This is a very important statement. People tend to confuse yoga as some sort of calisthenics. I’m not saying there are not calisthenics elements to it, but it is not that. Though, fitness borrows ideas from yoga, doesn't mean that yoga is fitness. I want to break down this idea to make a clear distinction between both.
Yoga is not about getting in shape: There are many experts and yogis that can tell you many different ideas on what is the goal of yoga. There are thousands of books about that, and none of them will tell you that the goal is to get in shape. Being stronger, more flexible or losing extra weight are benefits of a constant yoga practice. In a very broad definition, yoga is a tool to find inner peace. Being more fit, energetic, agile and focused are side effects of this process.
Pain, no gain: In yoga you never push yourself over the limit. Yoga it’s about coping with your limitations, not ignoring them. When you try to do something you just can’t do, you suffer. The premise in fitness, which extends to other aspects of western culture, is that happiness will arise from the struggle. In other words, from the pain of taking your body over the limit, you will be stronger and more flexible in the future, and then, you will be happy as a result of these accomplishments. Case in point, the many before-after photos used for selling fitness and diet programs. In yoga happiness only occurs here and now. The premise in yoga is that you can find happiness regardless of your limitations. I find it very sad when yoga teachers literally push students into poses they just cannot do. It only creates frustrations. No wonder people don’t want to try yoga. They always think they are not strong or flexible enough. To me, this is the biggest difference between yoga and any other workout activity.
There is no goal in yoga: This could be an exaggeration but there is much truth to it. The real goal in yoga is to experience the moment at its most. I always compare yoga with a rollercoaster. The goal is the ride. You will end up where you started. In fitness you set a bar and the goal is to reach it. It is a very different mindset. That doesn’t mean that you don’t get excited when you finally do your first arm balance, but you know how to control your ego and not to make that the reason of your practice.
To be clear, fitness is not a bad thing: Don’t get me wrong. I went to a gym and worked out for many years. To me, it felt good. Yes, I got fitter, but the main benefit was my state of mind afterwards. I was content. But whenever I saw a personal trainer pushing a guy to full muscle failure, I felt bad for that guy. He was probably going to walk away from that gym forever. In the United States, 80% of gym members don’t go to it. That means that gyms make most of their profits from not delivering their services. This alone should make us rethink our approach to fitness.