Q&A with a Yoga teacher: Will 3D Printing Transform the Practice?

Karen Breneman, Founder of  Meadowlark Yoga and MSc student in Human Anatomy at Edinburgh University, recently approached us with a very special 3D printing project. As the study of the human body and medical advancements become ever more prominent within the industry we were keen to help Karen with the range of anatomical 3D print outs she required. Read our interview with Karen below to find out more…

You closely studied the human body alongside other medical students. Could you tell me a bit more about why you decided to do this?

This year I undertook study at the University of Edinburgh in the Biomedical Sciences Department. I am not a medical student and my background is actually in Art and Humanities, but I took on the MSc in Human Anatomy because of my lifelong interest in the body as an athletic person. With the centuries of history behind it, the Anatomy deparment at Edinburgh is sort of a monument to the subject and the practice of dissection itself is the most direct means to understanding exactly how the body is put together.

What body parts did you need us to print and why?

A diaphragm was first and now I will be working on printing out all the bones in the skeleton! (with lots of technical support, I anticipate…)

On the topic of the 3D diaphragm that we printed for your thesis, do you see the print out helping you in other ways, for example with Meadowlark Yoga?

The 3D printing process just on its own is fascinating, but I began 3D printing out of a direct need to understand anatomical concepts. I had spent the year playing catch-up, always having to study twice as hard as my classmates to make up for not having the same bio-sciences background as many of them had. As part of my learning, I made a lot of drawings and models out of pipe cleaners and papier-mache. Countless hours were spent with no sleep, knee deep in paper-pulp and my flat strewn with pipe-cleaner simulations of the blood supply to the mesenteries and the brachial plexus. After a while, I thought there has to be a better way…

When I started researching anatomical informatics and how medical imaging software has evolved to produce 3D iterations for understanding anatomical data, I realised that there was a place where all my weird interests finally came full-circle. Making models in 3D is what anatomists have done for centuries to understand and communicate spatial relationships within anatomy, and we happen to live in a very exciting time for the medium of 3D printing to bring centuries of knowledge manifest, instantly. Only now, instead of wax or wood or paper, it’s happening in thermoplastic.

How do you intend to use your 3D print outs?

I will have two uses for the 3D prints. Firstly, I’ll make anatomical models (some for educational purposes, and some for patient-specific models). The second use I have for the 3D printer is artistic: earrings and pendants with anatomical themes.

Furthermore, I had tried teaching an Anatomy for Yoga class using models I had made out of papier-mache, always wishing for a better material – but the professional medical models are prohibitively expensive. After working with Ralph to produce the diaphragm, I knew the instant he sent me the picture of it that I would finally be able to achieve the kind of teaching tools I needed to get the essential anatomical concepts across to my Yoga students.

Do you think people who practice yoga have a genuine interest in how the body works? 

Absolutely. People come to Yoga practice for different reasons. Some are more interested in subtle body, or “spiritual” aspects. Some people focus more on the grossly physical. But the great thing about Ashtanga Yoga is that at some point, a Yoga practitioner really gets to know their body from the inside out through breathing and movement techniques. For  me, it is fascinating and helpful to know more about the body from a “Western” point of view – from the outside in, if you like – to gain a complete understanding of what’s happening in each of the postures.

Finally, what does 3D printing mean to you?

3D printing is new to me and so far has meant the difference between hating my dissertation project and actually having a wonderful, useful project. The thesis paper was just the beginning, and now that I’ve found out about 3D printing I feel I’m on a new adventure. Ralph helped me understand the basics of the process and has been really generous in giving me lots of information and expertise. 3D Print Works has been a huge source of inspiration and I’m so lucky I got in touch with you guys, I’m especially grateful to Ralph for his support as I got through my dissertation presentation!

At 3DPrintWorks we have loved working with Karen and look forward to assisting her with further anatomical creations with 3D printing. Watch this space...