Go ahead, call it a cult: I’m grateful for my Peloton
Maybe my strangest personal development in this strangest of years is that I have started going to church. Not, you know, actually going, of course — and it’s not technically church. But I understand that my morning ritual of strapping on bike shoes and sweating through 20-, 30- or 45-minute sessions is a secular religion of sorts.
Sometimes it’s not even subtle. Once a week, I do the Peloton ride called “Sundays with Love,” in which the instructor, Ally Love, literally preaches as she pedals. (I don’t do “Sundays” live on Sundays, maybe because it’s air time is at 12:30 p.m. and I like to work out before my kids wake up, or maybe because that’s just a little too church-y for this very Jewy Jewish girl.)
I am profoundly aware that it is a particularly privileged cliché to have become a Peloton parishioner during this pandemic; the bike costs about $2,000 (finance-able at $62/month for three years) plus $39/month for the classes.
And I’m hardly the first to point out that the pandemic has created Peloton boom times: the company reports 3.6 million members, up 500,000 just since June, and Forbes reported that it expects revenues to double to $3.6 billion in the current fiscal year, which ends in June.
The benefits are obvious when gyms are closed or just unnecessarily risky. But there’s something else going on here, beyond the convenience of having expert fitness coaches, curated playlists and optimized exercise regiments in your basement or in the palm of your hand. It sounds hokey, but Peloton is building community, helping to fill the gaps created by the current crisis — and, yes, the gaps left by organized religion’s failures.
I was lucky to have ordered my bike before coronavirus took hold; it arrived March 20, and I’ve done 285 rides (458 total workouts) since. I was not seeking community — I have largely eschewed the hashtags and affinity groups like #pelotonmoms, I don’t search the app for members I know, and I never share my workout summaries on social media.
And yet: as street protests erupted after the killing of George Floyd, I found myself clicking on the Black Lives Matter ride, not because it was enough to do that, but because it was something. My “achievements” tab includes rides for Asian Heritage Month, Latinx Heritage Month, Pride 2020 and more.I was certainly not seeking religion in Peloton, yet I have found myself strangely drawn to Sundays With Love — despite my inherent cynicism about the ways Christianity seeps into our supposedly secular American institutions.
“Sundays” started in October, 2019, and there are 28 “episodes” so far, all available anytime on the app. The March 29, 2020, ride, in those early days of lockdown, drew more than 18,000 people live. The series even has its own merch: purple sports bras emblazoned “Sundays With Love.”
Love, the instructor — who is also a model, an Alvin Ailey-trained dancer, and the “host” for Brooklyn Nets games — said in this 2019 New York Times interview that, in those before times, she attended church at Redeemer Downtown every Sunday before heading to the Peloton studio to teach.
She does not hide what she’s doing here. “It’s not just a ride, it’s a movement,” Love says at the start of each “Sundays” ride — a movement, she notes, “grounded in spirituality.” The rides open with the EarthGang song “Church” (“Wake up and get yourself to church yeah…my church don’t take no holidays…”), and Love will even say, “This is Peloton church — everybody is welcome.”
Each class focuses on a “virtue” — patience, humility, honesty. And during the “epic climb” she generally gives what I cannot help but think of as a D’var Torah, usually based on what she calls a story but we know as midrash.
There was a king who woke up one day to see everything in his beautiful garden was dying, Love told us during the Nov. 1 ride devoted to “authenticity.” The king asked the oak tree why he was dying, and the oak said it was because he was not as tall as the pine tree. The king asked the pine, who said she was dying because, unlike the grapevine, “I have nothing to offer.” (Mid-story, Reverend Love told her congregants to “add five” to the bike’s resistance knob “because we don’t die, we continue to grow.”) The grapevine said it wasn’t as beautiful as the flowers. Amid all the detritus, the king saw a small green plant, and went over to it and asked, “How are you thriving when everything around you is dying?”
You know where this is going. The wise little green plant told the king that if he had wanted more tall trees he would have planted more pines, if he’d wanted more fruit he’d have planted more grapevines, if he was seeking only beauty he would have filled the garden with flowers. “You planted me to be me and that’s all I can be, this small plant, and I’m going to thrive in the place you want me to be, because this is who I am.”
So, yes, I am grateful for my Peloton this Thanksgiving week. Gratitude is challenging in these times. On the one hand, it is hard to feel thankful when so much that we care about has been taken away — the people we usually spend the holiday with, our ability to travel, school, camp, a job. On the other, it should be easier to count our blessings when we are surrounded by so much suffering and death, so many people so much worse off than ourselves.
I am grateful, of course, for my family’s relatively good health, for this job that I love, for my creative and talented team at the Forward and for our readers; and also, for my ability to take “Sundays With Love” on Monday mornings, to push myself physically and spiritually too, to be part of another community.
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Your Weekend Reads
We don’t have a PDF to download or print this week because our designer, like all our staff, is off for the holiday, but I do have some stories to recommend.
Jodi Rudoren is Editor-in-Chief of the Forward. Follow her on Twitter @rudoren, or email [email protected]*