COVID Isolation and Human Dissection

In the dissection lab we cling to one another in unprecedented ways. All that we are seeing and cutting into cannot be shared with those who are not present. It’s a grave imposition to ask anyone to hold space for what we are looking at. Beyond the tissues of a human cadaver we are excavating intricacies of our own existence as we penetrate the layers that make up the skin to eventually dive into viscera. 

It’s thought provoking and exposing in unexpected ways. The light as it enters the spaces normally shrouded by the busyness of life, is brilliant. We take it in stride, but are keenly aware of the impermanence of this moment in time. Once the donors are neatly reassembled and laid to rest in their boxes, we must leave one another and continue the work from the still mysterious spaces of our own bodies. The lab provides a tiny amount of x-ray vision, but there are so many blanks to fill. I can name the structures of anatomy but still cannot find the link between it and my emotional awareness, which seems to deepen following a week of dissection.

We keep each other on speed-dial for a few days or weeks, comparing the revelations of sleep or lack there of. We laugh about the ways in which dreams link the most fucked up sections of our psyche with the mundane bits of our home routines and connections. Eventually these things fall away and life goes on as usual. The dreams fade and the phone is quiet. The work however, continues at a low murmur behind the scenes.

The stillness that follows is welcomed at first, but eventually turns to boredom. There is comfort in the friction of an unsettled mind. It propels me forward into tasks that either avoid (in this case), or feed what is rising. Either way, I am productive and creative in satisfying ways, and it works. Now that I have done all the domestic tasks I can stand, my habitat is clean and well prepared with sustenance, I sit down to enjoy the space. Sounds a little like COVID isolation, no?

The disquiet inside surfaces just as the last bit of a well earned sigh is released. I know better than to busy up the mental space the pause from my daily routine has offered, but I do it anyway. I come home from the lab ripe to explore my own insides but an old habit makes me pick up as if nothing transpired the week before while I was literally cutting open a human heart.

I go back to work following the same bike path. I stop at the same spot for my coffee and once I arrive at work, I eat the same breakfast. I problem solve the body and its aches with my clients. The comfort of routine envelopes me like a soft but impenetrable armour. Months pass and the seam around the neglected revelation of my scalpel has mostly bonded again. The moment will come when some benign event, a popped tire or expired coffee cream, (a pandemic), will rip open the vulnerable tissue that had been ripe for healing a short time ago. The once clean incision is now frayed and raw at the edges demanding immediate attention.

That avoided thing, be it physical, mental or emotional, is taking up precious space. How do you recognize when to dig in? There are times when it’s so obvious it hurts. This is probably one of those moments.

Proclamation of the Constitution ACT

“It was raining on Parliament Hill as Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act on April 17, 1982. Marks left by the raindrops as they smudged the ink can still be seen as physical reminders of the rich history of the act.”

More than ever, I am proud to be Canadian today. As the second deposit of the Canada Emergency Care Benefit has reached my bank account, today bears a deeper meaning on many levels for me.

The quote above is taken from the Library and Archives Canada website, and I remember the rain that day. I was 9 years old and had gone to my ballet teacher’s house after school to rehearse for my role as Cinderella in our upcoming recital. I was called home early, and recall skipping through the puddles and around the worms bathing in the wet of the sidewalks. I’ve always loved the rain.

My father had left the house that morning to take pictures of the Queen, as history was being made on Parliament Hill. He didn’t make it far before a cardiac arrhythmia stopped his heart. 

I had to piece it together for myself because I didn’t quite understand what my mother meant when she said he “collapsed at the wheel”. The days following were full of ceremony and logistics. There was a lot of emotion, but not much expression of it. 

My mother immediately began working long hours to support three kids. I didn’t know anything different, and did not immediately feel damaged by the tragedy of these losses. I learned how to navigate the tangible aspects of life quickly. I became what those who knew me described as, strong and independent (qualities I am now trying to outgrow), and by the time I left home, I knew how to stretch a dollar.

