yoga horizons

Training and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

Werner Heisenberg Commemorated

This weekend while doing some simple kettlebell military pressing i slightly strained my back. Nothing big, i’ve been doing a good deal of back strengthening work lately, and the mild cramping was a sign i needed to back off for a day or two.

Rather than just do nothing on Monday for my practice, i went in with a skeleton of an idea of what to do. Since i am starting an intensification phase, i knew i could keep the reps low, and breaks long if i needed.

I find that small circuits are working well for me now. So the idea was just do something around tuck front lever rows for a few rounds and then around ring pseudo planche pushups for another few.

I started by just laying over a gymnastic crash pad, and then sliding off it, and then sliding off it to plow position, and then slide, to plow to roll out. It was very nice, got my back to loosen and made me realize i need to do some backbends, which i’ve been somewhat neglecting lately.

I got around to starting the circuits and found a few nice ways to incorporate backbends into them playing with exercise balls, the crash pad and doing a number of movements in ways i’d never done before. It was one of the most enjoyable practices i’ve had.

Moreover when it was done, i felt fantastic, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My back felt light, sure there was still the hint of a cramp, but even though i worked hard, it never got worse. That was the only given, what ever i did, if my back felt worse i would stop doing that at once.

The key, having just a framework, and enough time to just play for a change.

In physics, quantum mechanics to be specific, there is a very important principle, The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The basic idea of it is this, for any two complementary properties, the more one know about one the less you will about another.

The classic example, for an electron in orbit around an atom, if you know where it is you won’t know where its going.

In a way this is how our practice normally is as well. We have a set plan, a sequence of poses we are going to do or set of exercises and we plow through that. This is good, in fact its necessary, but in that we never get to that organic natural practice we would like. Its always restrained by ‘i have to do this’.

All we know is hard work and a rigid set system, we know the hard side of practice but not the soft. We know where we’re going, we don’t know where we are.

Of course this can go the other way too, always just fidgeting and no focus or depth. Only the soft and not the hard.

Heisenberg at work

Your practice space is your chalkboard

Yet one of the essential ideas of yoga is the bringing together of BOTH sides the hard and the soft. In order to find those we need to at least occasionally open the door to the side we are neglecting.

Occasionally we need to just let things happen, find where the next pose, next set, takes us and let it. Many of the greatest discoveries were made by accident. Sure they were set up by hours, months even years of hard work, but often when the discovery itself comes its as if out of thin air.

We can make many discoveries, looking for unique ways to approach familiar poses and novel ways of stringing them together.

As a teacher, i don’t always want to restrain students from exploring, i try to keep the door open enough so one can occasionally, unpredictably discover something new for the sheer joy of it.

So the complementary aspects in our practice are, hard work, discipline, which give one kind of knowledge, and spontaneity, flow which provide another. Without both we will always have an incomplete picture of the practice reality.

The Heisenberg Principle says this is true for any pair of complementary variables. The same for us, hard and soft are one pair but there are others. Fast and slow, thoughtful and empty. I’m sure you kind find others as you continue to explore the idea.

Good luck, enjoy sometimes, grind through other times…