On any given morning, a favored haunt of mine, Irving Farm Coffee Shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, has at least one table full of pre or post workout Soul Cycle Moms. These women are so visible everywhere, not just in my neighborhood, but all over town, not to mention the other coast, that the expression, Soul Cycle Mom, captures a vivid and recognizable stereotype--women of privilege, with nothing better to do with their lives than shop (first stop Lululemon), go to their workouts, hang out with their friends, who are all just like them, while having mani-pedis, talking about their not-deprived children and latest home renovations.
Yes, that's an unfair, gross over-generalization that robs many good women of their worthy individuality. But like all stereotypes, it carries a seed kernel of truth. The expression has achieved such ubiquity, that I was recently listening to the Slate Culture Gabfest podcast, and in a discussion of a recent essay in the New York Post by Zadie Smith, the Gabfesters commented on her take down of Soul Cycle Moms, included as one of the symptoms of a city losing its diverse, creative and artistic soul.
As I was thinking about the topic and this possible blog post, I tracked down Zadie Smith's article, only to find that she did not mention Soul Cycle at all. Instead, she writes, in a critical, yet self-aware tone, about an unidentified exercise class in which the instructor exhorts her to go beyond the arbitrary limits of her mind, and then later in the same article she mentions going to a spinning class. I could see why the Gabfesters had read Soul Cycle negativity into Zadie Smith's piece.
I, too, have participated in this love-to-hate fest. When I go to Soul Cycle workouts, which I do when the weather is unfriendly for outdoor or "real" cycling, I often pretend in my mind that I don't belong, that I'm the Sesame Street orange in the basket of apples; that I have broader interests, less of a sense of entitlement, more self-awareness, not to mention no children; in short, that I am a rugged individual, to their drank-the-Kool-Aid, sheep-ness.
I reveal myself as a smug jerk with these thoughts, but then, doesn't everybody think the same thing? That is, that even as they fit themselves in, they are apart from the pack, different, unique, special. Besides, dismissing Soul Cycle Moms is cheap and easy. It's soothing to our egos to lump people together in groups we can look down upon.
The facts are:
1. Soul Cycle is a great workout. To wit, a recent study out of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where there is no Soul Cycle studio, to my knowledge, is titled Music Enhances Performance and Perceived Enjoyment of Sprint Interval Training. That about sums up the nature of the Soul Cycle workout-sprint intervals and driving music -- apparently it's a great way to get fit and to encourage the discipline to stay fit.
2. Staying healthy is a good thing... very hard to do... thus, anything which makes the maintenance of health easier is a bonus.
Which brings me then to my real beef with Soul Cycle (and here I mean Soul Cycle as a representative of really almost any workout nowadays led by a human being or even an app), and that's the soulfulness, aka mindfulness part of the equation. While I agree that our minds set limits that often fall short of what we are capable of, I wonder if instead of inspiring us, the quotes and encouragements are standing in for the actual need to be mindful. That dispensing aphorisms like tic-tacs is robbing them of their essential truth, and lulling us into thinking that somehow just hearing the words is all that's required of us. That changing the world is as easy as going to Soul Cycle for 45 minutes.
Dissing Soul Cycle Moms is a distraction from the real challenge facing each of us -- how can we elevate the barrage of mindfulness blandishments all around us into true, heightened self-awareness and real, effective action to make the world a better place, not just for ourselves, for everyone.