How fitness can inspire spiritual connections
Think about it: exercise helps you connect with your body, clear your mind, and contribute to community. Also, “when you exercise, not only does it release endorphins—the chemical responsible for the runner’s high—but it also releases endocannabinoids,” DeSteno adds. “These endocannabinoids socially connected people1.”
Research by Oxford University professor Emma Cohen, Ph.D., also shows that group exercise promotes social bonding, shares DeSteno. And when people feel more connected to each other, “they can really feel spiritual ecstasy when it reaches the right level,” he notes.
Some fitness brands even rely on the spiritual experience of group exercise—take SoulCycle, for example. “At SoulCycle, one of the last things people often do at the end of a session is called the ‘hill climb,'” DeSteno explains. “It’s a way to push yourself to a heightened level of tension and arousal. When these chemicals are released, when you do this with others, and especially if you have music in a spiritual context, it can bring your mind to that moment of profound discovery. People will cry, and they will feel connected to each other.”
Bottom Line: If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by your emotions during a spin class, you’re definitely not alone.
Especially at places like SoulCycle, a large part of the members’ adoration comes from connecting with the instructors. DeSteno has heard anecdotal reports that more and more people see their fitness instructors as more than just a coach, even asking them for serious life advice.
You can compare trusting a fitness instructor to trusting a religious leader. However, DeSteno points out, we don’t typically give fitness instructors the same counseling training, and they don’t necessarily sign on to teach cycling while acting as a life coach.
While it’s always a great idea to bond with people you see often, like fitness instructors, it’s also important to remember that time spent at Pilates or cycling is all about connecting your body, mind and even soul, but not to replace therapy.