Can you find your soul reason to exercise?

Juggling fire poi dancers
Juggling fire poi dancers
Reading time: 4 minutes

This comes from Dan Dobson -Smith, Chief Learning & Culture Officer at Essence, one of the most admired digital agencies on the planet. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

I’ve always had a committed drive and focus around improving my performance at work, but had never been quite as ‘into’ improving my physical self as I had my emotional and mental fitness. Of course I exercised, but it was low energy weights and resistance work. I had always proclaimed to the world that I was built for comfort, not speed.

But as most of us do, I started to realise the older I got the harder it was to stay fit and came to the conclusion that my exercise regime needed to change. I knew I needed something a little (a lot) more high energy.

I couldn’t decide what to do. I didn’t fancy the prospect of being yelled at while I exercised – bootcamp ruled out. I had no interest in being one of those outdoors type people – a big no to running. What about spinning? Well, in my first and only experience of spinning, I walked out halfway through.

And then I discovered SoulCycle. Soul combines spinning with dance music, grapefruit scented candles and mindfulness coaching. Sounds like a weird combo, doesn’t it? As a rave kid of the early 90’s the idea of listening to dance music in a dark room naturally appealed. As a life coach and psychotherapist the mindfulness coaching element sang to me. So I gave it a go.

And then I fell in love. With exercise. With getting hot and sweaty. With the desire to look after myself more.

SoulCycle, for me at least, is a performance sport. In each 45-minute class my physical-self is treated to an interval training of hills, ‘jumps’, sprints, core work and upper body weights which burns around 750 calories. In each 45-minute class my mental-self is challenged (with the help of the instructor) to believe that I am stronger than I think I am and turn up my resistance to make my heart and legs work harder. In each 45-minute class my emotional self is nurtured with positive affirmations that build my self esteem and resilience.

I still recall one particular ride led by one of my favourite instructors. It had been a particularly contemplative class for me. I had been thinking about some feedback I’d received at work and was chewing it over in my mind quite a lot; I’d had a sleepless night because of it. Then, in the second last track she said, “Just because there’s room to improve, doesn’t mean to say that where you are is bad”. The message came at just the right time for me. In the darkness, on an endorphin high, I burst into tears and all of a sudden I felt renewed. This really is a workout for the mind, body and soul. Not even joking.

SoulCycle has impacted me beyond the dark room in which I ride. It has improved my performance in many walks of life. At work I have experienced a greater clarity on my thought process, I am more open and receptive to criticism and feedback and I am able to tap into a new well of resilience and energy when the going gets tough. I believe I am a better husband because a post-work SoulCycle class is the perfect way to process, decompress and leave the day behind; I am more present and available when I’m needed. And I also believe I am a better me as a result – I am sleeping more soundly, I have a stronger sense of Self and I have found myself wrapped in the love of a community of like-minded people.

So what do I take away from this experience? It was Henry Ford that said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”, and this has never rang more true for me than it does in relation to my journey with SoulCycle over the last year. I went from believing I was “built for comfort, not for speed” to completing over 250 rides in a year. So much has my belief changed that I have signed up to participate in a 545 mile, 7-day bike ride between San Francisco and Los Angeles next year – to raise funds to help end the suffering caused by AIDS and HIV.

So I’ll end with this thought – If you don’t like where you are, change it. Or change how you think about it. You might be getting in your own way.