance, digestive issues, anxiety… You name it. The body needs stillness and silence to recuperate. This is not the same as sleep, (a topic that deserves a separate post), also chances are if your are experiencing something you need to heal from, you probably aren’t sleeping all that well.

Through the yoga practice, you are already setting yourself up to be able to slow down. You are giving your mind stimulation and learning that is fully from the body; the place you are disconnected from in your day and work. For the first while, your mind will pipe up as soon as your body is quiet because, that has been its role. With practice, your mind will slip into a place of waking dreams during savasana. That place where you are hovering between a conscious and unconscious state. Where you are dreaming, but you can hear everything going on around you. This is the place where the greatest rest and healing occur. It feels a bit like magic (and happens all too rarely).

Keep at it. The learning is huge. You’ll see.

____________________________________

Not completely unrelated: I had a epiphany while writing this. I had more to say than I thought, and it took some time to compose. I got hungry!
I paused to put together a plate of garlic stuffed olives, cheese, peppers and crackers. I wanted so badly to shove a few olives in my mouth while I prepped the plate, but talked myself out of it so I could fully enjoy the spread as a whole.
As I fished the olives out of the jar, I began to salivate PROFUSELY. Then I flashed back to my physiology studies where I learned that digestion begins in the mouth (with salivation). Had I have immediately gulped down the olives, I would not have salivated. The process of digestion would have had to correct itself down the line because I missed the salivation step.
Hm.
That is all.
I will leave this analogy here for you to run wild with 😉

Therapeutic Yoga

There are three types of stress that wreak havoc on our bodies: Physical, chemical and emotional. How does yoga actually work in reducing the effects of these stresses?

Although the method of each type of stress varies greatly, the impact on the body’s chemistry is the same. A physical injury, chemical reaction to food or drug, and emotional challenge all cause chemical changes within the body as it strives to repair damaged structures and return to balance. When the body is under constant stress (any of the three types), our immune response can become overworked, confused, and ineffective.

Your body has a way of maintaining balance under normal circumstances, and excessive stress can upset the controls of this balance resulting in pain, digestive issues, mood swings, fatigue etc.
Yoga, believe it or not, is actually stressful for the body – in a good way. We’ve all heard of good stress but what exactly does that mean?

Yoga challenges both the body and the mind by putting you in uncomfortable body positions, stimulating mental activity that can show up as elation, frustration, curiosity and maybe even provoke feelings of sadness or anger. While this emotional event is taking place, your body is responding by releasing a flood of hormones and chemicals that are part of the fight or flight response. The goal is to restore balance to our body’s physical, emotional and chemical state. For most of us, the fight or flight response can not discriminate between a real threat or a perceived one, and our body responds too strongly to small stimulus which eventually leads to burnout.

In a yoga class when you are holding a long pose and your muscles begin to shake and burn, your heart rate increases and you might even begin to panic (while your brain screams profanity at the instructor). This intentionally induces a stress response in a controlled environment and you are actually learning on a cellular level, that the stress and panic are not life threatening. Over time, your nervous system learns to discern the difference between major and minor stress and deploys the appropriate response. It’s no secret that those who practice yoga regularly are less affected by the small stresses, and the reason is in your body’s chemical response. Yoga retrains your response to stress.

Some of the wonderful side-effects of yoga include increased strength & flexibility, decreased physical and emotional pain, a stronger immune system and a more balanced nervous system.

Is it normal to be sore after a massage?

Even though you are passive during a massage, the muscles are being stimulated in a way that is similar to a workout; cycling through a repeating pattern of stretch-contract. This creates micro tears in the muscle, increases blood flow and eventually results in inflammation. The inflammation is what causes the soreness and is also what promotes healing. So, yes it is completely normal to feel some soreness following a massage.

Just as soreness lessens as you become more efficient with a specific exercise, soreness also decreases with repeated massage; the body builds a tolerance to the level of intensity. Increase the intensity, and the sensation will follow suit.

