Storytelling and Brain Science

Written by Doug Stevenson on . Posted in Features

"Story represents a pathway to understanding that doesn’t run through the left side of the brain. People who can recognize patterns and make meaning from seemingly non-related events and information will succeed while the purely logical left-brain thinker will struggle. In his view, the future belongs to the big picture thinkers – the storytellers." ~ Doug Stevenson on Daniel Pink's, A Whole New Mind

Why do you think Malcolm Gladwell is so successful? All three of his books, The Tipping Point, Blink and most recently Outliers – The Story of Success, are best sellers. The answer lies in the subtitle of his most recent book, The Story of Success.

Malcolm is a synthesizer, a pattern recognizer. After he’s done his research and compiled lots of examples to illustrate the points he wants to make, he writes his books by telling stories. He’s a good storyteller.

Daniel Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind, states, “Story represents a pathway to understanding that doesn’t run through the left side of the brain.”1 It is his belief that people who can recognize patterns and make meaning from seemingly non-related events and information will succeed while the purely logical left brain thinker will struggle. In his view, the future belongs to the big picture thinkers – the storytellers.

From my experience of speaking in front of hundreds of audiences, I have learned that stories are memorable because of the images and emotions contained in the story. The lesson of the story sticks because it’s embedded in an image. The image isn’t a still picture; it’s a motion picture, a movie. While you’re listening to a story, you’re simultaneously watching the story on the movie screen in your mind, in your imagination. Furthermore, a motion picture – a movie – works better than a still picture image.

Let’s test my theory. Take a moment now to think about a movie that you first saw over ten years ago, prior to the year 2000. Have you identified your movie? Now, what do you remember when you think about this movie?

I bet that the first thing that came to your mind was an image or a scene. If I asked you to describe the scene, you could do it in great detail. You remember the actors, their clothes, the location, the situation, and the emotions. You can see these images as easily now as you did when you were watching the movie.

What you remember next is dialogue. But compared to how vividly you remember the images, you probably don’t remember much of the dialogue. Maybe you remember a line that has become famous by repetition, like “make my day” or “life is like a box of chocolates.” Your brain remembers pictures first. It then remembers the emotional context, and finally, it remembers language.

In his new book, Brain Rules, molecular biologist John Medina explains this phenomenon. “When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the Amygdala releases dopamine into the

system. Because dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing, you could say itcreates a Post It note that reads, ‘Remember this.’2

That explains why audience members who saw me tell a story in a keynote over ten years ago approach me like I’m a long lost friend and say, “I still remember your airport story.” But it’s what they say next that proves the effectiveness of my Story Theater Method as an essential leadership skill. With a smile on their face, they say, “I’m still looking for the limo.”

“Look for the Limo” is the branded point of the story. I call it a Phrase That Pays – mental Velcro that makes the point of your story stick. Because they remember the story, they remember the point. When they remember the point, it becomes actionable. What’s the point of developing a presentation filled with great content if no one remembers anything, takes action, or changes his or her behavior?

My Story Theater Method is a synthesis of storytelling form and structure, subtle acting and comedy skills, and message branding. The structure makes the story easy to follow; the acting moments draw the audience into the experience and stimulate emotional responses; and the branded message gives them a call to action they can apply in their lives.

Most people who have ever given a speech, run a business meeting or tried to sell a product or service will tell you that stories are more memorable than facts and data. Yet I still run into business professionals who remain skeptical. “Stories are a waste of time,” they tell me. “I have too much content to cover to waste time telling a story.” In my experience, the story is essential if you want them to remember any of the content. It’s more likely that content without imagery and emotion is a waste of time.

Marco Iacoboni is a neuroscientist, someone who studies the workings of the brain. In his book, Mirroring People, he asks, “Why do we give ourselves over to emotion during the carefully crafted, heartrending scenes in certain movies? Because mirror neurons in our brains re-create for us the distress we see on the screen. We have empathy for the fictional characters – we know how they’re feeling – because we literally experience the same feelings ourselves.”3

Aha! Eureka! At last I’ve found a scientific explanation to explain what I’ve been teaching my students for the last 15 years – mirror neurons. We don’t just listen to stories; we see images and feel emotions. We actually experience the story as if it’s happening to us.

