Your Body Is Your Soul with Jaap van der Wal (LBP 057)


Jaap van der Wal is a phenomenological embryologist who is searching for the soul via the embryo. He teaches about this all over the world through his Embryo in Motion project.

In our conversation today we talked about the dualistic time we are living in and how we make the brain and/or the genes the most important “parts” of the body, how we conceptually consider the body a machine that comes in parts, and the way we separate the soul from the body. Jaap discusses how the embryo challenges the notion that we are our brains, says that genes do not cause what happens in a body, that motion is primary and form is secondary- or that we are always a present-tense alive process that is performing, and hence creating, the body, what fascia has to do with all of this, and that the body does not have a soul, it is a soul.




Conversation highlights

  • Jaap van der Wal introduces himself as an embryologist and anatomist who is searching for spirit in the human being. He wants to help people to see and become aware that there is something more at stake than just body dimension. 
  • The embryo is the perfect domain to ask questions like what are we doing? What is a body? Is a body something producing us or that we are producing? Is my consciousness coming from my body? Am I shaped by myself?
  • He is not trying to get people to believe in spirit, but to approach it scientifically
  • Early in his career he started having questions like, w"What is anatomy actually telling me about MY body?"
  • The body that I am, that I experience, is quite different than the body I have learned, studied, and dissected.
  • This led him to phenomenology- where you don’t become an onlooker, you primarily start to experience the reality. The body you live, the body you are is different than what he had to teach the students.
  • From the beginning your body is a performance, a life-long process.
  • The embryo challenges the idea that we are our brain. For more than 8 weeks in the embryonic stage you do not have a brain in the way we do now. How do you exist when you are an embryo?
  • There is so much presence or awareness in your body that is not your brain's behavior.
  • He learned from the embryo that your body is not producing a brain which is producing you. You are producing from day one til your last day- it is the primary thing you do. Every morning you wake up new. You are not a machine
  • Your brain is not moving your arms, you are moving your arms. I need a brain, I need muscles, I need a lot of things to produce that movement.
  • Every day or every moment you have a new body. This is your body being a performance. We are a time body. Every living organism is a process, not a machine built up from particles. The anatomist is wrong. All phases of your life are a part of the whole performance in time which your body is.
  • Genes do not cause anything. The most lifeless molecule is the DNA. It is a molecule of heredity. It is produced by living organisms, and not the reverse.
  • Genes and brains are necessary but not sufficient conditions to give a body its shape.
  • When you change the genes or brain the organism behaves differently, but that does not prove that they cause behavior. His wife’s brain tumor and her personality changed. If you damage a brain you get a damaged personality. Yes, but that does not prove that the brain is primary.
  • Modern science thinks the experiment proves that they are right. Science is not what they want us to believe. They want us to believe that it is a new way to know everything, yet every scientist has in his or her mind the frame of thoughts that is looking for the facts in harmony with the idea.
  • What is making the embryo? The only answer is that apparently in me and all of us there is something else realizing itself in us.
  • Spirit and matter if they exist must be one.
  • Modern materialism has no future. He is worried about the future that will be realized by a society that only believes in brains, genes, and bodies.
  • If you’re alive then you’re alive but we don’t understand what aliveness is or that it’s happening all the time.
  • Learned from the embryo motion is primary, forms come out of motion- the embryo is not past.
  • Motion is the primary dimension and related to time. Bodies appear in time. Time and motion are related.
  • We are motions and processes producing forms.  That’s what we can learn from the embryo
  • Erich Blechschmidt- the German embryologist, "Don’t consider soul or psyche as something added to the body later." The soul is pre-exercised in the body. Your body is behavior. If you want to understand human behavior psychologically you also have to look physiologically. The way we shape our body is what we are capable of psychologically and physiologically.
  • Fascia is about this "producing" our body. It is faithful to actions and emotions
  • Stop talking about “germ layers” ecto, endo, meso. It’s too anatomical. We don’t have 3 layers. We have ecto and endo and then we have an in-between, an innerness.
  • We are addicted to causality. Why? Finding a cause means you can manipulate it. It’s our only motive. Finding the cause of disease means we can manipulate it. It is very helpful, it saved the life of his wife, but it is not the only reality.
  • The body does not have a soul it is a soul. It is one.


Jaap van der Wal's website www.embryo.nl, and the Embryo in Motion project

Article: The Embryo in Us: A Phenomenological Search for the Soul and Consciousness in the Prenatal Body (English version)

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How We Form and Move with Joanne Avison (LBP 045)

Joanne Avison, author of Yoga, Fascia, Anatomy, and Movement, talks with me about fascia and why it has been overlooked historically (which includes a fascinating tour through the history of anatomy and its relationship to the Catholic church), how we form embryologically and what implications that has for biomechanics vs. biotensegrity (or biomechanics vs. biomotion). We also discuss what that changes when we have to reconfigure the language we use about movement and the body.