This does NOT mean “no pain, no gain”. While there is a certain level of soreness that is therapeutic, not all post massage pain is good. There are situations where there is already an ample supply of inflammation around an injured area and aggressive massage can slow down or even reverse the body’s natural healing.

The harder your knots are, the more time we need to knead them out. It’s a bit like buttering fresh bread… You cannot spread cold, hard butter over the bread in a hurry without destroying the bread. You have to let the butter warm up and soften in order to get a good result. A little skill and patience can go a long way!

A recent tightness may be well addressed in 60 minutes, where an old pain may take several consecutive visits (and some home exercises) to see results.

What is Thai Massage

There is something deeply relaxing about being on the floor. It seems as though the support and firmness of the floor allow for the body to yield more fully to gravity, encouraging a much longer and deeper breath which, in turn allows muscular tension to dissipate. 

Thai massage differs from regular massage in that no oils or lotions are used, it is done fully clothed, on floor mats. Your body is moved and stretched while being massaged. Some of the many benefits include:

Enhanced Energy Flow: Thai massage works off the belief that tightened muscles lead to the diminished flow of energy in your body. When energy can’t flow freely, you become tired, suffer pain and feel stiff. Clients report a stronger sense of vitality following a Thai massage.

Pain Relief: Studies suggest that the movement involved in Thai massage provides longer lasting effects on painful physical conditions such as low back pain. This is likely due to the full body nature of Thai massage, where stretch is delivered to all the muscles that contribute to the pain restoring balance. Thai focuses a great deal on the legs and feet (areas often underappreciated), resulting in a feeling of lightness and easy movement.

Stress Reduction: At first glance, Thai massage appears to be a lot of work because you are not lying still. However, when you are able to let go and allow your body to be moved passively, the rhythmic motion of Thai massage has a way of lulling your nervous system into a deep state of ease.

Christine came to thai massage accidentally while attending a yoga workshop in 2002. The experience inspired her instantly to explore the modality further and shortly after, she completed her thai massage training. Christine worked for 10 years doing thai massage exclusively before becoming an RMT.

*thai massage is covered by your benefits, just as a regular massage is.

Curious about which style is right for you today?

Thai massage is great (but not exclusively) for inactive bodies and active minds. It is an effective way to energize a sluggish system, calm an agitated mind and begin the process of repair to stressed immune cells. Because thai massage is always full body (with a lot of focus on the lower back and legs), it is a great remedy for lower back pain.

Yoga Teacher Training Manual

In 1999 I began an epic yoga journey. I call it epic because it’s the only thing that has been consistent in my life for that long. I began practicing 6 days/week within the first month of my first class. Everything in my life changed in order to make space for my time in the studio. It’s still difficult to explain why. I can come close by saying that somehow the practice facilitated an improved management of my life choices. I was so desperate for everyone to feel the same empowerment, that I enrolled in teacher training and began teaching shortly after my first year of practice.

My first teacher training was 2 years long. I took a month long intensive on the heels of that certificate, and then a few years later, enrolled in a yoga mentorship program. Each program and instructor offered a different view of the practice, and enhanced my understanding. Thirteen years into my yoga journey, I began writing a teacher training program. Drawing from my experience of Anatomy and physiology to make a key distinction between the motions of yoga and the benefits of an informed practice. Extracting the most enriching aspects of my training, practice and teaching, it took a year to write.

I taught the program for several years, and each time was challenged further by the inquisitiveness of the students.

In the summer of 2016 I retired from teaching to focus solely on my massage therapy practice. While I miss the engagement of the students, I am enthralled by the depths of the body, and each day takes me deeper into its wonders.

The program contents and syllabus are available for sale, and I would be so honoured to see it embraced by those of you who cannot help but share the practice that has shaped you.

Contact me for details: b o d y w e l l t h e r a p i e s @ g m a i l [dot] c o m

Yoga, Emotional Metabolism & Self Care

If I do not metabolize my experiences, my system becomes congested, lethargic and grumpy. Sound familiar?

me·tab·o·lism
noun
noun: The sum of the physical and chemical process in an organism by which its material substance is produced, maintained and destroyed, and by which energy is made available.

