Last week I tried something called SoulCycle. You may have heard of it. SoulCycle is the latest branded workout craze to take over the country, a la CrossFit a few years back. It's indoor cycling with a distinct flavor. Every 45-minute SoulCycle class takes place in a windowless room pitch black except for a few neon lights. The face wash and razors and smartwater water bottles are free. The electronic music is loud and fast, and the instructors are trained to motivate. If you weren't in your gym clothes, locked via shoe into a bike, you might believe you were in some kind of futuristic nightclub.

SoulCycle has never advertised. They've never had to. SoulCycle followers are devout and, after taking a class, I can understand why. It's "fun." The experience is a unique one. At only 45 minutes, it's efficient. And, of course, it's a great workout. You're guaranteed to leave soaked in sweat.

But I must say, I found it hard to find my soul in SoulCycle. 

It was loud and overwhelming, sure, but there were bigger issues. "Find your soul" is the SoulCycle motto, but at $25 to $70 a class, this "soul finding" is only accessible to a small subset of the population. At the studio I attended in Soma, each class costs $30. At one point our instructor proudly told us she had taken 500 classes when she decided to become an instructor. All I could think was, "Okay, so $15,000 later." Wow. I can understand the "upscale workout." There's a market for it. But why attempt to layer on a spiritual tone to something so exclusive? I was offput by the focus on "soul" in general. Throughout the class the instructor would throw out things like, "On this bike that goes nowhere, this is where you find yourself - your soul." Why in this class, on this $2,200 bike? It was hard to believe my soul could lie in a manufactured brand, in a $30 class so loud I couldn't hear my own thoughts.

I'll stop right there. My goal isn't to harp on SoulCycle - I completely understand the appeal. (Fun, fierce, efficient.) I'm not anti-cardio either, by any means. It's great for the heart and it complements a strength and flexibility practice. I really do love a good sweat as much as the next guy. My goal, rather, in bringing up my SoulCycle experience is to express how it made me renew my gratitude for yoga and all yoga stands for. 

I was originally introduced to yoga as a workout. I started with Bikram yoga, strict and sweaty. With years of dance behind me, I was pretty flexible and could go deeper into the poses than many of the people around me. This was food for my ego, so I kept coming back. But eventually I found myself returning for other reasons - more meaningful ones. Ones that dissolved my ego instead of feeding it. 

Over time, the steadfast focus on the breath throughout each pose had a profound effect on me and I observed my life starting to change outside of class. I felt freer. More present. I found myself becoming more open-minded the more I practiced. Less competitive. More optimistic. Happier. Slowly, too, I began to love my body just as it is. (This alone transformed my world. I could have used yoga in middle school!) The more I practiced, the more my capacity for love grew and my perception of separation faded. 

Today, ten years later, my yoga practice has become much more than a workout. Whether I'm in a class or alone in my room at home, yoga is my time to build compassion, to proffer gratitude, to pray for loved ones, to tune into who I really am, to find acceptance, to praise existence. The mental, energetic and spiritual benefits are surfacing with the physical. And I'm still just beginning to open my eyes to what else yoga can be. Yoga is a lifelong, flexible practice that meets you where you are now. Today. This moment. Yoga can be a physical workout, no doubt. But yoga is always a workout for the soul. And that's what makes my yoga sweat meaningful.

At the end of the day, the meaningfulness of the sweat that you sweat is endowed by you. If it makes you happy, it's meaningful. If it helps you shake off the stress acquired during the day, it's meaningful. But if it also helps you garner a greater awareness throughout your life and open up your chakras to enable a healthier flow of energy, maybe it's a little bit more meaningful. You don't need a brand of any kind to experience yoga. You don't even need a mat or a class. All you need is your own breath and a willingness to listen to what it tells you.