‘Consider the similarities between a modern exercise class and an ancient religious rite – the wise leader guiding the group through a series of ritualised movements, in perfect synchronisation.’
I was reminded of this quote from Alex Hutchinson at my Zumba class this week, watching in the mirror as we all moved in (almost) perfect unison to that most holy of songs, ‘Uptown Funk’.
With marathon training demanding 5 runs a week and with the increasing distance of each run requiring more than the hour afforded by my lunch break, and therefore needing to overflow into the evening, I’ve been letting my dancing slide a little of late.
Although I am still attending my weekly ballroom dancing classes, this week I found myself in need of something a little more upbeat.
A return to Zumba on Wednesday instantly satisfied this craving.
I’ve written previously about my love of dancing and of the freedom to dance with complete abandon as offered by Zumba. This pleasure, of moving with the music and feeding off the energy of the other dancers around you, never depletes.
Although, as a result of my recent absence, a lot of the routines were new to me, my body, rhythm and muscle memory seemed to be cooperating, allowing me to pick them up relatively quickly.
As I grinned and bopped through every song, surrounded by other dancers all doing the same and entranced in a sort of music and movement-induced euphoria, I thought of the new research cited by Hutchinson, which suggests that group exercise unleashes a flood of chemicals to the brain, triggering the same responses that have made collective activities from dancing to religion such enduring aspects of human culture.
What such studies appear to show is that the endorphin hit experienced during solo sports is greatly enhanced by group exercise. Synchronised physical activity is also linked to elevated mood and greater altruism.
This endorphin surge is likely to be traced back to the evolutionary benefits of group bonding.
There is definitely something unifying (and slightly cultish) about a group exercise. You feel a sense of shared goals with your comrades and moving in time with each other makes you feel part of a larger whole, something which I’ve written about in an earlier post in relation to my water polo teammates.
Whether the research holds true or not, I left the class having had a great workout and feeling happy, satisfied and smiling ear-to-ear, something which requires no quantifying or analysis.