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Learning About Our Body’s Pulse

  • July 4, 2013
  • By Brittany
Learning About Our Body’s Pulse

Recently I was invited to visit Body Worlds: Pulse by Gunther von Hagens in Discovery Times Square.*  The exhibit features human bodies in their natural state and discusses the effects today’s modern world and some of the choices we make have on our health.  Before you read further, let me warn you that the photos in this post were taken at the exhibit and include images of human bodies from people who decided to dedicate their bodies to the exhibit after their death.  Some may find these images graphic and therefore I encourage you to use your best judgment in deciding to proceed.  Personally, I thought the images were fascinating but please only continue if you are ready to view them.

The Exhibit

On a Wednesday evening I headed to Times Square, one of the busiest places on earth, to check out Body Worlds.  After stepping of the subway and navigating through throngs of tourists checking out the sites and office workers heading home for the day, I  stepped into the cool quiet of Discovery Times Square, a stark contrast to the flashing lights and ever changing TV screens of Times Square.

I walked into the exhibit and was greeted first by a short film depicting how modern living can impact our health.  The film pointed out that as technology advances and we have more gadgets to make things in our lives easier, we have more time to pursue other things.  But with increasing technology there are also more options and more ways to remain “plugged in”.  Naturally, with more options and more ways to see what is going on (social media, I’m looking at you), we have a feeling of wanting to do everything and a sense of missing out when we inevitably can’t do everything.  The film suggested that although we try to speed up all of life’s processes to jam more things in, our body can only handle so much because it has it’s own pulse.

With that, a curator opened the doors to the exhibit and I stepped in to view my first body.  I admit that at first I was unsure how I was going to feel viewing bodies from deceased persons.  We so often connotate dead bodies with grotesqueness and even images of surgery and medical care on live bodies can make some of us squeamish.  However, the way the bodies were presented in this exhibit did not cause me to be squeamish or think of them in a grotesque manner.  In fact, just the opposite.  The bodies were fascinating and were presented with such interesting factual information that it was hard to view them in anything but a scientific manner.  The images were in fact striking and caused me to view and think of bodies in a totally different way that I might normally think of them.

The exhibit focused on three main issues: your body and how modern living can negatively impact it, your diet and your happiness.  Some of the interesting points about our bodies included:

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  • Sedentary living, which has become more commonplace in modern times, promotes obesity and according to a 2010 CDC study, 36% of adults and 17% of children and adolescents are obese.

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  • Our bodies need exercise to counteract and prevent some of the negative side effects of aging, like the shrinking of our spine.
  • The demands of modern life are leaving us permanently stressed and stress hormones affect our immune system causing anxiety and depression.
  • Just like our bodies, our brains need regular exercise.
  • Heart disease is the number one killer in America and regular exercise can help prevent heart disease.
  • Smoking increases health risks and 20% of all deaths caused by heart disease are related to smoking.

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Some interesting points I learned about our diets included:

  • Type II diabetes is on the rise due to poor diets.
  • You are what you eat and you need to eat a healthy diet.
  • A healthy diet includes one that is balanced and portion controlled (I love this message!).
  • A healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, legumes and fish.
  • 90% of the money Americans spend on food is for processed food.
  • The exhibit included a study of 30 families in 24 countries of what they bought for groceries every week.  I included a few of the portraits below.  As you can see very few families purchased a large amount of fruits and vegetables but rather relied on processed foods, soda and large portions of meat.  Although, I do note that this is a small sampling and not every family eats like this, but it was still interesting.


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Note the pizza and lack of fruit and vegetables.

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Some interesting points I learned about happiness:

  • Happiness is just as important to healthy living as a healthy diet and exercise.
  • Negative feelings produce stress hormone and blood pressure rise.
  • Positive feelings cause the heart rhythms to synch.

The Science

One of the most interesting parts of this exhibit was the fact that people donated their bodies to science to be on display here.  In fact, there are over 1,300 people who have volunteered their body to this cause after their death.  I was intrigued to learn more about the science behind preserving these bodies for the exhibit.  The technology used is called Plastination and it was developed by Dr. Gunther van Hagens.  Plastination is performed in a two-step process where a body of the deceased is drained of fluid and fat through a vacuum process.  In place of fluid and fat, the body is injected with a polymer that preserves it and allows it to remain odorless.  The Plastination technology allows the bodies to last even longer than mummies preserved from ancient Egypt.

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After the Plastination process is done, the bodies are then posed as you see them in the photos.  This takes a lot of time and skill and requires not only a knowledge of anatomy, but also an artistic eye.  By posing the bodies as you see them, they come back to life.

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Interview with Dr. Angelina Whalley

After viewing the exhibit, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Angelina Whalley, a licensed physician, Director of the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany and the creative and conceptual designer for Body Worlds.  She is the wife of Dr. Gunther von Hagens.

Dr. Whalley spoke to me about her excitement to launch the exhibit in New York.  She thought the topic of the effect of modern living on our bodies was particularly relevant to New York City, which is vibrant, fast-paced and hectic.  Frankly, she could not have arranged for a better contrast between the hustle and bustle in Times Square and the calm pace of the exhibit.  The message was even more poignant and striking because of the exhibits placement in the epicenter of Manhattan’s modern technology.

I was curious as to how we could change the effect modern living has on our lives.  It doesn’t seem likely that Apple will stop making iPhones any time soon and increasingly employees are connected via Blackberry, laptop, phone, etc.  We play video games, watch DVDs, iChat.  So, if technology isn’t going to slow down, what can we do?  Dr. Whalley conceded that it was unlikely modern living and technology would slow down, but she said, the goal of the exhibit is to make people aware.  She said that an awareness of who these things can affect your body will help people realize that it is necessary to take a break and slow down sometimes.  Rest that is essential for our well-being.

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My Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibit.  I will share two of my favorite portions with you.

First, there was a part of the exhibit where this paragraph of information was included and I think it is extremely fitting for my blog.  It’s called Living to the Beat of Your Life:

Life presents an abundance of choices.  In our effort to accomplish as much as we can, and as quickly as possible, we do little well.  Work, career, professional goals, and ambition often lead us to neglect pour personal healthy, relationships, leisure time, pleasures, communities, spirituality, and other personal needs.  More often than not, when our work and life are out of balance, our health and well-being suffers.

In musical terms, the perfect temp of a composition is known as “tempo giusto,” meaning “in exact time.”  To live with tempo giusto would mean to live to the beat of our own life, neither too fast nor too slow, sacrificing neither work nor life.

Second, the exhibit ended by asking a question of it’s viewers:


flip flops in the sand


Readers, my question to you is before you die, what do you want to do?


I’ll go first!  Before I die, I want to travel to Bora Bora, the Maldives, Asia, Italy, Greece and Croatia!


* I was generously invited by Body Worlds to view the exhibit.  My visit was complimentary but all views expressed herein are my own.  More information about the exhibit can be found here.

By Brittany, July 4, 2013
  • Holly
    July 6, 2013

    Before . . . learn to speak many languages well enough to converse with diverse peoples to give me an “otherwise perspective” on life! . . . and to impress my family with an insight(s) that remain with them for life!

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