When people talk about the way various forms of exercise changed their lives it makes me want to vomit. Cue the daddy issues, mean girl tendencies, and inability to come across as a normal person. But here I am doing just the thing I so openly oppose. To set the record straight, I do believe that exercise can impact your life in unimaginable ways, I just don’t really like to hear other people talk about it. While I’ve spoken about my unabashed love affair with yoga, in this instance I wanted to focus on my relationship with SoulCycle. As someone who never particularly cared for working out—with the exception of my stint as a gym rat during my junior year of high school—I never thought I’d be at this point. Though I’m not particularly sporty or outdoorsy, I am definitely someone who avoids being sedentary. I appreciate physical exertion and just moving, something that I definitely look forward to more now that I spend eight hours a day on my ass in a cube. Enter SoulCycle.
Last summer a friend of mine went to Soul a bunch and constantly suggested that I try it out. She was addicted, and I could be too! I had the good fortune of living exactly one block and one avenue away from a studio, so why not give it a try? Though I wasn’t exactly resisting this challenge, I wasn’t accepting of it either. My idea of a frenetic workout is Vinyasa yoga. I’ve tried burpees, intervals, and jumping rope, but all seemed to leave me with a sense of vertigo that was less trippy and more geriatric. And I can admit this now, because it’s been almost a year since my first ride, but I was really intimidated by the idea SoulCycle and fed into believing all of the stereotypes that were out there. I went to school in a town where frozen yogurt was barely a thing, let along spin classes, and while I was anything but a bumpkin, there were trends that this time allowed me to be ignorant toward. But one day, the whole idea of trying a SoulCycle class just clicked for me. In a moment of complete naïveté I decided to sign up for not only one class, but two classes, and first thing in the morning, no less! I have the snippit of my sign up to prove it:
It takes a lot of nerve to try a whole new way of being at 6AM on a Monday morning, but I did it, and I think that move really set the tone of my relationship with SoulCycle. On a fateful, humid July morning, I arrived to the studio early, as in really early. Walking into W77th’s bright, booming foyer before 5:45AM, to say I was a little disoriented would be putting it lightly, but I got set up, clipped in, and refused to get out until class was over. Very soon into my first class I couldn’t stop cursing myself out. Here I was, riding with someone, who to this day, is one of the fiercest instructors I’ve come across—I felt like I had no business being there. All the way in the back of a dimly, if at all, lit studio with thumping house music, I was trying to determine if there was any way I could sneak out. I’m totally ashamed to admit that, but as someone who doesn’t love failure, I couldn’t stand the thought of not being good at this riding thing. So many of the people around me were graceful, powerful, and knew what they were doing, ultimately making me feel inadequate.
A little shell shocked from my initial ride, what did I decide to do? Come back three days later for round two. While I was still totally new, at least felt like I knew more of what to expect—how to clip in, towel off without wasting time, and space out drinking my water. But then there was the instructor, who, quite frankly, scared the shit out of me. An original rider and rooster, Julie was a pro. She possessed a unique blend of command, levity, and intense swagger that left me equal parts impressed and frightened. As a devoted student of Julie’s, I look back and laugh to think about this, but after my class with her, I wasn’t sure I was fit for SoulCycle at all. But, I came back and here we are, almost one year later, not letting preconceived notions get in the way of doing what I want to do.
Very quickly after this point, I started riding on a regular basis and could clearly see the reasons why people were so fervent: it’s fun, the workout is amazing, instructors tend to your spiritual/emotion needs as well as your physical needs, and the in-studio culture is unbeatable. While I didn’t start riding in search of anything, I definitely ended up finding things along the way. Riding at SoulCycle, for me, is about a few things. Above all, it’s about taking 45 minutes to focus on one thing only, and that’s being present on my bike. These are precious moments for me, sometimes they’re the only points of my day where I’m not consumed by other thoughts. And the times I’ve let myself wander, I notice that my riding isn’t as strong and I can’t carry out the more complex moves with the ease and connection that I normally try to bring. Riding is also about accepting imperfections, both on and off the bike, and understanding that each ride isn’t going to be like the ones that came before or will follow after. Each time you get on a bike (or on a yoga mat, for that matter) you bring something different to the ride, and that’s totally fine.
Lastly, riding has also become about finding community. One of the core tenants that SoulCycle encourages is riding as a pack, and it’s unequivocally true that I get more out of a ride when I’m in sync with the people around me. What’s more, is the community I feel with the instructors both inside and outside of the studio. Call me delusional, but I really do get the sense that they want me to succeed, even when they’re yelling to break pace or to put more on the wheel. With encouragement from teachers like Amanda, Julie, Nina, Lori, and Anandah, I do manage to unearth more from inside, and more than I knew existed.
A year later, I’ve brought family, brought friends, made friends. I’ve ridden through colds, career lows, friendship woes, and personal successes, all to come out on the other side. One mantra that Julie repeatedly instills in her riders is that, “we make it harder in here [the studio] so it’s easier out there [off the bike].” And that’s exactly what SoulCycle has done for me.
*PS. Julie is the mantra/ genius behind the title of this post.