“One important area of research,” says John Medina, “is the effect of emotion on learning. Emotionally arousing events tend to be better remembered than neutral events. They persist much longer in our memories and are recalled with greater accuracy than neutral events.”4

By its very nature, story is an emotionally arousing event that engages listeners and holds their attention. With the advent of Blackberrys and I-phones, competing for your audience members’ mind share is the first challenge a speaker or leader faces. Good storytelling solves that problem. Then, using storytelling craft, we can attach meaning to the story with a well-chosen point.

In his book, Things That Make Us Smart, Don Norman says, “Stories are important cognitive events, for they encapsulate, into one compact package, information, knowledge, context, and emotion.”5 Stories capture the big picture.

Now is the time for leaders to become wisdom sharers – synthesizers – storytellers. Simply “getting through the content” is not only ineffective; it wastes everyone’s time. However, simply telling a story will not make you a better leader. It has to be the right story, crafted strategically to make the right point, delivered at the right time, and in a compelling way.

I’ll let author Daniel Pink make my closing argument on the need for leaders to become storytellers. “Stories are easier to remember because stories are how we remember. When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.”6

The Story of Success! Increase your success by choosing, crafting and delivering your stories with the Story Theater Method. Contact me about my keynotes, trainings and Story Theater Retreats designed to help you become a more successful and inspiring presenter and leader.


1. Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind, 2006, p. 115.
2. John Medina, Brain Rules, Seattle, 2008, p. 81.
3. Marco Iacoboni, Mirroring People, New York, 2008, p. 4.
4. Medina, ibid., p. 79.
5. Don Norman, Things That Make Us Smart, 1994.
6. Pink, ibid., pp. 101-103.


dougDoug Stevenson, a professional keynote speaker and public speaking coach living in Colorado Springs, teaches the art of connecting with audiences through authentic emotion and imagery to deliver more entertaining and memorable experiences. For more information about Doug and his Story Theatre Method that combines acting, comedy and storytelling techniques,

Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce

Written by Ethan Engel on . Posted in Features

The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell gets inside the food industry's pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce -- and makes a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness.spaghetti
 To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish ~Yiddish proverb

A detective of fads and emerging subcultures, and chronicler of jobs-you-never-knew-existed, Malcolm Gladwell's work topples the popular understanding of bias, crime, food, marketing, race, consumers and intelligence.

Sparkling with curiosity, his work uncovers truths hidden in strange data. A New Yorker staff writer since 1996, he visits obscure laboratories and infomercial set kitchens as often as the hangouts of freelance cool-hunters -- a sort of pop-R&D gumshoe -- and for that has become a star lecturer and bestselling author.

Gladwell has written four books. The Tipping Point, which began as a New Yorker piece, applies the principles of epidemiology to crime (and sneaker sales), while Blink examines the unconscious processes that allow the mind to "thin slice" reality -- and make decisions in the blink of an eye. His third book, Outliers, questions the inevitabilities of success and identifies the relation of success to nature versus nurture. The newest work, What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, is an anthology of his New Yorker contributions. He says: "There is more going on beneath the surface than we think, and more going on in little, finite moments of time than we would guess."


Cost of Enlightenment: 10 days

Written by Ethan Engel on . Posted in Features

Nov 24 - Dec 05  Rocky Mountain Vipassana, Elbert, CO  The registration for this renound and cost-free 10-day retreat is still open. Register here
vipassanaVipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. Rediscovered by the Buddha around 2500 years ago, he taught it as a universal remedy for universal ills.
This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation. Healing, not merely the curing of diseases, but the essential healing of human suffering, is its purpose.
Since the time of Buddha, Vipassana has been handed down by an unbroken chain of teachers. Although Indian by descent, the current teacher in this chain, Mr. S.N. Goenka, was born and raised in Burma (Myanmar). While living there he had the good fortune to learn Vipassana from his teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin who was at the time a high Government official. After receiving training from his teacher for fourteen years, Mr. Goenka settled in India and began teaching Vipassana in 1969. Since then he has taught tens of thousands of people of all races and all religions in both the East and West. In 1982 he began to appoint assistant teachers to help him meet the growing demand for Vipassana courses.
The technique is taught at ten-day residential courses during which participants follow a prescribed Code of Discipline, learn the basics of the method, and practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results. All expenses for the course are met by donations from those who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the same opportunity. Neither the Teacher nor the assistant teachers receive remuneration; they and those who serve the courses volunteer their time. In this way, Vipassana is offered free from commercialisation.
The course requires hard, serious work. There are three steps to the training. The first step is, for the period of the course, to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely, and intoxicants. This simple code of moral conduct serves to calm the mind, which otherwise would be too agitated to perform the task of self-observation.
The next step is to develop some mastery over the mind by learning to fix one's attention on the natural reality of the ever changing flow of breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.
By the fourth day the mind is calmer and more focused, better able to undertake the practice of Vipassana itself: observing sensations throughout the body, understanding their nature, and developing equanimity by learning not to react to them.
Finally, on the last full day participants learn the meditation of loving kindness or goodwill towards all, in which the purity developed during the course is shared with all beings.

