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The new SoulCycle studio is on Kent and N. 3rd. Light streams in through huge windows, the walls are sparkling white, the yellow accents are cheery without being cloying or overbearing, and everyone who works there radiates such a positive attitude that it is impossible not to feel energized the moment you step through the doors. Even so, I was still kind of nervous. I mean, there are special shoes to wear. Special shoes. But even for the novice, the experience is designed to be as unthreatening as possible. Not only will the instructor (I had Kym who has the sickest abs I've ever seen and an impressive ability to motivate slacking riders, without resorting to inspirational clichés) help you hook into your bike, but other SoulCycle riders are more than happy to come to the assistance of a fellow classmate. For the first time in my life, I suddenly understood the appeal of cults and, like, togetherness.
SoulCycle is unique among similar workouts for many reasons. The studio is kept dark and candlelit while you ride. This helps people (I know it helped me) take their focus off other riders and off their own mirrored reflections and just concentrate on what it is that their bodies are doing. Several times during class, riders are asked to close their eyes and focus within. It is, at first, a disorienting feeling to be pedaling your legs as fast as you can, butt high in the air, and eyes closed. But once you get used to it, it felt as freeing to me as riding down a rain-slicked hill with my arms in the air, like I did when I was a kid. And, beyond closing your eyes, there are many things you're called on to do, including moving to certain dance beats and lifting weights while pedaling, that are not necessarily physically intuitive, but are easy enough to learn quickly. I mean, be prepared to sweat half your body weight and leave class dripping. This is hard stuff. But, you know, I grew up in the late 90s. I've sat behind enough boys who wore "No Fear" shirts in math class to know that "Pain is Just Fear Leaving the Body." I'm not afraid of a little pain. And even though I am afraid of going out in public dripping with sweat, that doesn't matter, because every SoulCycle location has locker rooms and showers. Which is a huge, huge relief.
The class itself attracts people of various body types, ages, and fitness abilities. So much of what you get out of it is what you put into it (that might also be something I read on the back of a "No Fear" shirt, hard to say). But you do feel compelled to put in your all. A lot of this has to do with how great the instructors are. But probably not a little of it has to do with the fact that you are paying a price to be there. Specifically, you are paying $32 for the class, plus $3 to rent the bike shoes. This is not a little bit of money. At least, it certainly isn't a little bit of money to me. That said, if you are the kind of person (me) who can't motivate him or herself to work out independently or if you've never been able to push yourself hard enough, it is totally worth it to be in an environment where you feel like you are reaching for your limit every minute you are there. And there is something addictive about this particular workout that I've never experienced in any Pilates or yoga class I ever tried, and that probably has to with the fact that I wasn't bored for any part of the workout. I always get bored exercising. I hate being alone with my thoughts. This just doesn't happen in SoulCycle. For the entirety of the 45-minute class, my body never stopped moving, and my mind was never less than totally engaged. And this made me...happy. Happy! Maybe it was just the crazy SoulCycle endorphins but even at the end of class, when my limbs were trembling and my shirt had soaked through, I was smiling. By the time I dismounted the bike, I had stopped trembling, and I felt stronger than I had walking in. The endorphin rush was like no other that I'd felt, and it was hard not to start planning when I would be taking my next class. This might be the healthiest addiction I've ever had. And maybe, as it turns out, I was susceptible to cult-like groups all along. I just hadn't found the right one.
SoulCycle Williamsburg; 196 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg soul-cycle.com
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen