Living AnatoMe in Iceland!

April 9, 2014

I recently had the opportunity to bring the medley of anatomy and movement to a group of intrigued medical students in Iceland.

Iceland is a small country, and sometimes it feels like things are set in the ways that they’ve always been, so when I emailed the (only!) medical school here telling them about Living AnatoMe (LA), I didn’t expect a response. Months went by, and then one day, I received an email from a student who said my email had been making the rounds. I set the wheels in motion, rented a space, mats, did my outline, emailed the first year students with the dates and place and we had a little course ready! It was 6 weeks of 1 hour and 30 minute classes a week; the number of students that signed up and were able to come to my class were around 20 out of 45 first year med students.

I used the resources available to me from the LA  course outline but I also put my own twist on it.  I added so-called functional movements like squats, lunges, pushups and the like, had them explore their own anatomy through guided self massage and touch as well as posture assessments where i taught them about how to look at the body and notice anything out of alignment or even just noticing the way a particular body was held. We drew a scapula together identifying most of its crooks and crannies, mountains and valleys, as well as a full on yoga/Pilates class with music and sweat and of course relaxation in the end.

In the first class I introduced the planes and directions of the body and anatomical position in an alive and dynamic way and noticed straight away that this way of looking at those things was interesting and fun for them. Not only are these concepts new to the students but also the language is new, studying anatomy in English and Latin can be very daunting for people that have English as their first language let alone their second. We also looked at different students doing roll-downs and noted the lordosis and kyphosis (and scoliosis of some) and range of motion of the spine. At some point we did a Pilates side-lying combination for the deep lateral rotators complete with an intense piriformis exercise… I don’t think they’ll ever forget how it feels when the piriformis is firing and hopefully the facts around it like innervation, insertion and origin and piriformis syndrome were imprinted. I plan on fine-tuning and offering the course again next fall, maybe this time the medical school will show interest and allow me to borrow a spine or a pelvis to use for visual aid.

The opportunity to teach a living anatomy class appealed to me as a dancer and, in general, as a student of human anatomy and movement. Having studied dance and, later, Pilates led me to open myself up further to anatomical education, and teaching this class to the medical students helped me see ways to dig deeper into the material and understand how movement and anatomy complement each other in life and in pedagogy. We all are aware that we humans learn by doing and after doing teaching what we did is the best way to solidify knowledge. I learned a lot and recommend teaching LA not only because it helps you grow as a teacher but also because it gives you back so much. Long after having taught the classes I still get flashbacks or lingering thoughts and speculations that start to mold and form into deeper meaningful ways of teaching and looking at the human body. I strongly recommend the LA course to other movement and body instructors and practitioners who want to better understand the fundamentals underlying their craft.

About the author: Gudrun is a Pilates Instructor and engineering student in her native country of Iceland.

Long Call, Long Haul (part 2)

May 22, 2012

A three-part series profiling life on the wards… and what you can do about it!


Part 2:  What’s your health-type?

I am labeled, fairly I guess, by many in my intern class as a “health nut.” I bring breakfast – whole grain cereal with almonds in a little plastic bag – and lunch – an avocado sandwich, yoghurt, and a nibble of dark chocolate – from home every day. I won’t touch the cafeteria food or the greasy Chinese served at mid-day report. I live far from the hospital and close to my yoga studio, a deliberate choice, which means a 25-30 minute subway ride downtown rather than a walk across the street to my apartment. I’m vegetarian. I hosted a talk on Ayurvedic medicine for the housestaff. I’m going into integrative medicine. If I am a health nut, it’s not accidental. Continue reading “Long Call, Long Haul (part 2)”

Long Call, Long Haul (part 1)

May 14, 2012

A three-part series describing the demands of life on the wards … and what you can do about it!

Part 1:  The “life” of an intern

On July 1, 2011 the new ACGME rules on intern duty hours in hospitals took effect. Interns, though not residents, were no longer allowed to work 27-hour shifts as residents everywhere historically had done. The 80-hour work-week still applied, but instead of staying in-house overnight, interns were supposed to have ten full hours away from the hospital between every shift.

Also on July 1, 2011 I started my intern year at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. I had done routine 27-hour shifts during medical school, as a fourth year sub-intern in the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) and as a third year on labor and delivery shifts, a standard part of the OBGYN rotation. And while these were something of a distant memory following a very chilled out fourth year filled with electives and one trip to Africa, I remembered them well enough. The slightly dizzy feeling of walking out of the hospital into the sun at 11am followed by a brief period of sleep-deprivation-induced mania; the great excuse to cram my face with my favorite pastry from the bakery down the street; and the 4-5 hours of slightly nauseated waves of sleep before getting up and having “a day off,” for me usually consisting of a yoga class and dinner before going to bed. Continue reading “Long Call, Long Haul (part 1)”

Physician, treat thyself (from time to time)!

