• Holli Gipson

Teaching is Storytelling : How Creative Writing Made Me a Better Teacher

Updated: May 9, 2019

As yoga teachers we need to embrace story-telling. This has always been the way humans learn. Employing the art of drama is essential to moving the student.

When you hear the word drama you think it is the opposite of yoga. Why would I be asking you to employ more drama into peoples life? I would argue we've diluted the meaning of drama to include illusions--manifestations of events in order to understand ourselves (however slowly)--and we've used the word to make judgements on people processing events.

I once had a yoga teacher tell us to let go of the stories and drama, which has valid merit. Meditation is the opposite of creating, it is passively receiving and being creation. But, yoga postures are action, creation. The greek word for drama is action!

So with this post I argue why drama is the very structure of our yoga teaching.

My Journey from Drama to Yoga

You never really know where you're choices will lead you. You decide on one path, you dedicate your energy to it, only to find years later the outcome of that energy is nothing you could have imagined. This was my journey to yoga teaching.

When I started teaching yoga I thought it would compliment my creative writing. I thought it would be a part-time gig. I had just finished an intense creative writing program at the University of Texas; I invested an enormous amount of time and money toward this vision of becoming a playwright. I was so certain that theatre and film would be my profession.

Slowly, yoga became more and more the forerunner of my professional life. Unconsciously, I began giving all my time and energy to this endeavor. I found it came easy to teach yoga, whereas residencies and paths toward writing were difficult. So I listened and followed the flow of life: I started a yoga centre.

I recently learned that I come from an ancestry of lauded school teachers in Fort Worth, TX. In a Jyotish Astrology reading it said my talents were in teaching. I do feel a cosmic connection to this profession that envelopes the archetypes of healer, sage, artist and care-taker. I also found that my thirst to tell stories, to essentially move people, was happening everyday in my yoga classes. I was fulfilling my desires for my playwright profession but also much more. I found an immediate access to and platform for my voice.

Moving Your Audience (Students)

A good story not only entertains but also edifies. Brecht said we would do entertainment a huge disservice by not also making it educational, and in fact this is the ploy of those that want to stupefy us. "Keep entertain; keep unaware; don't think about your problems or the problems of your neighbor." What if we were more aware of the lessons in our entertainment? If there are none maybe it's not that entertaining?

When masterfully delivered, a story changes you. You see and feel things differently. This is exactly what we want in yoga. According to Desikachar, one of the definitions of yoga is change.

I still remember the moment I really understood yoga, not as physical postures, but as that moment when you are forever awakened to a new understanding, when you are moved from who you were to something new. This could happen through reading a powerful text, through experiencing nature, through moving your body, listening to music etc.

So, when I teach yoga, I am taking students on a journey through their bodies and consciousness, inciting movement and therefore change. Some yoga teachers are more staunch and technical with their approach. However, after studying the power of dramatic structure, I would argue that storytelling and artistry is a much stronger pedagogical method.

Storytelling conjures images for our visual learners, delivers words to make meaning for our auditory learners, and then moves people emotionally for our kinesthetic learners. Truly, we all learn through these three methods, not just one.

During my time at UT, I also took a course called Drama for Schools. This is a program that has seen great success in applying dramatic techniques and storytelling devices to academic content. The pedagogy asks students to learn with their whole consciousness (body & mind) while also creating community, acknowledging how relationship edifies an individual. Desikachar's other definiton of yoga is relationship. I still use these techniques today in my Sacred Seeds Yoga Training Program.

Storytelling covers all grounds of learners and is easier to remember than data or facts. It's fun; again, making it entertaining. The aboriginal cultures new that storytelling was the best way to learn and this is why they passed down knowledge through art and audible stories.

The Dramatic Structure as Class Structure

The Greek Philosophers remain our teachers today for dramatic structure. Below is an image of how most stories, especially movies, are told. If you are going to tell a story always begin with this ironclad method. I would argue the same is true when teaching yoga.

1. Begin with Action! You begin with inciting the class, perhaps by actively setting intention.

2. Give context. Storytellers give exposition: description of characters, setting, some backstory. With yoga, we might introduce style and the plan of our journey.

2. Build action. Each posture or rising action builds gradually as the angle of the diagram suggests.

3. The Climax! We are taught in creative writing that a protagonist must be forever changed by the climax of a story for the story to be successful. So is true with a yoga class. Our rising action leads us to the Turning Point or Climatic Changing Point; this is our peak posture. We spend more time and attempt to create the most change.

4. Cool Down. Just like a good story, we must unravel from the intensity of the change, giving it time to settle.

5. Resolution. We're able to move on from the story. We're able to leave class and return to our everyday life. Notice though we do not end at the same point that we began along the Y axis of the graph. We are a bit higher. This is how we keep gradually changing.


~Drama is action creating change overtime. Yoga is change. Drama and yoga could serve each other well.

~ Learning and entertainment are a mutually beneficial relationship.

~Storytelling address all types of learners.

~ Stories are easier to remember than facts or figures.

~Community and relationship are key to learning and therefore to yoga!

~Try the dramatic structure for the structure of your yoga class and see what happens :)

As always, would love to hear your opinions! My next post will touch on feminism and the responsibility we have with the types of stories we tell. Keep posted :)




© The Yoga Lobbyist 2018