It’s Alimentary

If you follow the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube (and if you are not, why not?) you’ll notice in the photos and videos that most of the focus is on muscles.



Muscles have good public relations. They draw attention. They are, in fact, attention hogs. Sexy? At times, sure.


But our learning system works in understanding the whole human system—as Dr. Jennifer Hellier demonstrated recently in a workshop at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.


Dr. Hellier, an adjunct professor of integrative biology at the University of Colorado at Denver, led teachers in a workshop building the alimentary canal.


Note: alimentary is from the French word aliment and its Latin root word, alimentum, food.


You could say the nournishment canal if you want.


Dr. Hellier started with emphasizing how the canal is one tube—and a tube that is capable of ingestion, propulsion, digestion, absorption, and defecation. She talked about the function of the teeth as a form of mechanical digestion (chew each bite 30 times!) and the function of the salivary glands in helping the food go down.


Dr. Hellier noted the autonomic nervous system and involuntary muscles (muscles that don’t need our conscious direction to operate) that function to help keep us nourished. Those nerves and muscles recognize nourishment is on the way—and simply go about their jobs.


She talked about the liver’s remarkable ability to regenerate itself and she busted a few myths about the benefits of diets that promote liver “cleanses” (the liver is quite capable of taking care of itself in most regular situations).


And Dr. Hellier, who also teaches a series of classes about cancer at the non-profit Anatomy in Clay Centers in Denver, talked about how cancerous tissues form. Most of us are walking around with cancerous cells in our body, she said, but we are fortunate that our healthy cells give themselves up to eradicate the attack on a regular basis.


The lesson included a discussion of the gall bladder bile and the pancreas and the whole sequence of digestion that happens, most of the time, in a way that we completely take for granted (until, of course, something goes wrong).


In 90 minutes, students (well, teachers) fashioned all the organs with their hands. When they were done, many snapped photos of their work with their phones and posed for a group photo, smiles all around.


The class showed the versatility of the learning system and demonstrated that muscles don’t need to steal the spotlight every single time.


Final thought on alimentary, the word. A close cousin is the word alimony. In modern times, following a divorce, we think of ‘alimony’ as a financial allowance. But when it comes right down to it, it means ‘to support life.’ In other words, to feed.

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