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Dissection FAQs

by Julian Baker(more info)

listed in anatomy and physiology, originally published in issue 222 - May 2015

In 1996 I attended my 1st dissection course with Gil Hedley in San Francisco. The whole process was a revelation to me; since then I have started to run my own dissection courses along the same lines as Gil’s. The process is called Integral Anatomy and differs from normal anatomical approaches because it looks for the connections rather than the disconnections. 

Integral Anatomy Series by Gil Hedley

This image, from the Integral Anatomy Series by Gil Hedley, shows the superficial layer
removed from a cadaver in its entirety. Gil refers to this layer as this lady’s “wedding dress.”

I often show slides of my dissections while bodywork teaching. Many people are fascinated but raise concerns about their own ability to attend one of these courses. So I thought I’d put together a list of frequently asked questions that will hopefully help you to overcome any concerns that you might have. Any I’ve missed, please do get in touch and I’ll be happy to handle your questions.

As with all good Top Tens, we start at 10!

10. Do I have to be good anatomist to attend one of these courses?

The answer is not really; in fact, not at all. Often it’s the people who have a very clear idea of anatomy that they have learnt from books who get very confused and disoriented by the type of dissection that we do. We do provide books and resource materials on the courses for you to be able to find a point of reference. These courses are about taking yourself on a journey of discovery and also about finding out what you don’t know, what you need to know and also what you don’t need to know. Sometimes the anatomy books can be confusing as they don’t always clarify what you’re looking at.

9. Do I have to Participate in Everything?

In my classes, you do what you are comfortable doing and nothing else. There is NO pressure for you to do anything that you don’t want to do. You can work at your own pace and observe or take part as you wish. At all stages you are guided and helped and, although I hope you will feel comfortable to participate in the dissection process, at the end of the day, it’s your experience that counts.

8. Can I undertake my own projects?

We have the structure of a five-day course; within that period we aim to get through a certain amount of material, dropping down through the layers of the body. Within this there is plenty of time for people to work on their own study. If there is anything that you particularly want to look at or understand, then I encourage you to discuss this with me beforehand. This will make sure that we design an approach which will allow you to see what you want, and also stop the particular area from being taken away before you have had a chance to work with it. If you are an acupuncturist, then we encourage you to bring needles and put these into tissues that you might ordinarily work on. 

7. Can I take photographs?

Absolutely not. The Human Tissue Act is clear on this and breach could be a criminal offence. We are very protective of the lab and the donor programme and no-one is allowed in the lab with a mobile phone or a camera. This is an incredibly strict rule for us and breach of this will find you removed from the lab, together with your phone!

6. I’m squeamish and don’t like the sight of blood. Does that matter?

The cadavers are all preserved, using a process that fixes the body at the time of death. As a result there is no blood that comes out when we dissect and, with some preservation techniques, no blood left in the body at all.

5. Why would I want to do it, I already know my anatomy very well?

You think you do! All the more reason. The chances are that you know your anatomy from what you have learned in a book and maybe even in another dissection. But these are sanitized, cleaned up versions and not really how the body is at all. The dissections or prosections are created to conform to what the books show and the books draw what the prosections reveal. It’s a vicious circle that no-one needs to break, because, after all everything is already documented isn’t it?

The trouble is that these illustrations don’t show how the body moves, stabilizes or changes. A medical view of anatomy is a book-learned, two dimensional exercise in naming parts, not a way of understanding the relationships between systems and functions and certainly not a way of examining movement, lack of movement or compensation. In short, unless you’ve done an Integral Anatomy style dissection, you have only half the story. Holding a piece of tissue in your hand, all your anatomy suddenly makes sense. It’s a game changer!

4. How does it relate to my therapy?

If you are touching the human form, then my courses will change not only the way you look at the body but also the way you touch it. Because we drop through the layers, the dissection process we use allows you to see clearly what it is you are affecting and what tissues you are working on. People often comment that, after this class, they have a new view of how they are working and are able to understand how multiple presentations and problems can be condensed and worked on. Instead of thinking of muscles and tissues ending or beginning or having a specific contractural function, we start to see how things work in a tensional way.

3. I’ve never seen a dead body before and not sure how I’ll cope. I’d feel a bit bad about dissecting someone.

The cadavers we work on are all donated by the person themselves. They recognized that, after they passed away, their body would no longer any use to them and so they gave it up. They did this, not just so that people would be able to learn from their form, but also that other people would be helped. The generosity of this gift cannot be underestimated and we always hold in our minds how incredibly appreciative and fortunate we are to be able to do this work. The gift is also one that comes from the family, as they have not had a funeral; a chance to say their goodbyes, but are fulfilling the last wishes of the donor.

Ultimately however this is no longer a person but rather the material that the person has left behind, much like their other belongings that were left behind after they died. The lab is not a funeral home or a place of mourning, but is a chance to fulfil the last wishes of the donor and their family. However we do understand that the process is a challenging one and one that will ask you to look at your own body and sense of self. You are guided carefully and sensitively into the experience and at any time can move away from the table and take some time out.

2. I might pass out.

No-one ever has! The main reason we get light-headed in the lab is because we are standing on our feet all day. The lab can be quite cool and for a lot of the day we are standing still and concentrating. We encourage you to move around, keep hydrated and not hyper-extend your knees. Water is always available outside of the lab and you can take a break at any time.

We have lunch breaks and tea breaks and again you are encouraged to keep well fed and hydrated.

1. Does it smell?

The number one concern! I have to admit that I don’t really smell it any more. The smell that people fear is one of some kind of decay and that is definitely not experienced in these workshops or in any dissecting room I have been in. The cadavers are fixed very soon after the time of death. This means that a fixing solution is pushed around the circulatory system, destroying all the bacteria that cause decay. It makes the cadaver effectively sterile and no breakdown of tissue can occur, hence no unpleasant smell. The odour that comes off is vaguely chemical but completely harmless. If you remember from your school days the smell of the science lab, then the dissecting room is much like this. Half science lab, half hospital without the smell of cabbage! Some people prefer to wear a face mask and we provide these. If you want to add a dab of essential oil to the inside of this, then you are very welcome to bring some along for this purpose.

Further Information

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About Julian Baker

Julian Baker is Dissection course leader of Functional Fascia Originally from London, Julian Baker undertook training in The Bowen Technique when he was living in Australia. He initially trained in reflexology but he sought out Bowen training after being impressed by very successful treatment for an acute neck injury. Returning to Britain in 1992, he initially ran a busy clinic but soon began teaching the technique full time in response to the tremendous demand for training. Julian uses ‘hands-on-hands’ teaching, demonstrations, analogies and case histories to pass on The Bowen Technique in a unique and animated way. Many people comment on the fact that as well as having learned an extremely valuable tool, they have had a course full of relaxed fun, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions and have points clarified. Julian is the most experienced Bowen Therapy Teacher in Europe and has used this experience to develop a comprehensive teacher training programme. Julian has recently started to work with the subtleties of the technique, moving into an intuitive approach and addressing the role of the therapist in the process of treatment. Julian may be contacted on Tel: 01373 461812 / 07778 641171;

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