Lead instructor of LITYM, Natasha De Grunwald was recently asked to contribute a piece about her studies in dissection in relation to Thai Yoga Massage practises for a guest blog post on Thai Medicine Zone, a digital library of articles dedicated to thai massage and medicine.

Throughout this interesting article, Natasha discusses how a practical and detailed understanding of the science of the human anatomy has forever changed her approach to Thai Yoga Massage.

Dissection and a Thai massage practice.

Participating in dissection was an incredible journey into the deepest depths of the human body and taught me more than I could have imagined it would. My initial desire to do it was to improve my anatomical knowledge, something I struggled with learning from a book. Like many practitioners who do best with visual and kinetic learning styles, I need to see and touch and experience for information to really sink in. I hadn’t foreseen that it would change the way I practice Thai massage in my clinic, or be an experience that was profoundly spiritual.

Just as a Thai massage practitioner explores their client’s body through movement and compressions, a Somanaut is someone who explores the cadavers, with a sharp tool and gloved hand, differentiating tissues, feeling textures and literally unravelling the body to learn about the internal space. Precision and dexterity is needed for the Somanaut to sculpt and define each layer, structure or tissue.

Seeing and feeling first-hand what is really inside the body, slowly taking whole layers and then whole pieces away to investigate further, one starts to see how different the body is to how it’s depicted in the anatomy books, for a start it is not two dimensional, there are no parts separated out, or cleared out of the way, except for what has been created by the scalpel and the intention of the dissector. For example, the musculature does not look like the symmetrically perfect illustrated version we see in books, but is covered in fascia and adipose.

Each day on the dissection course you see into all the parts of a human that you touch in your clinic, but might not acknowledge you are laying your hands on. You see lymph, blood vessels, arteries, superficial and deep fascia, organs, bone, veins, nerves, you see them in the flesh and it increases your appreciation, and becomes very spiritual. Suddenly there you are exploring a whole universe that you didn’t know existed. This is because in each moment, and in each discovery you are connecting to your own self, seeing yourself mirrored and laid bare. When we see our bodies in this way our whole perspective changes. We become in awe of the complexity of human form, being perfectly imperfect, and reflecting back at us. We connect to the depths of our own body.

Being in the lab meant I got to have tangible experience of the reality of human form. When I felt the superficial fascia, the whole body coated layer that is similar to bubble wrap, or touched the heart and saw the sciatic nerve running its full length, new pathways between my mind and body formed. This accounted for a new way of working with the body in my clinic, my fingers and thumbs seeming to take on heightened sensitivity as if there were working with X-ray intelligent touch.

The cadaver’s body leaves no residue of life force, in reality it is the shell of the life that was lived, yet it tells many stories about the person. It shows clues about how that person functioned, what they did, how they died, but there is no representation of WHO that person was. The soul, the energy of that person has gone. From this realisation in the lab I more readily understand that a human is many things on a dense and physical level, but there are subtle bodies of energy, these are less tangible, but equally important in making up the whole. In life there is a continuous flow of movement. Our bodies are a compression of light, and expansion of energy.

I find this very interesting, being that Thai massage philosophy does not focus on the physical body alone, but recognises a movement of energy through the sen lines and the subtle energy system. Perhaps this is why Thai massage, a humble art, has so much potential for healing, with there being more potential in energy, where one can create movement, than in dense, physical form.

There were many things that blew my mind in the lab. One of these was the Tentorium Cerebelli, an extension of the dura mater in the brain. It fascinated me when I found that this tent like structure actually moves when another area of the body is moved. So when we are moving a leg in Thai massage, stretching it this way and that, or when we gently pull on the ears, this tiny fold moves too.

Working the Sen lines in treatment, Thai massage practitioners are already conscious of the impact this is having on the energy system as a whole. Yet it is also very helpful to know first-hand the effect that, for example, working on the psoas muscle may have on the tempero-mandibular joint (TMJ). Dissection helps you recognise the bodies physical connections, and helps us to think globally whilst giving a treatment.