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Surrounding Myself With the Best People I Can Find
For the past few years, I have lived for my precious Sunday mornings. I love waking up early on Sunday, then taking Ellie out for a quick walk before eating breakfast while simultaneously reading the newspaper and watching a random old episode of Scandal. Then I head to the Upper East Side — my old neighborhood! — for a spin class with my favorite instructor and some of my very best friends.
This past Sunday marked the end of an era. Here, if only for my own sentimental trip down memory lane, is the long version behind why I love those super special Sunday mornings…
The older I get, the more I recognize how important it is to surround myself and interact with the best people I can find. I remember reading a quote once saying you should never strive to be the smartest person in a room. (You hear that, unnamed former boss who OMG needed to constantly prove he was the smartest one around?)
If you’re the smartest person in the room, the saying goes, you need to up the quality of the people with whom you surround yourself. Yes, it’s fun to feel like you’re smarter than and superior to everyone, but it’s somehow even more rewarding to constantly be in a position where you can learn from and grow because of the people in your circle.
Over the past few years, I have been so lucky to get to spend a few hours every week with the indomitable Bethany Lyons Murray. And when she’s in the room, I’m never the smartest, strongest, or sassiest one around.
If you’ve been around here for a while, Bethany is no doubt a familiar face. She’s the owner of Lyons Den Power Yoga (if you’re in the NYC area and you haven’t been yet, please tell me what you’re waiting for and when you’d like to go with me), was the first-ever SoulCycle instructor, and used to teach at and oversee the group fitness programs at Crunch. (Remember my Crunch days?! I loved that gym.)
I first met Bethany at Crunch back in 2008. I used to take her classes at the West 38th Street location — conveniently located near both my apartment and my office at the time. She taught everything from spinning to yoga to a class called BodyArt, which was this weird dance-yoga hybrid that I was really into but was terrible at.
One day, I was signed up for a spin class with my regular instructor and saw that dreaded sign at the gym: SUB. I used to hate showing up to a class only to find out there would be a [usually less awesome] substitute teacher. But on that day, Bethany was the sub, and I was hooked. I started taking her yoga classes at different Crunch locations around the city, and when I found out she was a SoulCycle teacher, I canceled my Crunch membership and decided to go all-in on SoulCycle.
My favorite Bethany classes were her Sunday morning sessions at the East 63rd Street studio. She taught a 45-minute class at 8:30 followed by a 60-minute class at 9:30, and I would take both. It had nothing to do with fitness or calorie burn and everything to do with the fact that I just loved being in her presence, listening to her killer playlists, and pushing myself to whatever limits my body was feeling on any given Sunday. Unlike some SoulCycle instructors, her insights and words of inspiration never felt forced. I swear some teachers Google “inspirational phrases” immediately before class and then just shout them at the room every few minutes. That was never Bethany’s style.
Soon, Sunday mornings were my favorite days of the week. The people who came to those classes formed a special community which is kind of rare at many boutique studios these days. Bethany created a really welcoming environment, and we all thrived in it.
I worked my way from the back corner to the front row to my favorite Bike 15, which is in the front row on the side of the room near the door. (Ideal for easy exits should Crohn’s unexpectedly come to class.)
Then, in 2012, I got sick. I tried so hard to maintain my beloved Soul routine, but physically I couldn’t do it. Bethany was still “just my spin teacher” at the time, so I didn’t expect her to notice my absence. But then one day in June, I got a Twitter DM from Bethany.
She asked for my address, and I was hesitant to give it to her. I was at a low point — physically and emotionally — with my Crohn’s flare, and I was resisting visitors or general kind gestures. I just wanted to be alone. But Bethany, the only person I know who is more stubborn than I am, wasn’t having it.
So the next day, she trekked uptown and showed up at my apartment.
She told me to sit on the couch and she blindfolded me. (Yes, I thought it was weird. But I trusted her and went with it. Brian, on the other hand, looked on from the kitchen and may have been slightly more concerned by this stranger in our apartment, blindfolding his girlfriend and saying, “Trust me.”)
Bethany gave me a SoulCycle tank top to put on — my first piece of Soul-branded gear — dimmed the lights, and lit one of those [stupid expensive] Jonathan Adler SoulCycle candles. She sprayed the studio’s signature grapefruit spray around my apartment so it smelled like I was in the studio, and then she cued up a custom playlist she’d made just for me.
And then she essentially started teaching a SoulCycle class inside my apartment — just without the bikes and physical activity.
She told me to picture myself pedaling to the rhythm of the music, and I did. After a few songs, I asked her what this was all about, and she said, “Since you haven’t been able to come to class, I decided to bring SoulCycle to you.”
WHO DOES THAT?
I don’t remember if I was stoic or if I became an emotional puddle, but that night changed my life. (Shout-outs to Gregg and Sara, who were also there and along for the “ride.”) Because seriously, what fitness instructor notices a student’s absence and shows up at their apartment just to make them smile or feel better for a few minutes?
Bethany. That’s who.
Eventually, when I started feeling better and slowly trying to regain my strength, Bethany’s SoulCycle class was one of my first stops. I set up in the back corner of the studio where I could attempt to keep up but fall behind as my body needed. I could barely lift the two-pound weights and I couldn’t even get my leg onto the bar during the cool-down stretch. But I knew I was in good hands. I knew that, unlike some teachers, she wouldn’t care or judge if I had to run out mid-class to use the bathroom. I knew she would encourage and push me, but also that she knew how much I could handle during my comeback. I remember her yelling, “Ali, this is a victory for you,” during the last song of that class. And yes, that day I was an emotional puddle.
Why am I telling this long, random story?
Yesterday was Bethany’s last SoulCycle class. And while I’ll still get plenty of B time at the Den — especially as it expands and is opening a second location in NYC very soon — yesterday was probably my last time in that East 63rd Street studio.
OK so I was just re-reading this post from the beginning and realized, oh crap, people are going to think this is a eulogy or something! Bethany is very much alive and well and thriving! It was just the end of an era because it was her last class and it made me all pensive and stuff. EVERYONE IS ALIVE AND ACCOUNTED FOR. ALL GOOD.
Bethany helped bring me back to life in that room. She always believed in me and encouraged me, in the studio and far beyond. There were so many days when I was sick and coming back from being sick that I didn’t believe in myself or even like myself. Bethany always believed in me, and she helped me see the value in letting people in.
I didn’t want to let her in — like physically, I didn’t want to let her into my apartment that night. But I did, and I’m so glad.
Since then, I have been a firm believer in the power of asking for help — and being OK doing so. There’s no shame — only power and progress — in letting other people lend a hand however you need. Sometimes that means a small favor, other times it means asking for emotional support during a tough time. And other times, it means letting someone blindfold you and teach you an imaginary spin class.
Sunday was a good reminder for me to keep surrounding myself with uplifting, inspiring, motivating people, even if it means trekking across state lines to get to them. (Ability to perform choreography and “tapbacks” on an indoor cycling bike not required.)
Happy Monday, happy start of a new week — go kick some ass. That’s my plan.