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(Including cadavers)

I just returned from my first human cadaver study, conducted at Rutgers Medical and led by the amazingly brilliant Doctor Gil Hedley who has been leading cadaver studies for 25 years. It entailed 5 days of me dissecting the human body with scalpel in hand, going layer by layer from the skin through every organ in the body, accompanied by brilliant discussions with Gil and group members. I worked with three untreated cadavers which means they had not undergone embalming (preserved by refrigeration only) thereby allowing me to see more color and movement in the body.  

It changed my life profoundly – as a teacher of movement, as a life coach and counselor, as a human being.  I will forever be integrating the experience into my work.  I had observed the body through live human surgeries; though this time, I explored and witnessed first-hand the depth, connections and intricacies of the beautiful human body.  I also saw the uniqueness of each body.  No two are alike.  And the body illustrations we see in the books don’t come close to depicting the real thing.  This essay attempts to capture some of my initial thoughts around this profound experience.


I serendipitously re-crossed paths with Gil Hedley at the Fascia Research Congress in Berlin last November.  Being reminded not only of his brilliance, though also of his grounded, real, and profound outlook on life, I knew immediately that he was whom I wanted to undergo this exciting and daunting study.  The preparation alone was life-changing as I prepared via videos of his past dissections and discussions.

On the first day, we gathered in the lab where he led a discussion about the thoughtfulness of life, of death, of movement, of stillness in the body.  He then wheeled in three cadavers completely covered in body bags.  There was silence and I stared in awe.  One of them seemed very small and my body responded with angst thinking that one may be a child and that perhaps that would be too much for me too soon after the death of my son.  We circled the bodies and held silence (or prayer) for the lives no longer here, for the families mourning, for the gifts of experience and vast knowledge they were about to bring us.  As Gil said, we “brought” these bodies here. He later told many stories about how the bodies at the study were exactly what the students needed/wanted/related to; and, he remains in awe of the wonder of how that happens.  We were there to uncover their stories while we dance with our own.  One by one, the bags were taken off (thankfully no child) and we continued our meditation and pondering led by Gil’s comforting words.  We talked a little bit about each body, what we noticed – scars, surgeries, posture, etc. He also sat them up which gave an eerie realness to their humanness.  He then separated the three bodies and told us to go to any one of them, for that would be the body we dissected.  It was unbelievable – within seconds we had each self-assigned ourselves to a body – a body that called to us somehow.  With the exception of one body that had too many and one person needing to be reassigned, we were already connected to the body in front of us.  Mine was an elderly woman who I imagined to be kind and loved.  She had a beautiful head of white curls.  She had passed away just the week prior and I knew her family was thinking of her.  What drew me to her was her listing to one side (a posturing), the deep scar in her right side, the apparent c-section (she was a mother), and quite simply something else that I cannot put into words.  Each group gave the body a name and thus began our dissection beginning with taking off the entire skin of the body.

Following is a brief summary of some of initial salient observations and thoughts (there will be much more to follow):

  • More than ever I believe there is NO way any pharmaceutical company can create a drug that takes into account the individuality and complexity of the human body; all the glands and organs; as well as, the processes (function, formation, and chemical) that take place in any given moment in the body.  I believe that most often, the drugs can do more harm than good.  Not only do we see the harm listed in the potential side effects, though we wait and wonder about the long-term effects that are rarely, if ever studied.  (While I was there, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy.)


  • No two bodies are alike.  Of the three, some organs were larger or smaller, some were placed differently (one had a kidney way up high in the body), fat levels varied, etc.  I can only imagine that surgeons (practitioners) are practicing on each body that comes before them.


  • The thick superficial fascia is right below the skin (and looks nothing like the illustration I found when google searching for skin dissection).  And it is one beautiful piece of fabric that covers us head to toe.  Most medical dissections are done with an isolated focus on one specific area.  Rarely do doctors see the profound connections within the body.  One of the participant’s husband is a dermatologist and he told her that they threw away the fascia when he did a mini dissection in medical school.


  • Scarring creates adhesions.  When we removed the surgery scar adhesions from Beth (as we named our cadaver), her organs just below it seemingly sucked right back up into place now that they had room.  They had been pushed down and out from the adhesions which prevented movement and proper placement.


