Attending the studio's *first-ever* retreat surprisingly pushed me to leave my comfort zone.

By Jennifer Barthole
December 19, 2019
Jennifer Barthole

I found myself shaking and crying in front of 30 complete strangers in the midst of opening up about my deepest fear—disappointing my family. It was then that I couldn't believe that I actually volunteered (as in raised-hand willingly) to be a part of an experience that forced me this far out of my comfort zone.

I was attending the *first-ever* SoulCycle Retreat in Austin, Texas—a getaway I originally imagined would be a fun reprieve from the daily NYC grind, complete with indoor cycling classes and Instagram-worthy activities. What I didn't expect were four days of deep introspection, which ultimately led me to release some serious emotional baggage I didn't even know I was carrying.

Prior to attending the trip, I would've described myself as always being "on". I operate with my guard up all the time. I'm not one to have emotional outbursts, dance spontaneously, speak without thinking, or leave the house without makeup and a carefully planned outfit (even for the most casual situations). That might sound like a stifling way to live, but as an overall anxious person, these constraints have given me a feeling of control, retain my image as a "fashion editor", and, frankly, have become my normal.

They're also the reason I requested to only stay for two of the retreat's four days—no matter the invitation's promise to "recharge [my] soul." With my guard up, I easily convinced myself that I just needed enough information to write a story...I never expected the trip to challenge my day-to-day persona."

Jennifer Barthole

Forming Connections

A nervous buzz filled the air on the first day as I introduced myself to a mix of other editors, influencers, and SoulCycle representatives. We were accompanied by guides from Black Tomato, a luxury travel planning company, who would lead us throughout the trip. We quickly changed into our spandex for a SoulCycle class led by master instructor Melanie Griffith. It was a heart-pumping, sweat-dripping class that required so much physical effort and focus that the voice in my head quieted and the only sounds heard were the music and her voice. As the class got more and more difficult, the other riders clapped, cheered, and even high-fived to keep the energy high. Although we barely knew each other, there was already a feeling of unity, which continued during our group dinner where we discussed what brought us to the retreat. (Related: The Best Wellness Retreats to Start Your New Year's Resolutions Off Right.)

Opening My Soul to Total Strangers

The next day, instead of wearing the trendy silk slip dress and cowboy boots I planned on donning, I reached for a fleece and soft yoga pants. 'Was I was slowly letting my guard down, or just plain tired?', I thought. After another cycling class and a chatty breakfast, we headed to a quieter area on the city's outskirts for a "storytelling workshop". For the next two hours, we went around the circle sharing personal stories that lead to emotional transformations. Before addressing the group, I quickly jotted down a few details about a spat with a family member that was recently resolved. I was cautious to choose a moment that was personal enough, yet not too revealing—or so I thought.

When my turn finally came, I slowly walked to the front of the room rehearsing the story in my head only to turn to face the group and freeze. Suddenly, I was compelled to go off-script, to share a genuine moment, and to bare it all. Instead of the anecdote I prepped, I opened up about being the first-generation child of immigrants carrying the weight of their hopes and dreams on my shoulders, and the immense responsibility to make them proud because of that.

Jennifer Barthole

As I spoke, tears began to fall, but I continued without pause. Not only did I tell my authentic story, but I also shared an internal struggle for the first time: the pressure to be perfect for my family. Once finished, I looked up to a roomful of captive, glassy-eyed, genuinely interested people, and felt the same unified energy I first experienced during the previous day's class. Rather than feel embarrassed or regretful in that moment of vulnerability, I felt free; as if a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

After a dinner filled with hugs, high-fives, and reassuring pats from fellow retreat-ers, I changed my returning flight. I decided to stay for the remaining two days of the retreat.

Learning to Be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

After touring a local distillery on day three, we met with Erin Telford, a breathwork teacher and guide. She had each of us set an intention before walking us through some breathing exercises. I wanted to "regain my power", I told the group, yet still unsure about what this mindfulness exercise would entail.

Telford then asked us to lie on our backs and practice diaphragmatic breathing—inhaling deeply from your stomach—over the sound of rhythmic ambient music. During the next 20 minutes, my breathing intensified and I began to feel a strong tingling throughout my body. Telford invited us to release any emotions we were bottling up, and without hesitating, I opened my mouth to yell unapologetically. The room filled with cries of pain and triumph. As we sat back up, I felt so much of my oppressive anxiety dissolve. It was truly transformative. (Related: 3 Breathing Exercises for Dealing with Stress)

Leaving with New Memories and My Mantra

While traveling back to New York, I journaled about the previous days, reflecting on what felt like some pretty big personal breakthroughs. I couldn't help but think about the SoulCycle mantra "find your soul" and how much closer I now felt to my inner self. In my journal, I wrote my own mantra: "I AM ENOUGH."

It's been more than a month since I returned from the retreat, but the strength I gained hasn't faded. My mantra still rings in my head in moments where I am tempted to put on a perfect face and bring up that familiar guard. Sure, it's not easy and going to take a bit more than a few days in Texas to break these habits. But repeating that phrase also reminds me of what happened when I finally shared my story: that by being open, I was able to connect and relate to people who otherwise would've been and stayed strangers. And that feeling of unity is contagious.

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