At a certain age, my brother, Reece, went through a period of being a finicky eater. He wasn’t impossible. He didn’t subsist solely on pizza or PB&J like some children, and he wasn’t nearly as difficult as our cousin, Philip, who spent the first three years of his life in Japan and, as a result, only ate three types of food: seaweed, noodles, and chicken fingers.
Once, at the dinner table, Reece left a good portion of the meal on his plate, declaring he was full. No sooner had he made this announcement did he, then, ask a question to belie his meager appetite. Parents, wait for it….
“What’s for dessert?” he asked brightly.
“I thought you said you were full?” my mom countered.
Reece thought about this for a moment and, then, provided a perfectly logical explanation.
“Yes. The dinner side of me is full,” he reported, and with this, he gestured as if dividing his body down the center in two little boy halves with an imaginary line. “But… the dessert side is empty.” It was a dazzling parental plea–the kind that would become his trademark for the next, oh, say, twenty-two years.
Because who among us can’t relate to the woeful state of being dessert deficient—or feeling out of balance, a little empty, or lacking sweetness? Life is like this—a tender dance of empty and full, pragmatism and pleasure, sustenance and sweetness. Yoga teaches this lesson, too. In its most formative ancient text, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga wisdom bids: sthira sukham asanam. Meaning, “the pose shall be steady and light,” with sthira suggesting strength and stability and sukha having a connotation of sweetness or joy. But, this can be applied far beyond the yoga mat.
As a typical first-born daughter who chronically aims to please, I never need to be told to eat more vegetables or do the practical thing, but, lately, I’m pondering the other side, characterized by lightness, sweetness, and joy. It seems like a good reminder for all of us right now, as we embark on a season marked by manic overindulging and over-scheduling. How can we see the elements of ourselves that need balance earlier, and make them whole before feeling empty and depleted? When are we full of vegetables and devoid of dessert or—come Thursday—the other way around? What’s the right blend of practicality and pleasure? It’s different for everyone, of course, just like the yoga path. Yoga means to make whole–by standing steady and light in our poses and remembering to enjoy the sweetness and fullness of life.