  • Furthermore, upon moving Beth’s legs prior to dissection, we noticed her right hip was completely immobile.  As the days progressed and the dissection went further, we discovered her hip had large calcifications or bone spurs. Whether this beautiful soul had restricted movement due to the surgery scarring on her right side or due to immobility, the story was the same – a body locked up with no hip movement and likely pain.  Perhaps the pain instilled fear that brought about less movement that further induced more pain that kept her from moving at all.  Regardless, when we removed her adhesions and moved her hip, she was free – able to move with greater ease. That was a gift.


  • We have a lot of adipose (fat) in the body.  This beautiful bright yellow fabric that covers every organ, insulating it and perhaps being a channel for communication within the body.  There is a fatty fabric called the ‘greater omentum’ which was supposedly discovered not too long ago (though others would argue it was discovered long ago).  It pulls down from the stomach and covers the organs like a security blanket.  Interestingly, it seemingly moves to organs that are in distress or diseased as it is found that way in cadavers.  Beth’s was up over her liver which we found to have cancer tumors.  Unfortunately, some doctors often cut this beautiful piece out during surgeries.


  • The esophagus is much smaller than I imagined.  A common practice is to quickly shove food down our throats.  Now I know what they mean by chew your solids into a liquid.  So much of the nutrients get broken down and absorbed sooner than we think.


  • There is so much water in our body.  It practically poured out when we began cutting.  Think of river and streams – it creates movement, a conduit for flow.


  • Dissecting through the brain, it is apparent that the heart lives right there- beautiful blood vessels permeating every layer of it.


  • Gil has been conducting these dissections for over 25 years and is a wealth of knowledge.  Yet, even during this week, he was noting things he was discovering.  Unfortunately, human models and structures get classified and established.  We like to think we know.  Despite inconsistencies in established conventions, we hold onto them.  Just when I was there, osteocalcin which is released from the bones was discovered to play a role in the fight or flight response (for so long we’ve seen it primarily coming from the adrenals).  Also, a mysterious nanotube network connecting cells was noted in a separate study.  Previously disregarded as something that occurred under microscope conditions, it was now touted with being a communication link between cells. Bottom line - we (no one) really knows and we (everyone) never stop(s) discovering.  It affirms that we have to be diligent stewards of our own unique bodies when it comes to our health and wellness, for no one really holds the answer.


  • A word about breath…  It remains my number one focus for movement.  Breath is life. Life is breath. Breath is movement. Movement is breath. Gil pumped air between the thyroid and cricoid cartilages in the necks of the three bodies, thereby inflating the lungs and simulating the movement of breath.  I had seen the movement of breath during live surgery observation; though was in complete awe seeing the breadth of movement in these cadavers.  With the movement of the lungs, all the surrounding tissue and organs moved and danced with the movement of the breath alone – yes, even in a cadaver.


I held Beth’s heart in my hand and felt on the verge of tears, moved by something that went way beyond me.  Each of us held her heart and there was complete silence in the room as we did.  I dissected through a cancerous pancreas, through a liver with tumors, cut through adhesions that opened up movement in the body, held the intestines and saw exactly where leaky gut occurs, held the cerebellum in my hand, cut through the thick layer of fat that encases the eyeballs, pulled back the ocular nerve, saw exactly where the psoas connects to the spine adjacent the diaphragm, and on and on. I marvel at the intricacies of the human body that is completely connected…beautiful placement and choreography.  There is so much more that I continue to assimilate as I journal, as I sit with it all.  And I know more will come forth as I step back into my private sessions with my clients.  Stay tuned.



In the meantime, breathe fully and wiggle often.  Tune into the movement of your breath, of your wiggle.  And take good care of yourself today.  Anne

Gil group.JPG

The group of us – somanauts as Gil calls us (related to the word astronauts).

Soma, Greek origin meaning “body” and naut, Greek origin meaning “sailor.”

Gil group at lunch.jpg

Me leading a group at lunch through movement – torso spirals, feet, and hips

©AnneLloydWillett   September 2019

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