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Fitness vs. Wellness: What's the Difference?

I remembered going to a hot yoga class where one woman was wearing her Fitbit with the heart rate monitor. She was anxious to know how many calories she could burn in the class. To be honest, I was curious, too, and I think she said she burned like 500 calories, which I knew wasn't correct. I also told her that the wrist-based heart rate monitors aren't as accurate as the chest-based ones--and this was five years ago, before the technology on wrist-based monitors had advanced.


So we agreed that we would both wear our monitors that next class to see. Mine said something like 376, which was probably right, considering I typically burned about 600 calories an hour during a hard run and about 500 during a solid bike ride.


But burning calories isn't what yoga is about. Burning calories is about fitness. Yoga is about wellness. In other words, wellness is less concerned about burning calories in one sitting and more concerned with whether or not you arrive on the mat in the first place.


There is nothing in the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, or Hatha Yoga Pradipika that talks about being thin. In fact, none of them really concern themselves with the body aside from being a vessel of your spirit. And there are times when the body can hold your past emotional trauma in certain places, which hinders your spirit from flowing freely.


Fitness is concerned with short-term goals. You might need to lose weight for health reasons, and that points to the long-term goal of overall wellness. What is "fit" in your 20s is different from your 70s. We idolize those 70-year-olds who can run a sub-20 5K, but that's not about wellness.


Wellness is an overarching perspective. It includes keeping the mind sharp, keeping the body strong and supple, and keeping the spirit connected to the divine. We adopt different routines to develop our wellness, and these routines are very specific.

We must refrain from looking to others as "goals," although that might sustain you in the short-term. Fitness might look to "beat" someone else or to allow yourself to be "better." Wellness is concerned with evolution, a continuum, that seeks to make shifts according to your current life circumstances.


Let me give you an example.


Fourteen years ago, I was going through a lot of emotional drama. I had ended a tumultuous and substance-laden relationship, and the hangover was too tough to bear. I had participated in a few triathlons, which was great for my spirit. I loved having others around me to find