Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to continually re-wire itself. It used to be thought that once connections were made, our brains were fixed to fire off in set patterns. We now know that brains are far more plastic, so we can make new connections throughout our lives. We can in fact big up our brain.
Storytelling has been used for thousands of years, not only to entertain, but to help shape our thoughts, values and attitudes. Think for a moment about the fairy stories you heard as a child and what you may have learned from them. Did you learn that being good, brave and compassionate gets you your heart's desire and being kind to nice little froggies gets you to be in charge of a magic kingdom? Perhaps you learned that being unkind, cruel and self-centred means you will have to put on red hot shoes and dance until you die?
In other words these apparently innocuous tales helped shape what we value most in our society. This doesn't mean we will not still behave in ways that might result in our having to wear those red hot shoes. What it does mean is our brains have been shaped to make certain connections between what is seen as wrong in our culture and what is perceived as right.
Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage far more of the brain than those stories that simply do not light our candle. According to Paul Zak, who is a researcher into how stories shape our brains, we need to be transported into the character’s world and to have the tension continually increased. In this way we emotionally resonate with what is happening to them in their world and that world briefly becomes our world too.
What has any of this to do with nature therapy I hear you ask? Well, we have a whole variety of therapeutic style tools in our toolbox at Nature Therapy CIC that are totally compatible with nature activities - and storytelling is one of them. You do not have to be a child to listen to stories, to create them or to learn from them. After all what else are films, soaps and the news other than stories.
I never cease to be amazed at how ancient knowledge and modern scientific research are beginning to blend together. The ancient art of story telling and modern research into neuroplasticity and stories are just one example of this blending.
As this happens, so we are no longer dividing body and mind into two separate entities. We are creating whole people where mind, body and spirit all play equal parts in maintaining health and well-being. Something the ancients knew only too well.