Once, a long time ago, I dated a man who disparaged his ex-girlfriend to me, relating the time that she had dragged him to a remote ashram somewhere in India because she had heard that this particular ashram achieved a preternaturally high level of devotion amongst its attendees, and this ex-girlfriend, I was told, had "always been attracted to anything cult-like." This personality trait of the ex-girlfriend was interesting to me. Partly because it is always interesting to hear how men describe their ex-girlfriends, or even their current girlfriends, but mostly because I had never felt compelled in any way to join, well, anything. Not a cult. Not a team. Not a group text message. It was an impulse I had just never felt. So when this man told me, his voice dripping with scorn, about what a lemming his girlfriend had been, I could vaguely understand his contempt. She sounded awful, she really did. Alas, my relationship with this man ended badly because, well, almost all of my relationships end in what could not inaccurately be called flames (that was just one time, but it was memorable), but also because what this particular man actually wanted, disparage it though he might, was a girlfriend who was capable of cult-like devotion. And truly, I am, for better or worse, rarely capable of even maintaining eye contact for longer than 5 seconds.
All of which is to say, I'd been hearing about SoulCycle for awhile. I'd been hearing about it from people who claimed, quite earnestly, that it had changed their lives. I'd been seeing Instagrammed shots of people—grinning ear-to-ear and dripping sweat—who were proudly sporting the famous post-SoulCycle glow. Even Lena Dunham told Vanity Fair, "It's the first exercise I've been able to do that I enjoy. I love the music, I love the sweat, I love the handsome gay teachers shrieking in your face—I'm super cult-y about it." My aversion to all things cult-like started to waver. I felt like I was quickly approaching SoulCycle saturation point. And then I heard that SoulCycle was opening up a new branch in Williamsburg. That was it. That was the tipping point. That was the drop in the bucket. I was going to go to SoulCycle.
I don't think I would be called the world's best candidate for SoulCycle. For one thing, there's the previously mentioned problem with being a part of something bigger than myself. And SoulCycle is really about community. There is very much the feeling, when you are in the class with dozens of other people, that you are all in this together. At least for the duration of the 45-minute class, you are committing to something. This is actually terrifying to me. Then there's the fact that I'm not in the world's best shape. I spend hours a day sitting at a desk hunched over my laptop, and hours more lying on my couch, hunched over my laptop. I rarely exercise. I do ride my bike from time to time, but I'd never even taken a spinning class because they'd always seemed too intimidating and competitive. So, basically, when I first went in to SoulCycle, I was scared. Do I scare easily? Sure I do. I get scared all the time. But this actually seemed valid.
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