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This is the second of a three part series from our fabulous OMbassador, Shakti Sunfire, who teaches yoga and hooping around the world. Many of our followers are teachers of dance, yoga and other movement arts. We hope you enjoy this 2nd part. Shakti wrote this just for you, as a few tips on what to avoid when teaching.
Logic Without Love
“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 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.
Whether you are a coach, a parent, a friend, or a politician....from the Buddhist perspective we are all here to improve the human condition. While we may be able to influence each other, we ultimately have free will and our destiny lies in our own hands. Therefore, to best improve the human condition we have two primary goals that we can set out to achieve in this lifetime. First, improve oneself. Take your life in to your own hands and carve your own destiny. Strive to be the best you can be and to make the most out of this precious human life. Second, encourage others to do the same. Whether its through encouragement, education, positivity, or simply living by example. Strive not to do FOR others, but to encourage them to do for themselves. Here is an old quote by the famous Rilke,...the same concepts have been circling through human consciousness for a long time. Its time for us to live them more fully.
“We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. That is at the bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter.
“That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called ‘visions,’ the whole so called ‘spirit-world,’ death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parring been so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied.”
“Fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished the existence of the individual; the relationship between one human being and another has also been cramped by it, as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the bank, to which nothing happens.”
“For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed; it is shyness before any sort of new, unforseenable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.”
“But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively from his own existence.”
“For if we think of this existence of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and down. Thus they have certain security. And yet that dangerous insecurity is so much more human…”
“We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them.”
“And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful.”
“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are waiting to us us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke