The powerful appeal of a fitness studio community

I’ve taught a Sunday morning cycling class for 12 years.  We allow riders to reserve up to one week in advance, and by Sunday or Monday of each week, the following Sunday 8:40 class is usually sold out.   Over the years I’ve joked about the class being some kind of  “church substitute”…..but it turns out some really smart Harvard Divinity School types have had similar thoughts.  Is a fitness studio community like church in some ways?

A rider in my class who works at Harvard, brought me two fascinating recently published reports.  One called “Something More”, the other called “How we Gather”.  The reports, which specifically cite CrossFit and Soul Cycle, discuss the changing ways in which people seek fulfillment and community outside of  traditional organized religion.  They are really calls to action to think about innovative new ways for people to get what organized religion increasingly struggles to give them.  From the executive summary of “How We Gather”:

“…America is changing.  Millennials are less religiously affiliated than ever, Churches are casualties of the internet age in which young people are globally connected and more locally isolated….against this bleak backdrop young people are flocking to a host of new places that deepen community in powerful and surprising ways….”

The report goes on to cite examples of organizations that attract people around themes once considered the realm of only religion:

Community, Personal Transformation, Social Transformation, Purpose Finding, Creativity, and Accountability.

The summary concludes by hoping these organizations (like fitness studios) begin to see themselves as part of a shift toward deeper community.

WOW.  Heavy stuff.  But I see what they mean.   While not explicitly religious in any particular way, over the years I have integrated language, music and elements into my class that seem to make people feel connected or empowered.  Each class I teach has a  dark, quiet, meditative segment….of course sandwiched between high energy flailing.  When I skip that segment, people complain.  I’ve also noticed an amazing community effect as people from different backgrounds and walks of like have become close friends through the studio.  Maybe you’ve seen parallels in classes you’ve attended?
harv div

While I’m sure most people would not think of their workout experience as a church substitute, many are attending not just for exercise, but for other community and spiritual reasons that were big reasons why their parents went to church.



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