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Yoga Med School: Go Straight To Gross Anatomy

On March 12, anatomy geeks can learn from a real cadaver without stepping foot in a lab in Gil Hedley’s upcoming lecture “What's The Fuzz? The Amazing Stories Our Bodies Tell About Healthy Movement, Living Relationships and Our Vast Human Potential.”

Hedley offers this four-hour tour of the connective tissue, what he affectionately terms "fuzz," using rare footage from one of his human dissections.

“The basic question I’m trying to answer is how the body accomplishes differential movement when completely connected,” explains Hedley. YogaCity NYC’s Ann Votaw talked to him to find out more:

Ann Votaw: This isn’t your typical workshop. Tell me what to expect.

Gil Hedley: I am not going to do a scientific review of nerves and muscles. I’m going to talk about fascia and movement in relationship to some of the tissues that are not often featured.

AV: What are these tissues?

GH: Fascia which I call ‘fuzz’ because it looks like fuzz. When I first saw it, I wasn’t sure it belonged there. After years of dissection, I realized it was the basic tissue that wasn’t drawn in anatomy books.

AV: I imagine this fuzzy connective tissue looks like a spider web or the film of an orange segment. Is that at all correct?

GH: The answer would be yes to both, depending on whether the tissues in question are being placed in tension and pulled apart in the dissection process to reveal their inner structure, in which case they look a bit like webby cotton candy; or if they are in place and still hydrated, in which case they look filmy and slippery.

AV: What images will you be using to show fascia?

GH: I’ll show images of fixed and unfixed forms that will demonstrate movement. I’ll be looking at three types of fascia — superficial, membranous and deep — and then show how each one facilitates movement. There’s no way to convey how hard it is to take pictures of these images. To teach movement on the dead is a challenge in itself.

AV: So footage will involve pictures of you holding a piece of tissue and making the other part move?

GH: That’s pretty accurate. You will look in vain for good footage of people dissecting human tissue. They’re fussy, anatomists. They will show you the final product but not the process.

AV: Your students are often yoga teachers, not doctors?

GH: That’s my main squeeze. I don’t work with medical students or the physician community. I teach everyone else. Every conceivable professional who wants to know about the body: physical therapists, yoga and Pilates people, massage therapists, Rolfers. I do get nurses, midwives, naturopaths.

AV: Did you ever want to be a doctor?

GH: I never had the vaguest interest. Actually, I have a PhD in theological ethics. I went to the lab as a certified Rolfer wanting to improve my skills. I felt like the couple of weeks I had in training was not enough. Having the good fortune of being Doctor Hedley with my PhD, I was able to leverage my title and get someone from the lab to call me back and set up a dissection.

AV: How is your approach different from that of a gross anatomy teacher in medical school?

GH: With my academic background in ethics and training as a Rolfer, I got a holistic approach to the body that was different from what I might have learned in the medical community. I created a unique approach to dissection that revealed in days what professors in the lab don’t see in decades because they don’t dissect this way.

AV: I have heard that anatomists are often witty and warm, the opposite of what the average person might think.

GH: It’s not about what’s on the table. It’s about facilitating the relationships between the students, themselves, and also the relationships with these donor forms. They’re the real teachers in the room.

AV: Where do you get the bodies?

GH: I have always worked with donor programs at the universities where I teach. Most people think it’s only doctors who can dissect. There are a whole host of professions that have a need for cadaver studies, including artists.

AV: How do you feel about the cadavers?

GH: They should be treated with the utmost respect. I’m a donor family. I donated my father and uncle. I also know what it’s like to be the user of the donor form. It’s a privilege.

AV: Have you ever felt emotional during a dissection?

GH: I always have emotions that affect what I’m doing. When I did the dissection for my lecture series, the featured cadaver is Mr. Agape, representing the Greek word for spiritual love. I went to the lab every day feeling so grateful for what I was doing.

Hedley’s workshop is 1 to 5 p.m., Sun., March 12 at NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South. The price is $100. You can register here.

Illustration by Sharon Watts.

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