“Gather around the fire. I am going to tell you story.”
In 2008, Jeremy Hsu wrote an article for Scientific American entitled The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn. In it, he examined the work of psychologists and neuroscientists who are studying the human penchant for storytelling. What they are discovering is fascinating, but it boils down to this: People are wired to enjoy stories.*
What does that have to do with masterful teaching? A few things, but the short of it boils down to the ability (or lack of ability) a teacher has to weave and curate a powerful and impactful learning environment. One that gives the student the greatest possible inroad to lasting insight and embodied knowledge. This, of course, happens in many ways - through skillful curriculum development, logical instruction and sequencing, environmental considerations such as natural light, space, and choice of music, and through the teacher’s ability to step into the seat of the teacher and hold the space for his/her students... but there is one area that is often overlooked, and in my experience quite possibly THE most important place to refine a skill set for teachers new and old : THEMING.
Theming - when done well,provides a greater CONTEXT for your students that extends beyond the confines of the hoop classroom. Skillful theming PROVIDES MEANING that keeps your students coming back for more, and opens each individual to a variety of other innate “intelligences”, such as emotional and imaginal intelligence, that allows him/her to embody new information faster and with greater ease.
I remember when I first stepped foot inside a yoga class. The candles were lit, soft music playing, the atmosphere seemed to sparkle a little...at the very least was welcoming. I took my seat and for the next 90 minutes was guided into an experience in my body that all about my body and so much more than my body. The use of imagery was so impactful that I signed up then and there for a monthly plan. That was 14 years ago...and I haven’t stopped practicing.
I believe it to be no small coincidence that there are now over 8 million people practicing yoga in United States alone.
Human beings have evolved to respond deeply to story, metaphor and myth. Not long ago, we, as a species, passed on all useful information from one generation to another in story. In fact, the part of the brain that is our true decision maker has been found to NOT be the cerebral cortex or cognitive mind, but in fact the paleomammalian part of the brain that has, evolutionarily speaking, been with us longer. That part of the brain is our emotional intelligence. Emotions, not facts, ultimately determine our decisions.
Story, metaphor, myth and colorful imagery skip the rational layer of the brain, and move RIGHT into the long-lasting, deeply-affected paleomammalian brain where change can happen. It is here that we have deep memory. Therefore the use of this type of teaching is not only poetic and beautiful, but absolutely crucial to create the kind of experience we’re going for as empowered leaders and teachers.
- A 2007 study … found that a test audience responded more positively to advertisements in narrative form as compared with straightforward ads that encouraged viewers to think about the arguments for a product. Similarly … labeling information as “fact” increased critical analysis, whereas labeling information as “fiction” had the opposite effect. Studies such as these suggest people accept ideas more readily when their minds are in story mode as opposed to when they are in an analytical mind-set.*
What theming is NOT is arbitrary and random esoteric information that you get off on, but that has noting to do with the audience at hand. Skillful theming requires student-centric thinking.
Which leads us to the HOW of it.
There are many many ways to develop the ability to skillfully theme in your classes. Always, the underlying foundation is to source from your own lively and vibrant experience...picking out universalities that all can relate to. Books, articles, movies and more can be valuable sources, but unless the theme has been lived and embodied by YOU, the storyteller, it will not land for your students.
Here are a few words on theming from the One Hoop One Love Teacher Training and Mentorship manual :
THE STORIES WE TELL OURSELVES SHAPE OUR WORLD.
As One Hoop One Love leaders, our invocation is for wonder to return to us in our lives. To begin to see with the minds eye, means we need to return to unknowingness and to possibility. Can we begin to feel spaciousness where there was previously only compression? Can we begin to invoke a perspective in our lives that allows for the world to speak to us in symbol, serendipity, metaphor and myth? It is up to us to empower intuitive interpretation of the things we see, feel, and hear. Imagination and imagery opens the doorway to wild creativity, and that, serves the world.
A good theme can be wrapped, packaged and presented in no more than the first 5 minutes of class, then touched on at various times through MOVEMENT.
The best themes are drawn from your own present life experience, filtered back through the eyes and ears of your students.
To compose a theme, KNOW your audience. What is their life like outside of class? How can you touch them emotionally? In what ways can you imagine yourself to be in their shoes?
In this day and age we spend much of our time in the cognitive brain, weighing out comparative analysis of...well...everything. Myth and metaphor are also so important at this time because they cut out perceived differences and beliefs and move right into the heart. Myths are not untruths. In fact, they are the closest thing we can get to truth. They are universalities, that transcend space and time. They give meaning and flavor, and great purpose. To live our lives mytho-poetically is to set into motion a kind of limitless creativity that sees no coincidence and empowers radical self-acceptance as a crucial part of the whole - as the whole itself.
Visit the Elemental Mentorship page for more information and to find further resources for skillful theming. The next online course begins early June!
Joseph Campbell : “I’m going to tell you a story. Some of it may have actually happened, but all of it is most certainly TRUE.”