Mar 11, 2015 · 4 minutes

SoulCycle founders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice will be our guests at tonight's PandoMonthly in New York at 6 PM. There are still a few $20 tickets left you can buy here, so grab them before they sell out.

It's pure chaos in the lobby of the Union St. Soulcycle outpost in San Francisco. Scores of women and a couple men pace anxiously, wearing sweats and tank-tops that look painted on, their hair pulled back into sociopathically tight buns. I am one of the privileged few who have reserved their spots for the 8:00 AM session with an in-demand instructor named Madison. The rest are praying for a last-minute cancellation -- an alarm that failed to go off or a freak accident, like a false step on a staircase or a fiery automobile crash -- whatever it takes. Such is the devotion to the Church of SoulCycle.

But while the intensity of its acolytes resembles that of a religion -- or a cult -- the experience of SoulCycle is more akin to group therapy. The rooms are so poorly-lit that you can barely recognize your neighbors or yourself in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors. The music, a meticulously-curated medley of dance, dubstep, and hip-hop, is ear-splitting. These environmental anomalies combine to create a strange state of both sensory deprivation and sensory overload. They keep the mind focused on the task at hand, the eyes sensing only the movement of the human machinery surrounding you, grinding and churning to the deafening rhythms of the overwhelming drums and bass so that the body has no choice but to submit. Whatever emotional misery your fucked-up life's been serving you becomes secondary to the physical pain of what's likely the hardest workout of your life. It feels good to be a cog.

They tell you to leave your life's worries at the door, but it's not really like that. You bring your anxieties in with you, and then sweat and scream them out onto the floor, where they're mopped up along with all the other human bodily waste.

In my adult years, I've never been anything close to a gym-rat or an athlete. And yet somehow I've become addicted to SoulCycle.

The music, while fitting, sounds a bit too much like something you'd hear at an H&M or a sixteen-year-old girl's birthday party to be a huge motivator -- it serves more to keep you on rhythm than anything else. It's the instructors, however, who are equal parts pastor, performance artist, and psychoanalyst, that keep you pedaling even when your legs feel like wet pasta that's been stabbed by a millions forks and counting. Beyond their commands to "tap it back" (a move that involves thrusting your backside against the seat) and to "turn it up" (the dreaded signal to increase the resistance on the bike to excruciating levels), their exhortations range from inspiring to absurd, as the instructors act like tent revivalists speaking in tongues. "Step into the light," they'll say, or, "I want the next breath to be an exorcism." The stranger the commands, the more they lend a sense of spontaneity and unpredictability to the workout so that no matter how often you attend these sermons the madness never feels like a pose.

I don't always advertise my membership in the cult of SoulCycle and for good reason: At $34 for 45 minutes, the classes are wildly expensive and, like everything that's over-priced, tend to attract a person who craves status and exclusivity. That's to say nothing of the cyclers who drop hundreds of dollars on T-shirts and form-fitting sweat pants emblazoned with the SoulCycle logo.

But if we are elitists, then it's a close-knit community of elitism -- an in-crowd of equals. Once inside the SoulCycle sanctuary, there is even less judgment than in Planet Fitness' so-called "Judgment-Free Zone." Each cyclists' relationship with their resistance knob is private so there is no competition. I could be sweating bullets, panting like a Labrador while riding with an embarrassingly easy level of resistance, and look no different than my neighbor who appears just as battered and intense but who has the resistance turned up to 11.

My first time on the bike, I was reminded of a scene from last year's excellent Force Majeure where two men are exploring a desolate patch of snow high in the French Alps miles from any signs of civilization. One man tells the other, whose marriage is his shambles, that he should scream as loudly as he can, that it would do him more good than years of psychoanalysis. That's like SoulCycle: A raw release of primal suffering brought forth by pushing your body to its very limits, albeit to the tune of Rihanna and Skrillex. My boss, Sarah Lacy, calls it, "Either the most expensive workout on Earth or the cheapest therapy."

But like all addictions, the high only lasts for a few hours before I need another fix, making it as expensive a drug as it is a workout. And maybe my love of something as unlikely as SoulCycle is merely a testament to my addictive personality. Maybe it's as much a distraction from -- as opposed to a cure for -- one's problems as cigarettes or alcohol or marijuana. Surely there are worse things to be addicted to.

Join us in New York for tonight's PandoMonthly with the founders of SoulCycle, starting at 6pm. There are just a few tickets left here.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]