I consider myself well-versed in retreats. At my all-girls' Catholic high school, we would have about one or two retreats a year for each grade. Some were day-long events, while others were week-long excursions away from your parents and whatever teenage drama you were dealing with at the time. I was also a retreat leader as an upperclassman, and I would help plan and lead the programs. We laughed, we cried, we talked about our feelings, we shared secrets, and we ate a lot of junk food. They were some of my most memorable teenage experiences that I still think about a decade and some change later. Sure, we talked about God, but a lot of the retreat themes revolved around finding yourself, which when you're a teenage girl is both a scary and empowering thing to do.
Naturally, when I was invited to attend the first-ever Retreats by SoulCycle, I was intrigued and jumped on the chance. This trip promised to be a lot different from my high school experiences (namely, no religious themes whatsoever), but I believe every retreat is essentially a time to get away and do some introspection, learn a little bit more about yourself, and gain a new perspective. A few days off the grid to recharge and reset? Sign me up.
Even if you haven't been to a SoulCycle class in your life, you probably have heard of the boutique indoor cycling brand's cult-like following. During each class, you get the usual cardio workout you might get at similar studios or gyms, but you'll also hear inspirational quotes and affirmations. You might be asked to think about your goals and dreams, or your insecurities and fears. For many of its loyal riders, SoulCycle has become a community and a lifestyle. I mean, one of the brand's taglines is, "Take your journey. Change your body. Find your Soul," so you kind of know what you're in for the minute you step in the door. You're going to feel ALL the feelings, whether you want to or not.
It makes sense that the company would expand its offerings to high-end retreat experiences. It's living that SoulCycle life beyond the bike and studio. The brand hopes that by offering this opportunity to its SoulFam, it will be a chance for people to reflect, recharge, reconnect, and bond with other members of the SoulCycle community. Each retreat will consist of 20 to 30 participants and will be led by some of the brand's most popular instructors (you know, the ones whose classes always fill up on Mondays at noon). The experiences will be curated and planned in partnership with Black Tomato, a US- and UK-based luxury travel agency.
So what exactly happens on a SoulCycle retreat? Let me explain.
I traveled to Austin, Texas, the setting of the first retreat. It was a convenient location because it has a SoulCycle studio and is pretty central for attendees (there were people from the West Coast, East Coast, Texas itself, and even Canada!). After landing and settling into the hotel where all attendees were staying, it was time for the opening ceremony. We all gathered next to the fireplace of the hotel's lobby and were greeted by the retreat leaders, Melanie Griffith, Master Instructor and Director of Instructor Development, and Bevin Prince, Senior SoulCycle Instructor. We talked a little bit about the overview of the retreat and did an icebreaker where we paired off with a buddy to learn more about the other person.
Then we got ready and walked to our afternoon SoulCycle class, which was led by Melanie. Confession: I hadn't been to a SoulCycle class in four years, which I was sort of afraid to admit among the super-fans in attendance, and even to Melanie and Bevin. I stopped going not because I hated SoulCycle, but because I joined ClassPass, which the studios aren't on, and couldn't afford to do both! I should have known there would be no judgments there—everyone was just happy to get me back on a bike. It didn't take much to get back into the swing of things—the whole studio was filled with retreat attendees and Austin instructors and studio staff, so the energy was on another level in the best way possible.
After class, we all went back to the hotel to shower and get ready and then we were off to dinner. FYI: If you think meals during a SoulCycle retreat consist of kale and green juice, think again. Sure, there are healthy options, but I also had mac and cheese for almost every meal during the four-day trip. When in Texas!
The first day was just a warm-up for the next three days, and by the second day, we were in full retreat mode. You might be thinking that we'd be forced to do endless SoulCycle classes the whole retreat, but the only "mandatory" class was the one on the first day; the others were optional. Because I was back on the SoulCycle train, I took a 7 a.m. class, which, as you already know from my morning person preferences, takes a lot of dedication for me.
We started the morning as a group with breakfast and an instructor panel where Melanie and Bevin both talked about how they became instructors and their own personal journeys. Then, we went to our next activity, a storytelling workshop, which brought me back to my high school retreat days. During the workshop, we learned about how to tell a compelling and concise story—and we all shared our own (very) personal experiences, which really helped us bond as a group. You might think that sharing your secrets to a group of strangers you met less than 24 hours before would be daunting, but everyone was so open and accepting. It was so powerful and moving. And for those of you who are wary of that kind of stuff, you can be as open as you wanted. There wasn't any pressure to share your deepest, darkest secret.
