On Friday night, Lululemon invited its community to an event boldly called “The Gospel of Sweat” in the historic Upper West Side’s Riverside Church.
Both the location and the event name were chosen unironically to “host a conversation about spirituality that’s happening in places where people work out all over New York City,” said Lululemon’s Amanda Casgar.
She’s referring to an emerging fitness-spirituality movement, where we “pray through our pores.”
Yoga studios and spin classes are “where we self-reflect and cultivate spirituality,” said Jeff Krasno, the founder of Wanderlust and the evening’s very articulate Master of Ceremonies. Krasno explained, “People are looking to spin and yoga teachers for guidance on how to live a full, happy life.” This makes yoga teachers, indoor cycling instructors, and boot camp commandos the new clergy.
And your Sunday finest? That would be Lululemon, of course.
YOGA LUMINARIES TAKE THE PULPIT
To introduce this new philosophy, Lululemon hosted an all-star line-up of yogis: Alan Finger, Schuyler Grant, Kay Kay Clivio, Kerri Kelly, the executive director of Off The Mat and Into the World, who talked about the 20 million-strong yoga community’s power in the voting process, and Elena Brower, who described yoga as a profound opportunity to change “the environment of your mind,” referencing inner life reasons for hitting the mat. Gabrielle Bernstein, no stranger to the pulpit, rocked her spirit junkies at the venue.
Krasno referenced our country’s 20 million yogis, the speakers were 90 percent yogis, and the focus of the evening stayed squarely on the connection between yoga and its potential for igniting spiritual sparks. This, of course, is far from a new idea, since yoga is by definition a spiritual practice. (Though it’s certainly new to host Friday night lectures attended by 500 or so 20-30-somethings on the topic!)
SWEATING SPARKS SPIRITUALITY
And while it was inspiring hearing speakers share their personal journeys in which yoga proved a redemptive force, the Gospel of Sweat was meant to convey that spiritual conversions are also happening in fitness studios.
If the philosophy is supposedly about the aspects of exercise in general, where were the enlightened Zumba teachers and personal trainers preaching something more than bigger biceps?
Melanie Griffith, master trainer of SoulCycle, was the sole representative of the non-yogis. She spoke passionately and with the cadence of a beat poet about her awakening, transformation, and trials (and a bout with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) on the bike.
Griffith says that students’ first visits to SoulCycle aren’t as important as what calls them back. “What are they looking for? What are they getting?” she said, suggesting that spiritual direction and life transformation are what they’re really after. The bike is just the bait.
Lululemon could have better made its point about the cathartic aspects of workouts and the spiritual solace people are finding in them by inviting a more diverse group of speakers (calling IntenSati’s Patricia Moreno, Brian Delmonico of Circuit of Change, and countless other spiritually inclined teachers).
Quibbles aside, the company is really onto something having identified “spiritual fitness” as a movement. Where will they take it next? —Alexia Brue and Melisse Gelula