This day, 38 years ago, shaped my life of today in so many ways. There is sadness for all the things that were missed, but also so much gratitude for the ways in which life has prepared me for this time of chaotic stillness. 

The father of our current Prime Minister laid the foundation for the funding that so many of us are relying on right now. 

I have never in my life used social assistance, and in my gratitude, I cannot wait to start giving back. 

Isolation day 18 COVID-19

This feels so familiar.

The first time I “ran away from home” was when I was in my mid-twenties. Struggling to make my way in the world and carve out an identity for myself, I gave very little thought to the move before I packed my things and took up residence in downtown Toronto.
I had one friend in a house of six others, all roughly my age. It took me two years to settle into a routine and I remember well, the sensation of loneliness and boredom while I wandered the city looking for work and purpose. I lived solely on credit for a long time, but I didn’t care because I was young and I was doing it on my terms.
At the two year mark I wasn’t working at anything fulfilling but, I had found yoga, and it was breathing new life into me.

In all, I stayed in Toronto for 8 years before moving to Montreal.
I followed a boy there, but that didn’t work out. Actually we had already split up but I moved anyway, because I committed to an apartment, and was ready to leave the big city.

Montreal welcomed me warmly. My yoga experience allowed me entrance into the city’s largest studios, and I soon gained a tiny following of students. I loved the slower pace of the city and would spend hours each week in cafes, writing in my journal between classes or thai massage clients. But I was lonely.

I co-facilitated my first yoga retreat that year in Costa Rica and absolutely fell in love with the country. I was desperately searching for meaning and connection in my life, but I seemed to keep missing the mark. Sometime after that trip, I made the bold decision to take six months off and travel for three months on either side of the next retreat.

I left on December 15th which was no accident. This time I was not only running away from home, but I was doing it intentionally and without excuse, which made me very unpopular with certain members of my family.

There is so much I could write about that time but it all really comes down to the solitude of travel in a foreign land. I am an introvert who delights in the vast spaces of social withdrawal. But this was extreme!

I did not feel safe to be out after dark, and dark came quickly. Unlike Canada’s long, picturesque sunsets where the sun lingers on the horizon for hours, a Costa Rican sunset is over in seconds. There are beaches all along the west coast of the country, where communities gather to witness the few minutes of dusk at the end of each day. By 6:05 the night sky would have me locked in my room.

There would be times I had travel companions or Spanish classes to keep me busy, but much of the time I was on my own.
Days would be filled with the details of running errands, mapping out my next destination, meals, laundry. It was so dull, I can barely recall passing the time. I did a lot of writing and self-examination. It was intense in all directions and I learned quickly that I could run away from home, but my inner turmoil would constantly be nipping at my heels.
Internet was a treat if it could be found, but everything was slow to load, and I felt farther away from home when I checked in with friends. Introspection had put more distance between us because I was supposed to be having the time of my life, not going deep into my cells to excavate the dark mysteries within. I longed for the distraction of technology.

I wasn’t doing yoga because, by it’s very nature, it is designed to illuminate the internal environment, which I was trying to avoid. I would go weeks at a time without moving mindfully, in fear of stirring the beast.

When I would settle in one place for an extended period, I could allow routine to prop me up. In one town, the monkeys would move through the canopy just once a week, and I could busy myself for hours watching them. I counted down to the day each week.
In an indigenous village, I assisted with washing the laundry in the river, smacking the fabric against the rocks to release both the water and dirt. The physicality of it was refreshing. I made friends with two porcupines in a wildlife sanctuary, where feeding them gave me purpose.

Yorkin, Costa Rica

It was half a year of monotony and boredom, sprinkled with tiny revelations from my soul. I was forever changed by those six months. I learned that it didn’t take a lot of doing to fill a day; that the spaces in between were where the magic happened. I learned to taste my food and prepare it anticipation of flavour, rather than hunger. I placed greater value on being spaciously present with other human beings…

It was hard, but so far, it’s cured me of my need to run away.