Cry count: Two (one from the panel and one from the workshop).
The rest of the day consisted of a photo scavenger hunt where we split up into teams and took pictures all around Austin's famous Rainey Street. This was followed by a group dinner to end the night. More mac and cheese and bonding ensued.
The third day started with an optional movement and meditation session led by Melanie at the hotel, but to be honest, I was so exhausted that I slept in. Retreats can be tiring, everyone!
We checked out of the hotel and then traveled to the last destination of the retreat, Texas Hill Country. This was the part I was most looking forward to on the trip because we were going to be surrounded by nature and the great outdoors. Listen, I'm not an outdoorsy person by any means, but there's something about breathing fresh air in a remote location that really REVIVES you. And I needed to be revived.
We stopped for a tour of Treaty Oak Distilling, where I learned from our tour guide that gin was just flavored vodka. (That fun fact really stunned our whole group.) After lunch at the distillery, we traveled to Lucky Arrow Retreat, which was where we were going to spend our last night.
The next activity on the retreat was a breathwork exercise led by Erin Telford, who is also an acupuncturist, reiki master, and herbalist. I was really intrigued about this one because I had heard about its powerful effect on people, but, OH MAN, I didn't know how intense it would be. We started with going around the circle and talking about the intention we wanted to set or something we wanted to let go of during the session—mine was I wanted to stop overthinking every single thing and expecting the worst possible outcome for every scenario, which was something that I had learned more about in my distance reiki healing session. (And let's all just take a moment to take in how woo-woo I just sounded. I hope you all are still with me on this.)
Then we lay down on yoga mats and started deep breathing techniques that were really physically demanding. Not to be corny, but breathwork takes a lot of work. Erin asked us to shout different sayings and affirmations during the process. After feeling so self-conscious during the first part of the session, the act of breathing just kind of took over my body in the later half. I felt tingly and shaky all over. I started crying. Then I fell asleep.
Cry count: Three.
It was so intense—and as someone who sort of looks at woo-woo stuff with a mixture of openness and skepticism, I was really surprised at how my body reacted to it. I woke up feeling equal parts refreshed, exhausted, and hungry.
After the session, we did a letter-writing exercise (to ourselves or someone else in our life). Then we had our last group dinner, enjoyed s'mores by the campfire, and read notes of gratitude people had been putting in a box throughout the retreat. Some of those notes left me teary-eyed. I went to bed feeling so content and relaxed.
Cry count: Four.
Not to get all religious on you, but there's this four-day retreat program that some Catholic high school seniors (and sometimes college students) go on called Kairos. Without going into too much detail (because it's secretive and because this is a secular website), the motto of the retreat is, "Doubt the first. Cry the second. Trust the third. Live the fourth." Each one corresponds to the specific day of the retreat.
It might be sacrilegious to make a comparison between Kairos and a SoulCycle retreat, but honestly I was thinking about that motto the whole time. A retreat (whether religious or secular) can be a time of transformation, and by the last day I really felt ready take what I learned with me out to the real world.
We started the last day with breakfast and a mindfulness exercise led by Melanie that was supposed to help us remember what we learned and felt during the four days. Then we said our goodbyes, which were a lot harder than I thought it would be. The whole experience really bonded us.
Cry count: Five.
Okay, so if you've gotten this far, you might be thinking two things: Wow this chick just joined a cult or perhaps Sounds cool. Maybe I should do it? Honestly, I feel those two things all at once. Yes, I understand the woo-woo aspects of the whole experience, but to really do a retreat properly, I believe that you need to just fully embrace it. Otherwise, you're just in remote Texas Hill Country with a bunch of strangers freezing your butt off.
As for me, I enjoyed the whole thing. I bought into it. And yes, I realize how privileged I am to go on a high-end retreat like this one. It might not be for everyone, but it really helped me feel better about the stresses in my life and grateful for my experiences and opportunities.
Interested parties will probably want to know the logistics of when the next retreat is. SoulCycle is launching the program in 2020, with more destinations to be announced later. Each retreat itinerary will be curated to that specific destination, so you might not be going to a distillery or traipsing down Rainey Street like I did, but I'm sure future events will be equally as fun. Costs of the trips will vary and have not been announced yet. If you want to keep track of updates, you can sign up here (you must be 21 and older to attend).
Editor's Note: To be completely transparent, SoulCycle paid for my flights and whole retreat experience, but all of this is my hand-on-heart honest review. Yes, it may seem like I drank the Kool-Aid a little, but I dare anyone not to when you're on a retreat like this.