Emotional Metabolism & Self Care

We know that emotions impact the body because they often manifest physically through tears, digestive upset and wacky immune responses. So if emotional stress and trauma involve the body, it makes perfect sense that you must consider the body in healing.

Firstly, through breath.
Releasing stored emotion is a physical and chemical process. Through mindful movement we are making chemical change through the stimulation of organs and glands involved in metabolism. Because the breath is a great access point between the inner environment of the body and the outer world we live in, there is a communication between the two. Did you know that the cycle of breath is more than a life sustaining exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide? The breath also aids in the body’s balance of acidity, which must be kept within a certain range to maintain life. When we move our bodies, we ‘disturb’ this balance, and the breath is part of correcting it. Physical movement helps to dislodge and metabolize past experience, the breath is essential in releasing the toxic aspects so that they can no longer poison the system.

Emotional toxicity can feel as euphoric OR as poisonous as physical toxicity. When you remove the toxin, you experience greater energy and space.

I believe that all experience contains both essential nutrients and waste that need managing, and we all go through periods of build up and release.
Ever been “high on life”? Many classify this as a positive thing, but yoga teaches that the high is more problematic than the low. It risks preference and possible addiction to an unsustainable state. By extracting the “nutrients” from difficult experience, we gain greater appreciation for the process over instant gratification and begin to build a framework for the rewards of taking the long way ’round.

In yoga, sometimes anger and frustration arise during practice. This friction is what we call tapas in yoga philosophy and it speeds up the process of emotional metabolism. It’s the reason you sometimes feel different emotions rising up during class, and it’s essential for the metabolic process.

There is a passage in the Upanishads (texts of yoga philosophy), that states: “everyone sees his sport but himself, no one ever sees. One must not wake the sleeping person suddenly.” I interpret this to say that yoga strives to gently awaken the soul through a slow and methodical cleansing of emotional toxicity. Without respect to the pace, we risk throwing the system into crisis, and now the cure becomes the cause for distress.

This concept has been in the forefront of my practice lately, as I recognize times when I am unable to censor my reactiveness to the small stuff. I have not been metabolizing my experiences, which thankfully triggers my return to practice. This passage also reminds me that a true yoga instructor must have some grasp on the mechanism of yoga that fertilizes the soil for personal development. Each practice and each student, will have a different formula for optimal metabolism, and it takes some amount of experience and humility to mentor a student towards their wellness.

Many students will abandon the practice upon their first brush with tapas because in a world of serial pleasure seeking, the friction is so foreign it feels frightening and wrong.
Yet without the friction, we cannot metabolize old experiences that are blocking up and weighing down our physiology. In the absence of reassurance and encouragement, important practices may be abandoned, and emotional metabolism arrested.

Food poisoning means that your body must eliminate a toxin as soon as it is detected; we know that this will involve vomiting and or diarrhea. Neither of which are pleasant, but avoiding it can mean something much more harmful (can you avoid it, really?) Knowing this, we still tend to avoid purging emotional buildup, and when we do engage, we run at the first sign of discomfort. Yoga teaches the practitioner to find comfort in the uncomfortable. It does this through the body, but it’s the mind that learns the deeper lesson through the body’s intelligence.

Our bodies have a wisdom to share that the mind may never fully grasp. By mindfully engaging in practices that promote emotional metabolism, we strengthen our emotional capacity and clear up space for new experiences. I believe we are metabolizing emotions that may go back farther than we can remember, and the beauty is that it can be done through the cells without always having to relive any specific moments. The more we metabolize, the more efficient our systems become at metabolizing.

Have you ever indulged in your favourite treat while heavily involved in another task only realize once it’s too late and the treat is gone, that you gained absolutely no pleasure from it? If we are not present through the process, the craving cannot be satiated and we immediately reach for more.

To be truly efficient, one cannot multi-task emotional metabolism. Self care is a process that demands one’s full attention, otherwise there is nothing caring about it.