Read a student's reflections and impressions from a 10-day Vipassana course....

Course schedule for the Rocky Mountains Vipassana Association in Elbert, Colorado (37 miles from Colorado Springs)

Breaking the cycle with MELT®

Written by Juan Flores on . Posted in Features

MELT-logoWe all know stress is out there, waiting for us to take the bait and become overwhelmed. But even if we understand just how much our quality of life rests on our choices and responses to those everyday stressors, we can be completely undermined by tension in the body that decreases the quality of our thinking and choices. This reality alone can turn our best intentions into a vicious circle of misguided exercise or non-exercise, kinetic breakdown, and compounding injuries.

The truth is that even simple, day-to-day life can create unbelievable tension within our bodies. That’s because almost everything, from our environment and emotions to our food and medicines, even the gentlest form of exercise, has the potential to increase tension in the body.

In an unbalanced nervous system, stress literally becomes trapped in the connective tissues that integrate and support every joint, muscle, nerve, bone, and organ. The stress manifests initially as dehydration and cellular damage in the connective tissue.

Put simply: aches and stiffness left unresolved over time lead to chronic issues that eventually become acute. 

Such a process of accelerated aging can leave even young adults with decreased options, a less active lifestyle, and a future seemingly assured of prescriptions and surgeries.

But it’s never too late for the alternative…

Addressing the Stressimages
Applying new understanding from neurofascial science with hands-on therapies, the MELT Method® treats connective tissue directly and properly.

The MELT Method® is a breakthrough self-treatment system that restores the proper function of the body's connective tissue to eliminate pain and effectively decrease the accumulated stress of everyday living.

The MELT Method® makes it easy to find the missing link to pain-free living: a balanced nervous system and healthy connective tissue that together provide full-body immune support and sustain our mind-body communication.

The MELT Method® is for anyone who wants to slow down the aging process and live better! For those in their 50s, 60s, 70s and older who want to stay active, mobile, and independent — MELTing is a must.
Even those currently injured, post-surgery, overweight, sedentary, out of shape, with limited mobility, chronic pain, knee/hip replacements, or bone disorders — will benefit from MELTing. It’s simply the best starting point for any physical wellness program.

More about the practice…
A certified MELT® instructor takes students through a series of easy, precise techniques using simple, specialized equipment like soft body rollers and small balls. The techniques help decrease accumulated stress in the nervous system through directly acting on the fluid contents of the fascia — improving any person’s overall wellness.

See you at MELT®!


Screen-Shot-2012-08-14-at-1.51.35-PMJuan Flores received his CYT teacher training through through CorePower Yoga and is a certified instructor in M.E.L.T. Method™. His influences and practice also embody Power Yoga, Sculpt Yoga (yoga with weights), the Shambava  tradition, and Street Yoga teacher training.

Juan has been trained by some of the best educators in the fitness industry, working with experts in London, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and studying personally with Sue Hitzmann, Brandon Cox founder of CorePower Yoga, Kia Miller founder of Radiant Body Yoga, and others. Thanks to his exceptional presence as a trainer, corporate organizations as well as professional athletes, including the Center for Creative Leadership and Olympic cyclist Katie Compton, have sought out the “Juan Experience." Juan also provides training and workshop in Spanish language for individuals and small groups.


What has motivated over a million people to lie down on the floor and shake?

Written by Joanna DesRochers on . Posted in Features

TRELOGOHEADER2-300x143Shaking? Why would anyone want to do that? Simply because it is the body’s natural mechanism to release tension and fear following a stressful or life threatening situation. Several years ago I had a serious bicycle accident and my entire nervous system had been compromised by falling on my head and neck. It was affecting every aspect of my life, and then I discovered TRE.

Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE ) are based on the work of David Berceli, Ph.D, and have been taught to people all over the world. They have effectively helped victims of the earthquake in China, of violence in Beirut, Somalia and Afghanistan, as well as the community of Newtown, Connecticut after the recent school shootings.

