My first exposure to what I would like to call alternative or extended anatomy, was when I first laid eyes on Gil Hedley’s videos in 2006.
Watching them, my view on everything that I had been doing as a hands on bodyworker for over 20 years shifted in an instant. Nothing was going to be the same again.
In 2007 I attended my first Integral Anatomy dissection with Gil in San Francisco and started to follow the rabbit hole downwards into a way of thinking that I have never come back from.
Until then, I was reasonably confident in my anatomy. Thousands of books on the same subject, all agreeing with each other, couldn’t be wrong could they?
Looking at the way the body was dissected made me realise that the way anatomy is talked about, written about and taught was from the perspective of something mechanical. It was as if one bit of the body did one thing another bit did another thing and the two actions were unrelated.
Talking further, even to brilliant classical anatomists, I realised that their focus was on one world of what had already been written and talked about for the last 300 years.
Once I’d seen the way that the body was connected rather than disconnected during dissection, I started to look for these relationships in my clinical practice and teaching. My understanding of movement, of pain patterns, my clinical reasoning and my approach to treatment changed almost overnight.
The pieces started to fall in to place and I had a level of understanding of form, function and structure that I could only ever have dreamed about prior to this experience.
Let’s be clear about one thing. Anatomy isn’t wrong. What is there is perfect and as a therapist, it’s something we need to learn and be reasonably good at. But what IS out there is, well let’s just say incomplete.
A dissection class lifts the skill level of the therapist to way beyond that which could ever be achieved by the standard study of Anatomy and Physiology.
Only For Doctors?
There are some who might feel that dissection is something that only medical trainees should undertake and this is a view which merits some mention. Let’s be clear about one thing, we don’t just let anyone in to a dissection class and there are clear terms and conditions for those that we do.
I believe that the UK has probably one of the best health care systems in the world. Free at the point of delivery, staffed by dedicated, skilled individuals with incredible knowledge and expertise.
But there are things that medicine, wherever we are, doesn’t do well. The average UK citizen knows that if he goes to the doctor with back pain, the advice as defined by department of health guidelines is probably going to be to take paracetamol and that it will go away eventually.
For many people they will therefore seek out other forms of treatment or therapeutic exercise. This in turn has created an enormous industry of massage therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, Bowen therapists and so forth, who are seeing quite hundreds of thousands of clients a week for the day to day aches and pains.
This is for the most part, aside from the chiropractors and osteopaths, a totally unregulated market. It therefore behoves us as therapists to ensure we are fully engaged with the learning process and committed to developing a deeper understanding of the tissues that we claim to be affecting.
This in turn raises safety for the general public, but also raises the standards of study and level of understanding that therapists are undertaking. A hands on therapist is going to use his or her anatomical knowledge every working day of the week. Ten years down the track many doctor’s gross anatomy is going to be pretty rusty whereas those working in the field of bodywork and movement therapy will be constantly working on this skill set.
The Donor Gift
A dissection class is more than just experiential. It directly benefits those who are on a daily basis, suffering pain and discomfort. The donors who donate their forms, do so in order that others may benefit from their gift.
In my eight years of running dissection classes, I can honestly say that every donor gift has done exactly that.
A Functional Fascia dissection class hold the donor and the facility as the most important element in the whole class. As well as respecting the donor form at all times, we spend time each day cleaning the lab and at the end of the week scrub every surface and work space from top to bottom.
This is our way to acknowledge the extreme good fortune we have had to explore these forms and we leave the lab as clean or cleaner than when we arrived.
The whole process is incredibly respectful from start to finish and we cherish and take care of our donor gifts as if they were old friends. We strive to honour the individual who, when they no longer needed their body, gave it to people who could best learn from that gift.
Many people are coming to the dissection process with a keen desire to understand the body in a more three dimensional way, in order to fully engage and relate what see in the lab to what they are doing day to day in clinics.
It’s hard to fully appreciate the impact that this process has on hands on work, but hopefully some of the videos on this site from people who have attended the class, will go some way to explain it. You can also see Gil Hedley’s Integral Anatomy series, free of charge at his website, the link to which is here.
Finally even if you never come to a dissection class, please consider donating your body after your death to your nearest medical school or university. These days the whole process is strictly regulated under the Human Tissue act of 2004 and regulated by the Human Tissue Authority, the HTA
You can find a list of universities who accept donations at the HTA website. Your gift will allow those working to help others to study the human form in a way that a book can never do.