Historically, cadaveric dissection has been the gold standard of anatomy in medical education. Institutional cadaver programs are now being sidelined as the number of anatomy hours decreases in the curriculum. Looking at this trend, to what extent is anatomy reduced to an exercise in the rapid memorisation of parts? How is the temporary ability to recite parts for the purpose of testing a useful tool for health professionals in the long run?
As the end product of anatomy education is to treat a live person, what are the limits of usefulness in studying inanimate material?
These questions are part of ongoing research as the yoga and health community continue to merge into the mainstream of popular culture. How important is it for yoga teachers to know about anatomy, and what is the best way to study it to meet relevant aims and objectives?
Given enough experience, yoga practitioners will inevitably become their own clinicians. It is through years of personal research that we look inward and conduct a somatic dissection of sorts, feeling into our tissues with effort, attention, and breath. At some point, many yoga practitioners will become teachers of yoga.
The continuing upsurge in the popularity of yoga increases at pace with the number of newly qualified yoga teachers. As yoga is now regularly recommended by healthcare professionals as a form of recovery, it is gaining mainstream credibility as a kind of practical medicine. Now, a foundational anatomy education has become much more important for even entry-level yoga teachers.
Making models of anatomy in 3D as well as drawing from life are powerful tools for learning anatomical patterns. I started working with the medium of 3D printing as part of my master’s thesis and was fascinated with the polygon mesh that underpins the process.
As it turns out, the polyhedra map required by computers to 3D print stuff actually appear in real life within the fascial web. The fascial living polyhedra form a constantly adapting network of force distribution in flux that utterly transformed the way I deal with anatomy. The way in which shape and movement co-create each other represents a rich area of study in the area where anatomy overlaps with geometry. It has a been a journey moving away from static models of how things look, to building functional models for how things move.
My passion for anatomy encompasses the study of geometry to explore the holistic principles of the body in nature. I’m interested in tensegrity and how its tenets provide a unified theory of anatomy, especially for yoga practitioners. I teach and practice yoga asana guided by the spiral action of joint systems connected through the body-wide fascial matrix.
For more about my book due out in Autumn 2018, Spiral Bound: biotensegrity for yoga, check out this page at Handspring Publishing.
One of the most humbling and enriching experiences of my life was the year I spent in the dissection lab learning about human anatomy at the University of Edinburgh as part of my second master’s degree in Human Anatomy. I would always encourage anyone interested in anatomy to pursue any opportunity to study cadaveric material in the lab with a trained anatomist. Check out my Cadaveric Anatomy for Yoga course to learn more.
Although the experience of dissection is incredibly fascinating and well worth the effort, there is something inherently different about non-living material when compared to the quality of the living. Taking apart cadaveric material is a reductionist approach. It is one way to learn that can be augmented to an extensive degree with methods that work in reverse – building, making, creating, and experiencing anatomical principles as a living process.
This balance of so-called right and left “side of the brain” learning styles is what helps me retain my doses of learning (not to mention pass my Master’s course!). Using lo-fi model making, drawing, and 3D printing techniques, I started experimenting with living anatomy techniques as a response to what I was learning in the lab. Rebuilding the concepts, I could revise and reinforce anatomical systems in a way that would stick with me much longer than memorising the parts.
While at Edinburgh Uni, I had the great fortune of meeting Dr Gabrielle Finn, Senior Lecturer in Medical Education at Hull York Medical School. She taught me the basics of using body painting techniques to explore underlying anatomy and I have been expanding on this innovative teaching tool in my yoga anatomy workshops ever since. As a pioneer of body painting as an educational method in medical anatomy education, Dr Finn has contributed extensively in the literature and offers continued support as a mentor as I further develop this approach for non-anatomists such as yogis and medical illustrators.
Studying anatomy is something we do automatically in yoga, as anatomy reveals itself as an intrinsic property of self-awareness. What is it about the living body that makes it so? Why is there such a vast gulf separating the “knowledge of parts” from the wisdom of an experienced yogi, who knows not the names of the muscles but feels their properties as contributors to an infinitely adaptable, body-wide histological continuum?
Living anatomy methods are for me a way to explore the nature of life itself, and the inherently philosophical questions that arise not only in yoga, but in the contemplation of nature in all its forms.