While it’s well-researched that any exercise is beneficial for your mental and emotional well-being, the trend in group fitness seems to be taking this to the next level. With SoulCycle exploding in popularity and yoga becoming so mainstream, these days you might find yourself hearing more “love and thank your body” and “dig deep inside to find your strength” than a militant trainer yelling at you to go faster, harder, longer. This coincides with a cultural shift toward thinking about health holistically. Strength, happiness, stress, sleep, your gut biome, pain management, your relationship with food — they’re all getting more attention as pieces of your overall physical big picture. So whether you’re looking for a place to vent, a sanctuary to sweat (and maybe cry), or just a hug, we have some ideas of workouts that could feel like therapy (in a good way).
If you need an extra push: SoulCycle
As media outlets endlessly try to get to the bottom of “Why People Pay $34 for SoulCycle” or examine the “Carefully Cultivated Soul of SoulCycle” or debate “SoulCycle: You Say ‘Cult’ I Say ‘Loyal Customer Base,’” anyone who actually gets their butt in the saddle more than a handful of times knows: in the dark, when the instructor is telling you to dig deep inside and find that strength, it feels a lot like something you might pay a therapist $100/hour for. At that point, less than $40 sounds like a steal.
The encouraging, self-motivating, inner-strength-seeking ethos of SoulCycle can really get to you, especially when you’re feeling out of breath, emotional, and a little vulnerable. I’ve known a few people who have admitted to crying during class when an instructor gets particularly personal, but at least in the dark with the blaring music it’s a pretty private moment. And when you walk out, it looks like sweat anyway.
Availability: There are currently 47 locations in major cities, but with an IPO around the corner we can expect even more growth in the US and internationally.
Touchy-feely level: 7
If you want to mix tears with sweat: The Class
The Class with Taryn Toomey has the tagline “finding peace through strength” and describes the 75-minute sessions as a “cathartic mind-body experience,” so that should give you at least the inkling that this won’t be a standard sweat session. This newly popular NYC workout phenomenon is quickly gaining popularity through press, word of mouth, and a growing celebrity fanbase. I recently attended a session and can attest: if you’re open to going there, The Class is ready to test your mental and physical foundation. There’s frequent talk during The Class of shaking up and releasing your emotional and spiritual “sludge” through movement and vocalization. It’s perhaps the loudest workout class I’ve attended, with both instructor and participants grunting, yelling, and generally letting go of inhibitions.
To fully appreciate The Class, you have to check your inner cynic at the door. But don’t let the soul-searching mantras fool you. The workout is no joke. The other main message from The Class is that where other places want you to hit the wall and back off, they want you to truly break through. Shaking be damned, you will be asked to hold that plank and do more burpees. Perhaps that’s why many testimonials and stories about The Class report tears — tap into those emotions when you feel like you’re at your physical breaking point? You will leave feeling refreshed, tired, and perhaps like you’ve lost a little of the “sludge” holding you back.
Availability: NYC only at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see outcroppings (or imitations) on the West Coast soon.
Touchy-feely level: 10
If you just need a hug: November Project
Hug three people you don’t know! If you think getting up close and personal with strangers at the crack of dawn sounds less than appealing, November Project would like to change your mind. Founded in Boston as a way for two friends and former college athletes to stay fit during the brutal east coast winters, it’s exploded into a free workout revolution. With the overarching message of “Just Show Up!” the free group workouts are focused on teamwork and enthusiasm.
Exercises often incorporate positive peer-to-peer reinforcement. For example, one attendee shared that at a recent workout they had to pair up with another person and do alternating squats, complimenting the other person with each squat. Organized through Facebook and inclusive of every level of fitness, each session ends in bear hugs and a group photo.
Availability: November Project is currently in more than 20 cities all over the US and Canada. It’s expanding quickly and there are even opportunities to start your own branch.
Touchy-feely level: 5
If you need to let it all out: Shadow Boxing
The popularity of boxing as a workout has exploded in the past few years, but the newest craze within the world is focused on shadowboxing aka “boxing without the bruises.” This means a focus on the fitness, footwork, and form of boxing with absolutely no sparring. The founder of Shadowbox NYC, one of the studios focused on this technique, told the New York Times, “99.9 percent of the population doesn’t ever want to fight, but they would love to, if given the opportunity, hit something. Everyone wants to hit something.”
There’ve been competing studies about whether releasing aggression is actually helpful, but many of us have been there. Whether you have something pent up after a tough day at work or an especially gridlocked commute, getting stronger while you vent is a win-win.
Touchy-feely level: 1 (but catharsis levels high!)
Availability: Studios are popping up quickly, starting east coast down through Miami. There are tons of boxing studios around, so it’s worth seeing if one near you offers a shadowbox-only class.
Good old yoga. Yoga comes in all types, ranging from classes that feel like a sweaty workout to those that are more like a solid stretch session, but through them all, one thing remains the same: the intention to do no harm to yourself or others. The through-line of self-love has helped thousands of people find a new inner serenity, whether they’re Eat, Pray, Love-ing their way through a personal crisis or looking to quiet the mind from daily life.
A paper published by Harvard Medical School looked at studies of yoga, which started to show that it can be “helpful for both anxiety and depression” and also serve as an introduction to meditation. Simply learning the breathing techniques from yoga can serve you even outside of the studio during high stress situations.
Touchy-feely level: 1-100…