Photography & Human Dissection

Me. Printed in Photo Life, September 1981
(photo by my Dad)

The more I look, the more insatiable my appetite becomes. I can easily lose track of time with my hands on or in a body. It’s so similar to being in a darkroom that in some ways I have been doing it forever.

In the darkroom, creative use of light is used to expose, manipulate, combine and edit the mood of an image. The negative is an objective template and the light that passes through it is subjective. It is the light that reveals the image, and the light that also has the capacity to hide or reveal finer detail. What I appreciate most about being in a darkroom is perhaps the illusion that I have some control over the image I wish to expose. Either it exists or it doesn’t, and I have been known to spend HOURS attempting to reconcile the image in my head with that on the page. I emerge from a darkroom marathon exhausted and exhilarated. Inspired and planning the next roll.

When I was young, my Dad, who was an X-ray technician by profession, had a passionate hobby in photography. He shot black and white film that he processed in a darkroom he built in our basement. Myself and my brothers were often his subjects, but I took a deeper interest, wanting to spend time with him in the cramped darkroom. I remember sitting on the couch with him, eyes closed, attempting to thread an old film onto a developing spool.
I would eventually inherit his cameras, darkroom equipment and passion for images. The combined work and luck it takes to bring an image from conception to print is simultaneously fraught with excitement and frustration. The entire process is not unlike being in the lab.

I love all photographs. I am interested in what the person holding the camera wants to reveal. I want to know the stories behind the light, the angle and composition. I love how photographs document the passage of time, and the mysteries they hold. I believe that a body also holds the documentation and mystery of time.

The dissection lab is not unlike the darkroom for me. I was good with a scalpel from day one. The precision required to uncover structure satisfied the photographer in me. To me, a scalpel is akin to the light in the darkroom. It’s the tool used to expose and bring to the surface, what lies beneath.

Massage Therapy & Burnout

The World Health Organization is including Burnout in the 11th Revision of The International Classification of Diseases.

It is described in the chapter: ‘Factors influencing health status or contact with health services’ – which includes reasons for which people contact health services but that are not classed as illnesses or health conditions.

Stress acts on the body by suppressing the immune system. During times of stress, the body’s natural response is to shut down all functions that are considered secondary to preserving life. This means that wound healing, tissue repair, digestion and metabolism, all take a back seat to the stress. Stress increases heart rate, blood pressure, and reduces our ability to cope.

Massage Therapy is one effective way to reset the system and begin the process of returning to balance. Massage can be used to increase circulation and assist in the management of stress.

Taking time out to be still, can go a long way in your road to health.

Relationships: Antagonist, synergist, agonist.

Jenga: one small shift can disarm an entire structure!

As a massage therapist and (ex)yoga instructor, I have studied muscle relationship more than anything else. When there is an irritable body structure, my job is to find the source. The point that is throwing everything off balance is not normally the area of pain. The “cure” is often to calm the antagonist and build up the weaker opposing structure.

Antagonist, synergist, agonist 🤔, in a three dimensional, emotional structure… Theses are not static labels or relationships. Balancing the roles and figuring out the equation is my happy place. I’ve never been bored in my attempts to disarm these duelers. In my practice, massage and yoga are besties!

What is Thai Massage? (VIDEO)

Thai Massage is a comprehensive, full body treatment that works on a physical, energetic and emotional level. Directing attention to the body’s energetic pathways through movement and mindful massage, blockages are free to release, restoring the flow of energy, and thus liberating your innate ability to heal.

Thai Massage allows you to connect on a level that goes beyond the skin. In this flowing movement practice, awareness is passed between giver and receiver, resulting in a therapeutic experience of full body relaxation. Thai bodywork incorporates movement and stretch which has the capacity to deliver greater pranic flow through the muscles and joints of the body, inspiring deeper, long lasting effects.

Thai Massage differs from other forms of massage in that it is done on the floor, fully clothed.

Thai is offered for 60 minutes, 75 or for the best full body experience 90 minutes is recommended.

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.
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.