March 5, 2012

After having made it through another holiday season of family gatherings and cocktail parties, I thought I had been asked every possible ‘first year of medical school’ question in existence: What kind of doctor do you want to be? Are you interested in what you’re learning? How’s the stress level? Do you like your classmates? – and the like. But over dinner with an old friend last week, I was finally confronted with a new and thought-provoking one: How has learning about the body changed the way you live? Continue reading “Physician, treat thyself (from time to time)!”

LA feature: Pilates Style magazine, “Anatomy Lessons”

January 24, 2012

This profile of living anatome in Pilates Style magazine is short, sweet & to the point!

My favorite quote is from Carrie, eloquently stating the LA mantra:  “It’s paradoxical, but there is not much emphasis on self-care in the education of a medical student… But I believe all medical professionals have an obligation to maintain their own health. We can’t communicate with patients effectively about the importance of exercise and eating happens if we can’t practice what we preach!”

Continue reading “LA feature: Pilates Style magazine, “Anatomy Lessons””

3 Conscious Breaths: The 20-Second Meditation

August 30, 2011

As a medical student, you may currently be in one of the most demanding phases of your life.  Meeting academic challenges, taking care of patients’ needs, dealing with hectic schedules, and trying to have a personal life, could easily exhaust you.  Achieving all of this requires a calm, focused mind and a strong sense of center.  In order to expend your energy in so many different directions successfully, you have to operate from the deep, calm core of who you are.  This way, everything you do will be much more effective and seemingly effortless.

Meditation increases your ability to stay calm and focused.   It’s not as mysterious as some may think.   Continue reading “3 Conscious Breaths: The 20-Second Meditation”

Bring your anatome to life!

June 20, 2011

Spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis.  Months after the end of Gross Anatomy, these terms (names of the muscles essential for back extension) had trickled from the center of my consciousness to its edges—barely held onto by my sieve-of-a-memory that was already sifting through new material.  Yet on April 1st, I attended a living anatome class: a yoga-Pilates hybrid emphasizing the functional movements of muscles and bones.  Through movement, the class made true to its promise, emphasizing the living aspect of muscles and bones that Grey’s Anatomy just doesn’t quite capture with its diagrams on a page.  Not only did the class bring these muscles back into consciousness (even adding some new ones—the multifidus muscles were judged unimportant by my professor) but it solidified my understanding of my spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis.  Even now, when these terms should have surely fled my mind, I still think of stretching my back as extending my erector spinae. I would highly recommend the classes to any medical student interested in understanding not only anatomy—but their own bodies—better.


About the author

Steven A. McDonald is currently finishing his first year of medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, where he is a wellness representative for his class.

To bagel or not to bagel, that is the question…

May 3, 2011

(This entry is a three-part series, detailing Jenny’s  tips on how to maintain a sound Body, Mind, and Spirit through clinical rotations)

As the alarm blares for my 4:35am wake-up, I think back to leisurely days of 9am lectures, wondering why I had been so excited to start clinical rotations. Sure, actually seeing patients, performing procedures, and discussing real cases was the reason I came to medical school, but life on the wards can be incredibly challenging, and not just due to the medical expertise required. Without much control over long, unpredictable days, even a health-conscious MS4 such as myself finds it difficult to stick with good habits previously cultivated, like 90-minute yoga classes, the occasional (antioxidant-filled!) glass of red wine, or a full 7 hours’ sleep. In addition, it sometimes feels superfluous to focus on myself amidst the demands of the wards, from writing admission notes to re-reading Surgical Recall. But throughout the past two years on the wards, I have realized that I am able to function as a more competent, caring clinician– and actually enjoy the experience– when I practice habits that keep me energized. Here’s what has worked for me during the last two years of med school:

Continue reading “To bagel or not to bagel, that is the question…”

Discover your body to better heal others

March 21, 2011

About three weeks after I began medical school in the fall of 2006, I was already beginning to feel jaded and uninspired.  I entered school with an exciting (and pretty naïve) vision of what was to come: I would learn the hard science of western medicine while integrating and incorporating all the complementary and alternative (CAM) health topics that truly inspired me – nutrition, yoga, and meditation to name a few. I was hopeful that some of this integration would be part of the core medical curriculum at Mount Sinai, and I was certain that I would find like-minded students with whom I could share this exciting journey.

Well, by October, I realized that there definitely would not be any courses on CAM included the formal curriculum, and with the intense course load, I was struggling to maintain my own sense of integration and balance in my daily life. Continue reading “Discover your body to better heal others”

The health of our physicians

March 9, 2011

Written in 2004 as an Op-Ed writing homework assignment for a Public Health class~ and still a propos today!

Recent debates about resident work hour reform have called attention to the critical connection between the health of physicians and the care of patients. We have learned that frazzled, sleep-deprived physicians are likely to make mistakes—some crucial to the lives of patients, like Libby Zion, an 18-year-old girl whose 1984 death at Cornell Medical Center’s emergency room catapulted the issue of overworked and under-supervised house officers into New York courts. Continue reading “The health of our physicians”