Soul(less) Cycle

rabbi-rant-bannerI hate to be the one to say it, but spinning is not a spiritual act.

Feeling healthy, releasing endorphins, pushing yourself to the limits… all great things. It’s important to exercise and to feel good about your body, which Hillel the Elder says is made in the image of God (Leviticus Rabbah 34:3).

But co-opting the word “soul” distracts from the fact that SoulCycle and other places like it are fundamentally focused on the physical body. Without explicit checks and balances in place, I believe that focus can lead to the opposite of spirituality: an approach to life that is concerned only with what can be seen and measured.

Certainly, a person can access spirituality through physical means. In fact, a spirituality divorced from physicality is equally as problematic as physicality trying to pass itself off as spirituality. Connecting spiritually does not require magical chants or escaping to foreign lands. Jewish spirituality, according to the Torah, is grounded in our present reality and accessible in our day-to-day lives. “It is not in the heavens… nor is it beyond the sea…” (Deuteronomy 30:12-13).

Spirituality happens in the intersection between body and soul. It connects the physical to that which lies beyond the physical. Some might call that God. Others might call that our inner conscience. And others might call that the unknown mystery of the universe.

Whatever it is, it’s really hard to connect to. And without an intentional practice, hard work and constant vigilance, that connection to beyond the physical can easily be broken.

It’s definitely nothing like riding a bike.

Do you do find spirituality in spinning and want to counter-rant? Let me know in the comments…

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization Gather the Jews, the Gather the Jews staff, the Gather the Jews board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

2 replies
  1. Sammy Kanter
    Sammy Kanter says:

    Aaron,

    I was excited to see the headline, but after reading, I couldn’t disagree more. I started at SoulCycle in 2014, after never really working out. Not only did it change my body, but it truly changed my mind and attitude more than anything else ever has. SoulCycle is one of the only places in my life where I feel spiritual. By challenging my body and syncing my body to my mind and the music, that is the only place I feel mind and body connecting. The way the instructors take a physical workout, and tie each challenge into something spiritual within you, I believe is the real meaning of molding together body and mind you mention. I often feel in Jewish services, even the really amazing progressive ones, that it would only be completely spiritual if there was a more natural physical component.

    I’ve found since I dove into SoulCycle, I’ve become more spiritual Jewish-ly as well. I’m more interested in finding a way for the “Jewish” to bring out the same spirituality that Soul does (and very few thus far have). I often find myself going to SoulCycle on Friday nights instead of services. Anecdotally in New York, I would bet there are a ton more Millennial Jews at SoulCycle on Friday/Saturday then any shul or Shabbat dinner.

    Also, at the JCC Manhattan, I have created Shabbat 2.0, where the community did three different workouts bringing in Jewish text. I taught the spinning, as I’m on a mission to make the general spiritually of SoulCycle come for a Jewish textual base. We also had a yoga and dance class, and the 60 people that came loved the evening! We plan to do it again, and we already did a Rosh Hashannah 2.0, a spin class to Rosh Hashannah text.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Aaron Potek
    Aaron Potek says:

    Hi Sammy,

    Thanks for sharing. Your shabbat 2.0 sounds amazing, and I agree we could use more physicality in our prayer/worship spaces. I guess I’m just skeptical of how much the focus between physical and spiritual is shared in a workout hour at SoulCycle. My guess, and I could be wrong, is that people are there first and foremost to work out, and that anything more than a quick touch of spirituality would be off-putting.

    -Aaron

    Reply

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