Return to Cadaver Camp - Buff Bones - Build Strong Healthy Bones

Return to Cadaver Camp

 In Mind-body Connection, Personal Expansion, Professional Development

SproutingI’m preparing for my fifth year at “Cadaver Camp, “ a term I coined last year during the annual dissection I participate in led by Gil Hedley, PhD. Whenever someone hears that I’ve done a human cadaver dissection, let alone am embarking on my fifth go at it, I encounter a rainbow of reaction:

1)    Horror:  Why would you DO that?

2)    Skepticism: What could you learn if you’ve already done it?

3)    Fascination: What’s that LIKE?!

4)    Shock: (wide-eyed silence accompanied by slight jaw dropping)

(I haven’t yet gotten titillation, but maybe I’m not hanging in the right crowd.)

I struggle to explain my reasoning for interest in the dissection because without participating in this six-day experience, you can’t fully grasp how profound it truly is.  Sure there’s the obvious learning of anatomy in 3-D. But you quickly learn that much of what you’ve learned in coursework is a illusion from artists isolating and often “creating” structures that don’t exist as such in the body.

My first year, it was easy to explain why I wanted to participate in a dissection. First, because I wanted to better understand the human body. Second, because the idea is scary as hell! So I wanted to push myself to a new level, both intellectually and emotionally.

But now, my reason for returning moves beyond the mere expansion of my mind and ability to identify specific muscles, nerves and blood vessels. Don’t get me wrong – I always see structures I hadn’t previously and gain a better grasp of anatomy and physiology every year. But to be honest, the more I see, the more baffled I am by this complex machine and sculpture we call an organism. And that humbling experience is a lovely lesson in surrender, accepting that it’s okay to sit in my discomfort of the unknown and to not understand everything.

Similarly, our instructor Gil has created a unique format, building in time to pause, to discuss connections in the body and to reflect in ourselves.  Our work involves subtlety and precision to carefully reveal relationships of tissues and structures. We also use the experience to confront our own fears, rather than check them at the door, which allows us students to transform and grow in ways that may not be possible in the daily grind.

I always liken this experience to that of time stopping. After all, there is an other-worldly side to this stuff.  Unless you work in a morgue, how often do you typically handle cadavers? While we treat this experience with the utmost respect, and we carefully distinguish the fact that we are working with vessels rather than people, yeah, it’s pretty freaky to spend a week with a body! For one thing, you can’t help but be affected by the profundity of encountering death. And in doing so, and noting similarities between human structures and nature, you can’t help but be reaffirmed of the significance of life.

So with all this mind-blowing going on and stepping outside the realms of daily life, I began referring to “Cadaver Camp” last year to explain my interpretation of my week off from teaching and running my business. As my colleague Kristi Cooper-White of Pilates Anytime and I have discussed, this is the ultimate “camp” for us bodyworkers, movement specialists and health professionals — working with the human body while enjoying the time to learn, love and grow. Who would have thought that a gross anatomy lab could be the seed of a spiritual awakening?

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  • Kristi Cooper White

    Well said! I am in the midst of trying to write about my own experiences in the lab. What you call Cadaver Camp, I call “retreat week, with Gil Hedley.” Three years and three classes later, some of my friends still refer to my “retreat” as “Ghoul School” so I clearly could do better describing this amazing, life changing experience. Well done Rebekah!

  • Allyna Steinberg

    After learning more about my body through the Alexander Technique I can see how your retreat with Gil Hedley would awaken your spirit. Experiential anatomy (relating our understanding of anatomy to our own body) is not the thing we learned in grade school and it is very powerful. While we don’t all have access to “Cadaver Camp”, we do all have access to our own bodies to explore by tracing our own boney and other structures…

    What anatomical parts can we trace? What might we discover? That is, other than that we like a kind touch…

    Try tracing your spine and getting as close as you can to the top of our spine (which is around eye level), or tracing your jaw to see how much bone there actually is behind your teeth, or tracing a few individual ribs to see the way they slope upward from front to back (this may require help from a friend), or tracing underneath the bottom of your rib cage to get a sense of where your diaphragm connects in the front of your body (start way over the right, get underneath the rib cage as much as possible, trace all all the way to the other side and don’t miss coming up up to the tip of the sternum)…

    That last one makes my breathing deepen every time… And overall this type of experiential anatomy has brought new sensory awareness to parts of my body that previously were under my radar. And that new sensory awareness feels good, so good.

    What cool (titillating) thing will I learn next about my body? In a world where our bodies often don’t get our own attention until we want it to do something different or look a certain way, what a great thing to be thinking about.

    Rebekah, thank you for bringing to light that this can be about more than learning about anatomical parts.

  • Layla Khashoggi

    A lovely selection of words to describe the indescribable, Rebekah 🙂 Having just completed my second foray “under the veil”, I must say that the more I see the less I know, and all that just makes me ecstatic. Thanks for sharing.

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