by Terry Littlefield
I was recently listening to J. Brown’s podcast with guest Ann Votaw. Ann was talking about the time she got to go to NYU and get an actual tour of their cadaver lab.She was interested in going there because she had been really sick and the possibility of death hit close to home. She also attended a cadaver memorial. The families get to come and meet the doctors who are learning with these forms. It’s a powerful and beautiful reminder that bodies can be honored in the present moment and beyond.
I never imagined I would go to a cadaver lab when I became a yoga teacher. In my first training, which was VERY solid in the land of mass-marketed teacher training programs, we learned anatomy. We had our 12 required hours, and I memorized the bones that I needed to memorize for the anatomy portion of the final exam. Anatomy is such a minimal portion of trainings which makes me really sad because we deal with bodies.
And then there’s biomechanics – which is not even discussed in most trainings.
I’m lucky enough to have studied with teachers who are bringing this information to teachers. I’m grateful for any and all that I can learn about the body as it helps me show up for whoever shows up in my classroom. But once upon a time, I got to attend a one-day cadaver lab at a local college here in Los Angeles. I was so nervous to go. I am not a super woo-woo teacher, but at that time, I was definitely more chakras and Chodron than Latin and lats. I was nervous about seeing the bodies, let alone touching the bodies.
I was told to wear layers, lots of layers, because it’s very cold in the lab. I was told to wear clothes, including shoes that would most likely be thrown in the garbage, once we got home, of course. I was told to get gloves. I was warned about the formaldehyde smell. I was told to bring a lunch…an interesting roam around Trader Joe’s, wondering what kind of lunch I might be able to eat or if I’d be tossing my lunch. Lucky for me, I have a friend who is totally into this kind of thing. She was my lab partner. We looked ridiculous, but we were prepped and ready to go. (And the clothes didn’t need to be thrown out after all.)
The day was set up brilliantly. The morning had a lecture on upper body. Then we went into the lab and explored the upper body. It was FREEZING in there, but the formaldehyde smell didn’t bother me at all. Each of the eight bodies had a grad student in charge so you could ask questions. They would help you locate the muscles and nerves that look NOTHING like the anatomy books. The grad students had already prepped the bodies for us so there was no cutting. We were told the age of the person and how they passed. I was shocked at my curiosity. I did listen and learn. And I did touch.
Let me tell you, after memorizing the four rotator cuff muscles from a book, you think you’ve got it and then you go look for them…It was probably the first time I began to understand that we are truly all one, intertwined, connected mix of muscles, tissues, nerves, everything is all together. There’s not a perfectly perfect supraspinatus just sitting there waiting to be examined. We were in the lab for about an hour and a half, going from body to body. I said a silent blessing to each and every body and felt an immense amount of gratitude for them.
The afternoon was lower body lecture, then lab. No rotator cuff here. Now, what blew my mind, was the sciatic nerve. No wonder it’s such a pain in the ***. It’s HUGE. Also fascinating, the glutes. In all of my trainings, I’ve learned in general, we have lost our ability to activate our buttock muscles because we sit all day long. Every day. Seeing the size of these muscles and knowing they are meant to be strong and utilized for healthy locomotion was really cool. Again, they were just layers of muscles that were not distinguishable to me. And the uterus. A baby grows in there??? It’s so TINY. The cadaver lab experience was one I will not forget. It inspired me to continue on my journey of learning about my own body and the bodies I teach. I hope to attend a much more in depth cadaver lab one day. It’s official, I’ve become a body nerd and a bit of a science geek. Maybe you’ll join me?
Terry Littlefield, RYT-500, Integrated Yoga Tune Up teacher, and long-time practitioner, is a passionate educator with a big sense of humor and an even bigger heart. Her classes are a blend of science and spirit, breath work and ball work (Yoga Tune Up therapy balls, of course), movement and meditation. If you want to have fun and experience safe, functional movement within your yoga practice, she’s your yogi.