I’ve recently started getting into yoga, for the first time in many years. I took a class once when I was an undergrad and although I diligently attended classes, I never really enjoyed it (the fact that the class was downtown at the ungodly hour of 7:30 AM might have had something to do with it). Now maybe that I’m older, I find myself patient enough to enjoy its slow, meditative pace, although I definitely have a lot to learn. However, it’s gotten me thinking a lot about what it means to be fit.

I remember reading somewhere once that most people think that to be physically fit is to possess either good strength or endurance. In other words, being able to lift a lot of weight or have shapely muscles (strength), or else be able to run for a long time or have good cardiovascular fitness (endurance), is enough to be considered a fit person. However, true fitness also includes balance and flexibility. What good is it to be able to run or lift weights if you aren’t flexible? Although most people do incorporate some stretching into their routines, balance is by far the most neglected part of fitness. This is why elderly people are so prone to falling. Just like developing good musculature, good balance can also be developed. One of the best ways to develop balance and flexibility is through yoga.

Yoga also increases your sense of self-awareness, which makes yoga an ideal mind-body exercise. It takes a lot of practice and discipline, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s hard, and it can be frustrating, but I find that it’s helping me to develop more tolerance with myself. It teaches you to be patient, and also increases your awareness of your body. Because I’m becoming more aware of my body, I’m also becoming more aware of what I put into it and why. For anyone who struggles with emotional eating (including myself!), having fuller self-awareness can help you make better, more conscious choices about why and how much you eat. And because I’m more in tune with my body, I also find myself wanting to exercise more, whereas going to the gym is usually something of a struggle. This is why yoga is so good for anyone who struggles with food or body image issues – it targets both the body and the mind, which is exactly what I do in my therapy practice. You can never really separate the two, because they’re so intimately intertwined.

Try it. Be patient, give it a fair try, and see what it can do for you. You might be surprised.