My friend and I hurry into the 92nd and Broadway SoulCycle just before class starts, strap into the mandatory weird cycling shoes, and she buys a water bottle as I sheepishly pull out my re-useable one. I feel like one big waddling contradiction as I awkwardly make my way to the un-air conditioned, dimly lit room in the clunky footwear, because it you'd asked me any other day, I would insist that I am frugal as hell. I pack my lunches, I won't cross the threshold of a grocery store other than Trader Joe's, and I can't remember the last time I actually bought a bottle of water. Plus, my sorority often had free months of SoulCycle as "panhell bonding," so I had been before way back when but without shelling out the cash. And my lack of financial involvement had allowed me to remain neutral in the polarizing debate that surrounds the exercise empire.
However, the other day, something had come over me. After hearing my friend who is a SoulCycle enthusiast talk about how she cried at her last class, I really wanted to try it again. And despite my wincing as I Venmo'd her the ungodly amount that it cost her to reserve me a bike, the near $40 dollars that every class costs seemed a nominal fee for the promised intense cardio and catharsis. I wanted sweat and tears and to not know which liquid was which as they poured off my face.
So, there I was, still all too self-questioning as I sat down on my bike. But then the music started and my commentary kinda just turned into a loop of "How is this so much harder than my gym's spin class; have I completely lost all of my rhythm; why do I have to wear these shoes?" As I was trying to keep up and wondering where my previous 17 years of dance training had vanished to, an involuntary scowl started to spread across my face. Meanwhile the instructor continued to grace me with meaningless words in an inspirational tone that exacerbated my negative internal monologue.
I gradually got the hang of it and was feelin' a little less demoralized when it happened. The instructor was spacing out his meaningless words to fit the music.. like verse 'ride' verse 'for what' verse 'you' verse 'deserve in this life.' I immediately had an episode of ptsd from my childhood in the South. All of a sudden, I was a middle schooler, back in the massive mega church where I went to occasional youth ministry/Christian rock sessions in my tenacious efforts to become a Christian. The instructor, as he tells us to love ourselves in the exact music-to-solemn-words formatting, is trying to prod us into a cathartic episode just as the youth minister was.
And I laughed, so very audibly and so very unintentionally. I was the bitch in the back row laughing in SoulCycle, but I couldn't help it, because the parallels of my middle school MegaChurch experience and SoulCycle started to line up in my thoughts, and as such, my giggle was irrepressible.
Of course, just as nothing is inherently wrong with finding religion, nothing is inherently wrong with people going to an exercise class. Just as I'm a huge proponent of people finding something bigger than themselves to invest in, I'm a huge proponent of endorphins. But there is something wrong with strategically fashioning a workout experience to be cathartic to the point where people become emotionally reliant on it and, in turn, shell out unfathomable fractions of their income to keep going.
As much as many people like to tell themselves otherwise, SoulCycle is, at its core, a business that wants your money, alllll of your money. And even if the instructors themselves truly want you to "ride for what you deserve," they were taught to do so by some CEO that wants you to feel like you truly need to come back and somehow get "what you deserve."
I looped back into reality after we finished a complicated stretching sequence. Then, the instructor really truly asked us to step off of our bikes, lift our hands, and "repeat after [him], if you will." And that was it for me; all self-control left my body and I produced a heavy guffaw.
In the end, I neither found God nor my Soul, but I am still a pretty happy person. And though all the laughter was probably worth the one-time payment, I've since decided to stick with spinning at my cheap gym and watching episodes of 30 Rock, which pretty much gives me the same experience for a fraction of the price. Because of my brush with mega churches as a vulnerable teen, as a young adult, I am a tad less vulnerable. I can easily tell myself that I really don't need a buff, sweaty man to tell me to "love myself," and whatever I "deserve" can't be achieved while I'm strapped into a stationary bike.
[Photos via @soulcycle]