Conversation highlights

  • Why has fascia been so ignored historically?
  • Andrew Taylor Still and John Godmen before him first mentioned the fascia as highly significant
  • Back in history- Rene Descartes did a "turf deal" with the Pope. Human dissection was not allowed. The Pope sanctioned it except the church held jurisdiction under the mind, spirit, soul, and emotions- the physical body only could be taken to science.
  • Candance Pert points out in Molecules of Emotion that this took us down a road where we thought about the human body functioning like a clock, or like any other automaton. It was divorced from its surroundings.
  • Anatomy then progressed by scraping away anything that wasn't a "thing".
  • John Godmen was the first to have students to open the body and see what they see without their ideas from their anatomy texts. What they saw was fascia everywhere.
  • Andrew Taylor Still is the father of Osteopathy, Thomas Findley has done a lot of beautiful pieces on Still and his story of fascia [in resources].
  • Fascia is continuous and ubiquitous.
  • No one is saying throw out the old and in with the new- we're inviting an evolution of perspective. We have to include this highly inclusive tissue.
  • Biotensegrity- one of the big difficulties about understanding the fascia is that if we take the fascia out on its own- is that the architecture of the body is under tension. It is pre-tensioned. It's under a kind of stretch already.
  • The visual metaphor of a circus marquee- this is not a biotensegrity structure because it is attached to the ground- but it is easy to imagine tension-compression architecture.
  • We are a closed structure but we are formed under this tension. It's the appropriate tensioning of the tissue that gives it its characteristics
  • When a muscle contracts it has got something to pull on in order to move. You can't separate one from the other.
  • This is why levers give us a tough time- because they are open chain mechanisms.
  • According to the naming of the different types of fascia, it has to be continuous to be called fascia, but the bone has to be discontinuous in order for us to move as we do. Bones are omitted because they are considered discontinuous, yet in a tensegrity structure we need those discontinuous structures.
  • If the elbow is a lever, where is the pin? (!!!)
  • We are formed in the round- how do we work if we are formed in the round?
  • Jaap van der Wal did his PhD on fascia. What he found was a whole and complete architecture full of proprioceptive nerve endings. His work wasn't published because it was so controversial. [in resources]
  • He also said there are only 6 true ligaments connecting bone-to-bone, the rest are continuous with the joint structure, and in essence accused anatomists of carving ligaments.
  • Jaap van der Wal says "ask the embryo" because the embryo forms in the round.
  • Joanne does an amazing job of taking you on a gorgeous tour through how an embryo forms- don't miss it.
  • It's like bio-organic origami.
  • No one really knows how an embryo "knows"how to specialize. We've grown up in a culture where we have inherited a foundation in fact, and science has come to mean that the spiritual side of things- or accounting for anything that can't be seen by data- gets lost.
  • John Sharkey facilitated the first human dissection program looking through the lens of biotensegrity. It was a Thiel dissection- meaning the body was treated for 5 months in a different way than the standard formaldehyde cadaver- and therefore they behaved like anesthetized bodies in the operating theater.
  • Joanne could look for membranes instead of which bone is which and which muscle is which. She was allowed to look through a different lens.
  • The second you put the knife to them you have destroyed their wholeness, but they found the membranes. They were so fine.
  • So-called "muscles" are continuities.
  • Anatomists "designing" anatomy.
  • What was so amazing was the folds- you don't get to see this in a typical dissection. If we learned movement in terms of folds I don't think we would make so mamy mistakes or have so many injuries.
  • Muscles are turn-buckles- they tension the whole matrix. People can tighten them in uneven ways with movement patterns and repetitive fitness habits.
  • If we follow the laws of fascial fitness we bring in diversity.
  • We have to be stiff enough to hold ourselves up- yet we use the word "stiff" to describe pathology. We need to think differently about the words we use- particularly "tight" and "stiff"
  • The idea of the plumb line and how it is a faulty view of how gravity works.


Joanne Avison

book: Yoga, Fascia, Anatomy, and Movement

Thomas Findley: The Fascia Research Congress From the 100 Year Old Perspective of Andrew Taylor Still

Carla Stecco: Fascia Redefined: Anatomical Features and Technical Relevance in Fascial Flap Surgery

John Sharkey and Joanne Avison: Terra Rosa magazine: Biotensegrity, Powering the Fabric of Human Anatomy

Jaap van der Wal: The Architecture of the Connective Tissue in the Musculoskeletal System- An Often Overlooked Functional Parameter as to Proprioception in the Locomotor Apparatus

John Sharkey anatomy events

About the Thiel embalming method

If you liked this episode, you might also like

Biotensegrity with Dr. Steven Levin

Exploring Inner Space with Gil Hedley

Mapping the Anatomy of Connection with Tom Myers

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful! If technology isn’t your thing however you can just tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!