Uttanasana, Hamstrings, Figs, Wasps, and Autumn
I weep. I fold.
The skies weep. Images and news of wars, of blood, of bile thoughts and malice, of life mistreated, of people hungry for justice, of people with empty words… of seeming hopelessness… of poverty in the mind and the soul… and of leaves curling and falling… I fold.
Uttanasana is a standing forward fold posture in Yoga where one will find the head below the heart. It requires a graceful act of bowing down and meeting oneself upside down. We do have to bow deeply to ourselves and to the universe sometimes.
I am most careful and slowest going into this posture because if I was not, I could easily pull and injure my lower back. But also because it is such a tumultuous process that requires the deflation of diaphragm and yes, the ego.
And sooner or later in this journey, you will confront your hamstrings.
The movement is generated from the pelvis, and slightly bent knees will help keep the lower back expanding throughout.
The usual queue I receive:
Start on a Tadhasana, the “Mountain Pose” -a position with straight elongated spine, with body weight equally distributed on both feet. Deep diaphragm breathing helps expand the vertebrae.
Raise arms for Upward salute (Urhvahastasana) on inhale, expand the spine, keep the shoulders relaxed and down away from the ears; and
On the exhale, descend from the hips, keeping the lower back straight. Take your time.
The hamstring will scream back at you sooner or later on this descent. Bend the knees if the hamstrings are not releasing. Do not obsess on getting the muscles stretched but focus on the spine being worked on by gravity in the reverse direction. Safest to keep lower back straight.
There is something soothing about folding and introspection in an age of extroversion and flamboyance. And the fig is a wonderful and reassuring inspiration for folding up and blossoming inwards instead.
The fig is actually NOT a fruit, but a cluster of many flowers and seeds that have grown inwards! It is an inflorescence, a mark of a possibly modest, snobbish, and yet cunning creature. It does not openly display the flowers like some of the other more “show off” plants. But this genus of trees is one of the most geographically successful and widely distributed plants in the world.
To achieve this stature, some of its species has necessitated and evolved a special relationship with a specific species of wasp to reproduce: a very private and exclusive partnership within the most intimate spaces and phases in life.
A mother Queen wasp is perfectly sized to be allowed access to the ball of flowers inside the case in which she could safely lay her eggs. The entrance is rather tight that she might lose an antennae or so as she snuggles in. But in this process, she effectively pollinates the fig with pollen from other fig fruit/flowers. It is crucial that she accomplishes this task and deliver her part of the deal. It is a matter of “life and death”. Because if she did not pollinate the fig flowers, the tree will just literally drop the fruit, Dang, with her and her eggs with it.
In return for her costly services, her offspring are then rewarded with a safe haven to mature in (and mate). The hatched males will be wingless and will tunnel through the casing to help their female sisters (and mates) out take flight on to the next fig and into a new cycle of a new generation...
This partnership requires most gracious of dedication and commitment from the Queen wasp. For entrance to the fig is a one way street. There is no exit once she is in. The die has been cast.
And so, as a final act of grace and to complete the act of folding and of bowing down, the Queen surrenders and ultimately offers herself to the fig and dies to nourish the next generation of both figs and wasps.