Stepping into a SoulCycle studio is not unlike stepping into a dance club. The music is blaring so hard that the walls feel as though they’re vibrating, the room is dark, and you’re seated so close to 50 sweaty people you honestly forget where your body ends and someone else’s begins. For someone like me who struggles with anxiety, that environment may seem like a downright nightmare.
But in the past year, those four walls have become the unexpected place where I’ve found tremendous relief for my mental health.
SoulCycle is the pricey, cult-like fitness phenomenon that began in one New York City studio back in 2006, and now has thousands of devotees nationwide who eagerly “clip in” to their spin bikes each week. They enjoy a full-body workout set to club-level beats in a dark, candlelit room, as instructors with boundless energy encourage them to “turn it up,” “tap it back,” and push their legs as hard as humanly possible.
This may seem like a totally unbelievable feat for someone who couldn’t even run a mile in gym class. But here’s the thing: For me, it’s not about weight loss, burning calories, or changing my body in any way.
It’s about giving my mind a break for 45 minutes, listening to music that I love, and pedaling fast on a bike that goes nowhere.
In a recent class, the instructor encouraged us to close our eyes and simply acknowledge our feelings for a few minutes — something that many of us don’t take the time to do, but something I particularly needed on that day. And so, in a dark studio, I closed my eyes, I pedaled, and I cried…taking out all my worries and stress on a stationary bike.
I have struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember, and for the past year and a half, I have been working with a therapist to help me better understand my feelings.
Working out is a known stress-reducer. Doctors and therapists alike tout the benefits of exercise for stress and anxiety relief. I’d always enjoyed working out, especially in a class environment. Exercise was not new to me, but SoulCycle was like no other workout I’ve ever experienced. I felt beyond terrified in my first class.
But music has always been my safe haven, ever since I was a kid. Nothing made me feel better than hiding out in my bedroom, putting on my Walkman, and connecting with the music.
SoulCycle is driven first and foremost by music. It’s basically a dance party on a bike.
In fact, it initially appealed to me because of its “theme rides” based on music (where else can you enjoy a fast-paced bike battle between Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber?).
Anxiety can make you feel that you’re in a prison of your own making. Your brain never shuts off, even in quiet, peaceful moments. I equate having an anxious brain to having a broken radio on in my own mind, rarely giving me the freedom to turn it off. It’s always there, humming in the background…but many times, the noise is truly deafening.
When I struggle to quiet the noise in my mind, I can step into that dark room. I can shut out the world and my own thoughts for a while. There’s no beep from my notifications, no expectations, no deadlines, no rules. Just me and my body, connecting with the music and the energy of people around me. In those precious 45 minutes, I’m giving myself the ability to step out of my own brain and into my body, my heart, and yes…my soul.
I never expected to find a sanctuary in a crowded, sweaty room on a spin bike.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that, at over $30 a class, SoulCycle is not an affordable habit by any means. But part of self-care is acknowledging that it is okay to put my needs first, and that’s why I make room in my budget.
Because of my anxiety, I frequently feel like I have no control over anything. With the addition of our world’s current state and the subsequent news cycle, I often feel helpless and hopeless, unsure of how to stop my brain from worrying about, well, everything. SoulCycle is a safe place where I can empty my mind and challenge my body, where I don’t have to worry about anything except my legs, my feet, and my bike.
Of course, I’m not saying that SoulCycle has completely cured me of anxiety and depression.
But it does make me want to keep going, to keep moving faster and faster, while still allowing me to just breathe.
The energy from the instructors and fellow riders is infectious, and I appreciate the routine of walking into the studio, clipping into the bike, and knowing that those 45 minutes are mine and mine alone. Sometimes, you can only slow your mind down when your legs are sprinting faster than you ever thought they could. Who knew?