Try a Workout For the Self!

Meet the startup growing connection between people to let the sunshine in.

Special Collections: CHANGEMAKERS
Colored chairs on a scenic shore suggesting positive potential.

(Chad McDermott /

Looking for a place where you can just come as you are? A space where you can comfortably be an open book and speak about things that matter in good company without being judged, somewhere where you can feel better?

Peoplehood, an adventurous new personal growth program,  promises to be a workout for the self, inviting you to take your seat at its hour-long discussion sessions, aka “gathers”. In a post-pandemic tribute to the zeitgeisty blend of self-care and community, this is a startup piloting drop-in connection it calls “relational fitness”. And it comes from the two friends who launched SoulCycle.

From SoulCycle to Peoplehood
In an Instagram chat about their new startup, founders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice emphasize how moments of heartfelt connection during the pandemic felt like the most uplifting things to come out of this challenging period.

With hindsight, both see SoulCycle’s high intensity spinning classes as a connection to humanity and ourselves more than just exercise. Its strength is giving participants something of a bonding experience as they ride through struggles together to strengthen their bodies and minds, and which USA News says mixes “sweat and spirituality.”

Or as the New York Times put it: “Ms. Cutler and Ms. Rice see Peoplehood as a natural successor to SoulCycle, which became a phenomenon because it made its customers feel as if they were sculpting not just their bodies but their selves.”

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Making space for relational health
Founders Cutler and Rice want to foster many more authentic connections with Peoplehood. They want to give people the skills to connect with each other and themselves and attain “relational health.”

The duo have studied connection, meeting interesting people including the charismatic “connection rock stars” whom they train to lead Peoplehood sessions with an infectiously upbeat presence. They’ve put their heads together with scientists, therapists, psychologists and non-secular leaders to help develop the “gathers'' into guided, genuine conversation practice hubs which, as Peoplehood’s Instagram bio shares, are  “A place to grow personally, together.”

The goal is for these to be spaces where people can come and create connections and find community again. Corona has highlighted that “people are everything” they share.Nurturing relationships just as we take care of our bodies through fitness and healthy eating, and our mental health through therapy, seems to be a key mantra. We wrongly leave relationships to chance, to somehow work out on their own, they point out, overlooking the value of “relational fitness”. “Nothing has to be broken. We just need to be working on it. To show up for the other person, to get somebody else’s world and care about that” they explain.

In their own words: “What is more important in the world than having wonderful relationships with people that we care about? Being able to work through conflicts…get closer, being able to have meaningful conversations. And value each other.” 

Community for the loneliness epidemic
Spurred by the longing for community and togetherness that the pandemic shone a light on, is something that Peoplehood’s founders emphasize.

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Not everyone is a fan of the Peoplehood initiative.  Author Tara Isabella Burton, for instance, quoted in USA News, spotlighted new spiritual rituals for the “religiously unaffiliated” in her 2020 ebook: Unusual Rites: New Religions for a Godless World. She has written about how many people see a religious dimension in Instagram influencers specializing in self care, and how they seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the commercial aspect of these projects.  And this follows on from a decades-long tradition seeing the selling of spirituality and personal fulfillment outside religion and therapists’ offices.

Author Amanda Montell, who has argued that SoulCycle persomed a “churchly function”, cautions that placing your non secular psychological wellbeing in the hands of what aims to be a business at scale, should be of greater concern than placing your bodily health in the hands of spinning instructors in a SoulCycle class.

However, some of the estimated 1,000 people who have taken part in pilot meets so far are enthusiastic. “It’s somewhat woo-woo, and I actually have felt an effect in a really constructive manner,” Julio Alvarez, a 34-year-old tech business management coach told the New York Times. “The pausing, the respiration, the listening, the sharing — that’s what we want extra of in this world.”

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