Published February 15, 2008

How Spinning® Saved My Life

by Helen M. Ryan
cycling shoes on indooro bike

Most things I know about happiness I learned in Spin class.

The indoor bike has been my teacher, and I have spent hundreds of hours learning from it. It literally changed — and saved — my life.

When I saw my first Spin bike it seemed like…just a bike. Made of cold metal with an uncomfortable seat, it did not look very welcoming.

I felt awkward: I was very overweight and out of shape in a room full of really fit people. I wanted to leave, to run as fast and far as I could, but didn't want to be seen as chickening out. Plus I would have had to walk past the teacher to get out.

The first half hour was hell. My butt was numb, my legs were shaky, and my heart was pounding. But then I felt something inside. A little spark that ignited a part of me… a part I thought was long gone. That spark re-ignited my pilot light and eventually changed me completely.

Things I learned on the bike that have shaped me:

1) It’s OK to be alone. When you’re in class you are with a group of people but also alone. You close your eyes and just feel your body moving. You learn that it is OK to be by yourself. No one but you is going to get you up that hill. No one but you is going to keep you pedaling towards the finish line. You suddenly realize that you are a capable person and that you like being with yourself. Exercise makes you feel strong inside.

2) Accept what you're faced with. A Spin class is a lot like life (or a fortune cookie): You never know what you are going to get. There are ups, downs and flats. As you round a corner you find a monster hill waiting for you on the other side. You could stop. You could gear down. You could just go home. But you don’t. Because like in life, when an obstacle throws itself at you, you find a way to get over it. And when you do you feel great. Each obstacle and each climb makes you stronger and ready for more.

3) Never give up. You ride hour after hour, mile after mile. Some days you stay in the saddle riding at an easy pace, chipping away at the miles, just like work and home life. Other days you hit a fast flat, racing along, trying to hold your pace until the finish line. Your legs are burning, your heart is pumping and still you keep going because you know you can make it. It’s mind over matter. It's liberating. Exhilarating.

4) Be in the moment. With so much to do each day you rush around frantically, always planning your next move, next errand, or next day. In Spin class you learn to be “in the moment.” If your mind starts wandering you won't be able to keep up or hold the pace. So you stay focused on how your body feels, what it is doing, and how it is moving. You have to consistently breathe and relax, feeling your thighs moving smoothly and rhythmically. You learn your body's presence, which keeps you in the present and enjoying the moment. And damn if it's not great!

5) You can survive most anything.  With each class that passes you gain more and more strength. You learn that burning thighs won’t kill you and that you can keep your heart rate elevated for much longer than you thought. You discover that you are far more capable than you ever imagined and that a strong will can overcome tired thighs. From this you realize that you will most always make it through. This. Is. What. Gets. You. Through. Life.

6) Ditch the comfort zone. Sometimes it’s fine to be in your comfort zone. It’s easy and familiar. But you soon learn you will never really improve if you don’t break free and place some stress on your body and mind. Whether you're riding an uncomfortable interval or considering a career change, going outside your normal boundaries is the only thing that will make you grow. And change your life (see the pattern here?).

7) Love your body. Sometimes we all feel inadequate. Our butts are too droopy, breasts too small, biceps not large enough. What you learn in Spin class is to love how your body works and how it feels when it is functioning at its best. Your thighs might be larger than you would like, but they are strong and amazing and can climb anything you put in front of them. Your chest might be less than impressive, but it holds a heart that can skate through an 85% effort, and lungs that can feed your body with oxygen. You learn to love what you are and ignore what you are not. It’s your body — it’s healthy — it works – and it’s strong. Be in it…and love it.

When I look at my life today I realize how much the Spin bike has taught me.

I am comfortable being alone.

I have incredible stamina, fortitude and persistence.

I'm not afraid of what lies ahead – I take it as it comes and handle it one challenge at a time.

When I play with my kids I am with them, not off in my own head planning the next day.

I realize that I am mentally stronger than I think and I can jump over almost any hurdle life places in front of me.

Mentally, as well as physically, I push the limits, constantly learning new things, expanding my horizons and challenging myself. And my thighs can probably leg press a mini-van.

These same thighs have carried me through many a Spin class, up real mountains, through 100 mile rides on my road bike, across the Balkans.

For 15 years I did not exercise. I was obese with high cholesterol, so sad, and so depressed. I didn't like the direction my life was going, but I  felt powerless to change it. I had given up on myself.

When I started Spinning I started feeling a change in my mind as well as my body. With each class I mastered more and more and became more confident. The hours logged on that bike taught me some valuable lessons… not so much about fitness or health but about myself.

Spinning (and exercise) saved my life.