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Pinij NaLampoon is among the instructors who lead riders through a series of sprints and climbs, coupled with challenging choreography, all set to the beat of music in a room lit only by candles. (Alex Rosa)

SoulCycle goes beyond fitness with inspiration and inclusion.

By Joanna O’Leary

As I neared the middle of my life journey, and more specifically at the beginning of 2017, I found myself astray in a dark forest.

Not literally, of course, but I felt a bit lost. Well, more than a bit. I was struggling with tremendous anxiety due to some health issues, and the awful political climate didn’t help. I woke up more often than not wondering if I had it in me to accomplish the bare minimum required by work, relationships, and life in general. A little self-doubt is normal, and can even be healthy, but what I was experiencing was rapidly eroding my normally upbeat attitude and preventing me from accomplishing all those goals I had so excitedly outlined for the New Year.

Ironically, I saw the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel in a pitch-black room while riding a bike to nowhere at the River Oaks branch of SoulCycle. It was a Sunday afternoon, and shortly after I nervously took my place in the fourth row, instructor Pinij NaLampoon, perhaps noticing I was fumbling awkwardly, approached and offered to help me set up my bike. He then welcomed me as a new rider to the entire pack, who responded by giving me an unsolicited round of applause. During the half-dozen songs and drills that followed, he made a point of encouraging me and helping me to refine my technique. This has continued through every class I have taken with NaLampoon, up to and including my 100th ride. A consummate gym rat, I have always loved a good workout, but at SoulCycle, every sweat session is buttressed with messages of positivity, sincere fellowship, and camaraderie. Simply put, it is so much more than a spin class.

My experience is hardly unique, as evidenced by SoulCycle’s astronomical popularity and the alacrity with which it has gained a foothold in the Houston fitness market. Founded in 2006 by Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, who met on “the best blind date ever” and immediately clicked on their vision, SoulCycle started as a handful of studios across the New York tri-state area, but now boasts dozens of locations nationwide. Even seasoned biking enthusiasts will quickly see that SoulCycle sessions are not your typical spin classes. Instructors lead participants through a series of sprints and slow climbs coupled with challenging choreography, all set to the beat of music in a room lit only by candles. All sessions even include a workout segment for arms. While the standard session lasts 45 minutes, longer classes are also available.

Although these features certainly differentiate SoulCycle from standard spin, what renders the ride most compelling is the individual attention from the instructors, as well as the inspirational and practical motivational strategies. Hence, the “soul” component and the most delightful paradox of your experience: you leave exhausted, but simultaneously energized and ready to take on the challenges of the day.

From the beginning, a major pillar of the brand was its emphasis on community—and this spirit of inclusiveness manifests itself loudly and proudly. As SoulCycle devotee Ricky Saavedra puts it, “SoulCycle is a community of yes. It’s a welcoming and safe environment for everyone.”

Unsurprisingly, SoulCycle has become a second home for many LGBTQ Houstonians who are among the studio’s members, instructors, and employees. “What drew me to Soul?” ponders team member Alberto Lopez, who immigrated from Mexico and now lives with his partner in Houston. “Everyone is welcome here. I tell people, ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re not in great shape. We’ll help you. You belong. We want you.’”

In June, SoulCycle riders and staff constructed an elaborate flat for the Houston Pride parade. Team member Peru Flores recalls riding on the float as a particularly meaningful moment for him. Born in Cuzco, Flores joined SoulCycle in New York City, and his passion for the company led him to accept a transfer to H-town. When he’s not on the bike, he leads the Career Offenders, an up-and-coming comedy troupe.

Many riders not only gain spiritual satisfaction, but are also inspired to become instructors. A case in point is Austin Cope, who found himself “hooked” after his first class in New York. He eventually completed the intense training required to lead riders from  the podium. Cope explains his love affair with SoulCycle: “For me, as a gay man, it’s been the coolest and most inspiring place to work and grow. With everything going on in the world, SoulCycle can be a place where you just disconnect from the noise and have a safe space for 45 minutes or an hour to not only work out, but mentally decompress. Or, do the complete opposite: work your s–t out and cry and be angry and let things go. Regardless of who you are or what you’re going through, it’s a shared human experience that’s elevated by a workout.”

This article appears in the January 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Joanna O’Leary

Joanna O’Leary is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine and a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.

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