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Cultivate your narrative

At the intensive in India, this past December, Prashant Iyengar many times said that he wants us to become our own teacher. That we need to stop relying so heavily on our teachers to tell us what to do in our practice. Which doesn’t mean we don’t need a teacher. You need a teacher so you know what the practice is and how to do it. Once the practice is established your teacher helps you stay the course and is a resource for obstacles you will encounter. (there will be many)

Prashant said you are your own teacher when you are tapped into your inner narrative. Therefore, we must cultivate the ability to have an inner narrative.

First of all, what is a narrative?

According to Wikipedia a narrative or story is an account of a series of related events, experiences, or the like, whether true (episode, vignette, travelogue, memoir, autobiography, biography) or fictitious (fairy tale, fable, story, epic, legend, novel).

What does a narrative have to do with a yoga practice?

On the mat I am creating shapes with my body and trying to maintain them for a certain length of time. During the time in the pose I try to observe myself–my breath, how the pose is affecting my breath, how the breath is affecting my body, if there are changes I could make which could improve or change the experience or should I stop making changes and just be present? All of this requires thinking or describing to myself what is occurring. I believe that is the beginning of the inner narrative Prashant wants us to tap into. Self talk that is based on the present moment.

I suspect that a lot of students have difficulty sticking with a practice because their inner narrative is not focused on the present moment (see previous paragraph) but instead goes something like this: …what should I do here?..I am stiff…Ouch…Oh, if I were only thinner…My mom always said I should lose weight…I wonder if that Amazon package will arrive today…I am bored. The narrative is a run on sentence of reactions from the previous thought not based on the present moment.

Truth vs. Fiction

I was struck by the word “fictional” in the Wikipedia definition (above). Because I was contemplating the word narrative in relation to a yoga practice I was only thinking of one that was truthful. But it’s definitely true that we can tell ourselves stories which are fictional. (There’s quite a bit written about this in the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali, the philosophy text that is a basis of the Iyengar Yoga method).

All of us has an inner narrative. What we need is a narrative that is helping us along the path. A helpful narrative is one that is likely going to be truthful and based on the present moment.

But the word “truthful” can in some ways be problematic though, because how do we know our thoughts are truthful or not? Aren’t they always going to have some hint of romanticism or fancy? Probably. We are only human, not a robot.

Perhaps, instead of trying to have truthful thoughts I should aim for organized thoughts. A ‘neat narrative’. At least then the thoughts are not running around from topic to topic to topic, eventually leading me off the mat without even knowing it. One minute I am doing a pose and ten minutes later without realizing it I am on the other side of the room changing the tape player (that really happened to me–many years ago–hence the reference to the tape player).

Consider the differences in the following two images. They are both of a group of books. The first group looks less organized to me. The second image, we can probably all say, is definitely more organized.

Messy narrative
Neat narrative

Think of your thoughts as a group of stories. Instead of letting them be strewn about and trampled on carelessly just try to organize them a little better. And when you do you’ll become more aware of the content of your own inner narrative. Once aware of the content you can begin to shift, mold, sculpt and guide it. It’s a process–a practice.

When the inner narrative is observed and changeable you’ll be your own teacher. You won’t need to check with someone else all the time about everything. That is empowerment. That is transformation.

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