The human body, layer by layer

On Tuesday I completed my final exams for my first semester of PT school. Yesterday I studied a real human brain, extracted from a real human skull.

This semester has been eye opening, inspiring, humbling, grounding, scary and hard. It was perfect. Everything I imagined my first semester of PT school should be. 

Our cadaver dissection was a gift. In an age when everything is digitized, it’s refreshing to do things the old way—to tell the story of the body with a sharp instrument. The way it’s been done for centuries is truly the only way to experience the textures and mind blowing density of layer upon layer of structures and systems through which we take in and move through (or in this case, have moved through) life. With five complete human specimens in the lab, we uncovered five unique life stories.

My lab group, seven of us, stood over a body bag on the first day wondering who would be brave enough to slide open the zipper. Looking back on our first clumsy-hesitant palpation of bony landmarks on the breastbone, collarbones, out to the shoulder to make our first incision, it’s remarkable how far we’ve come. My interest in seeing/feeling/understanding more drove my ability to step way outside my comfort zone. Like, to think I’ve sometimes had trouble cleaning up cat barf. Now this.

Halfway through the semester, I was amazed by how fluent I’d become in dissection, how I’d acclimated to the unpleasant smells, and how easy it was to peel back the layers in regions as intimate as the deep inner thigh. There were areas where we dissected so deeply we could view structures on the back of the body from the front, and the other way around. There’s a profound understanding that comes from seeing the inner surface of the back ribs and pelvic bowl. I’ve received an understanding of the structures of the body in the most tactile, three-dimensional way possible. 

By the time I turned the lungs and the heart around in my hands, I’d fallen in love.

Deep gratitude to the five individuals who gave us this tremendous gift. Now that our course is complete, the cadavers and all their bits of tissue, will be sent back to a facility in upstate New York. There they will be cremated and returned to their families.

Among the living, teaching throughout this semester has revealed new layers as well. I see the people in front of me in radically different ways. I’m understanding now more than ever that I understand very little about another person’s past experience in life or in his or her own unique body. 

It’s challenging as a teacher to make room for choices and allow students to have complete agency over their bodies, while still being specific with my instructions. There’s a delicate balance between maintaining an environment of security with clear, simple directions while still allowing space for someone to explore in ways that are most appropriate for that individual in that moment. 

Just as I practice in meditation (and attempt in life), it’s a constant oscillation between not too tight, not too loose. 

With this in mind, I’m creating some online class content at home. My aim is to provide a framework for practice that allows freedom for you to explore on your own. The class I’ve included below in an excerpt from a full hour class that I’ll roll out to you soon. Feel free to put on your own music if that feels appropriate, skip parts and rest when needed, or improvise more vigorous work when the impulse arises. The most important thing is to embrace the understanding that you know your body better than any teacher, and while my class provides a container, your practice is truly your own. Check it out here.

Caitlin CasellaComment