TRE is a simple and safe technique that uses gentle stretching exercises to release stress and tension from the body. The exercises trigger a muscular shaking process in the body called neurogenic muscle tremors. These tremors originate deep within the core; it actually feels like the body is shaking from the inside out. Each body has its own intelligence and knows exactly where to send the tremors to release old tension patterns. Most people find it very comforting and enjoyable.

Who can benefit from TRE?
This technique was originally designed for people suffering from PTSD, such as soldiers, police, firefighters, and relief workers. But trauma is any experience that overwhelms one’s normal coping mechanism and everyone has experienced trauma, either mini or major. Practicing TRE safely releases emotions ranging from mild upset to severe anxiety, whether they are caused by mental or physical stresses, or traumas from accidents, surgery, natural disasters, or violence.

The body constantly responds to elevated levels of stress by contracting the muscles. However, we seldom recognize these contractions until we experience pain, discomfort or illness. By practicing TRE, we can prevent stress and tension levels from becoming chronic illness. 

TRE is different from traditional trauma therapy. One does not have to talk about their traumatic experience and risk the chance of being overwhelmed and re-traumatized. In many cases it has immediate effectiveness to resolve old unpleasant experiences. Because TRE calms down the nervous system it is recommended as a regular maintenance practice that can be done at home.

TRE compliments yoga, meditation, and spiritual practices. Many tension patterns and contractions are deep inside the body, often without our conscious awareness. TRE uncovers these less conscious tension patterns and releases them at the deepest level. When this occurs, the person takes on greater emotional flexibility and resilience. An increased awareness of a ‘deeper sense of self’ allows a natural connection to others and the universe or the spiritual.

Yoga teachers particularly appreciate the value of TRE, so much so that a Neurogenic Yoga Teacher Certification has been created to teach TRE within the context of a yoga class setting. TRE can be safely learned from a Certified TRE Practitioner. More information can be found on the international website:

joannadesrochersJoanna DesRochers is a Level II TRE Practitioner, a Board Certified Clinical Master Hypnotherapist, and NLP Practitioner with a practice in Colorado Springs. Her website is:

“I believe that everyone is whole and perfect and they have just forgotten. My practice is personalized to the individual client to help them get rid of limiting beliefs and behaviors.”

10 minutes of minfulness can change the world...

Written by #DailyCupofYoga on . Posted in Features

img 1289Most of us would love to make meditation a part of our lives. Unfortunately, when we actually get around to trying it (rather than just reading or thinking about it), we feel distracted, think we’re doing it wrong, or feel like we just can’t spare the time. It’s a real mental battle just to push the distractions away for a few minutes of silence.

Mindfulness expert, Andy Puddicombe, has a simple message about how we approach meditation. In the short video below he shares his belief that meditation—even just a little bit!—is critical to a healthy mind and life, and thinks everyone has the ability and time to do it. He explains how, with just 10 minutes of mindfulness a day, we can change the way we see the world.  Read more...

Bikram sings the Blues

Written by on . Posted in Features

by Anandashankar Mazumdar for

BikramSeveral recent lawsuits initiated by Bikram Choudhury and his organization have sought legal recourse against studios and teachers over claims of intellectual property infringement. While these cases may not immediately appear to be relevant to those outside of the Bikram community, there have been several rulings that have implications for the broader yoga community, and how one runs a yoga business.

The primary takeaways from those rulings are as follows:

You cannot claim copyright interest in a sequence of yoga asanas, according to one district court.

A sequence of yoga asanas or any sequence of exercises is not the equivalent to a pantomime or a choreographic work, according to a statement of policy issued by the Copyright Office.

You can claim copyright interest in the expressive portions of a book that teaches yoga. However, the issue in the courts is whether any poses included in that book would be covered by the copyrights covered in the book. According to one district court opinion and the statement of policy referenced above, those poses would not be covered by that copyright.

It is questionable whether the term “Bikram Yoga” will continue to be a protectable trademark belonging to Choudhury or whether it is has or will become a generic term describing a type of hatha yoga. As a relevant example, the term “Pilates” was originally a trademark of Joseph Pilates, but was subsequently found to be generic.

Keep reading about intellectual property law and how these recent rulings relate to yoga...

Keep reading about the sexual misconduct suit filed against Bikram in LA County Superior Court...

Watch this ABC News spotlight and interview on the controversies.