Sunday, November 29, 2009

Micromanaging and Moksha

Nicolas Leonard Sadi Carnot was not known as a yoga teacher, though his scientific work has great application for those of us interested in Moksha (yogic liberation).

Carnot was a French physicist who laid the theoretical groundwork that led to the development of the internal combustion engine. Whether you loathe or love this particular technology, Carnot's work was the start of a long line of innovation that led to harnessing the Motive Power of Fire. Having developed the thermodynamic principles (now known as the Carnot Cycle) that made internal combustion engines possible, Carnot also described what is now known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Understanding the conceptual framework of the Second Law of Thermodynamics can be liberating for students of yoga.

There are many ways we can express the 2nd law, as its wisdom has proven useful across many branches of science. In essence, the 2nd law tells us that an ordered system is very difficult to maintain. As time goes on, it takes progressively more energy to maintain a high level of order. Put another way, the natural state of things is to decay into less orderly arrangements. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics refers to the tendency of highly ordered systems to relax into stable equilibrium, which is sometimes called entropy.

The houses we inhabit demonstrate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Without regular applications of energy (time and money) a house inevitably decays. The older the house, the more energy required to maintain its order.

The human body is a great example of entropy prevailing! Our bodies are highly organized and structured when we're young, and with the passage of time the body becomes less and less orderly. By investing time and energy into our health, we may slow down the aging process. Inevitably, however, the passage of time will see disorder creep into the system.

The laws of thermodynamics apply to yoga poses, too. The effort to align the body in a yogasana takes a good deal of energy, both psychic and physical. Maintaining a high degree of order for any length of time takes progressively more and more energy. While this effort harnesses the mind and builds strength, at a certain point it becomes futile. The 2nd Law describes the workings of the natural world: the pursuit of orderliness takes more and more energy, and at a certain point the disorder will inevitably prevail.

At first this may sound a bit discouraging, though within entropy is yogic liberation. In the yogasana, attention to alignment can be an effective means to still the mind and rebalance the body. Perfect alignment, however, flies against the laws of nature. Striving to hold onto a notion of perfection in the poses not only defies the laws of physics, it's one of the root causes of suffering that was first identified by the Buddha - the idea of attachment.

When practicing yoga postures, an awareness of alignment can develop both body and mind. Too much focus on alignment, however, can take us farther afield from the state of Yoga. The perfection of the pose is the depth of knowing its transitory nature. The effort to perfectly sculpt the body into a static form is the mind-trap from which many of us seek liberation. When practicing, keep in mind the irony of focusing on alignment: too little, and we remain stuck...too much, and we swim against the currents of the natural world.

This just right amount of alignment awareness? We get to experience firsthand the Motive Power of Fire that Carnot described over two-hundred years ago.



Kathy M said...

Applicable and recurring. Many thanks.

devDillinger said...

No don't end there! Gimme more! I love it ;-) Thank you so much... it's so so sooooo useful and exactly what I needed to hear at this time.

Mari Ann said...

nice post! very informative, just what I've been looking for... hope to read more posts from you...

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asmin said...

Modern yoga retreat is said to have begun by the young Swami Vivekananda from India made a deep impression on the American he introduced to. Yoga masters began to travel to the west, attracting attention and followers. In the 1920's, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the life long work of T. Krishnamacharya . Krishnamacharya traveled through India giving demonstrations of yoga poses and opened the first Hatha Yoga School.

During the 1950s one of the foremost Yoga teachers of his time, Selvarajan Yesudian, wrote the book "Sport and Yoga", and it was through this book Yoga entered the world of sports. Today we can observe many athletes and sports teams that has incorporated Yoga in their injury reducing, strengthening and focus oriented training regimens.

In the middle of the 60s, Yoga got a real promotional boost when the Yogi Maharishi Mahesh taught Yoga to the famous pop-stars in the Beatles. Many other artists and musicians where influenced to take up Yoga as well.

Yoga became especially popular in Hollywood when Russian born Indra Devi, opened a Yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. She taught movie starts like Gloria Swanson, Jennifer Jones and Robert Ryan, as well as educating hundreds of Yoga teachers.