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The anti-Trump backlash against SoulCycle, explained

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The next great American culture war is taking place on the candlelit, grapefruit-scented fitness battlefield known as SoulCycle. Under the supervision of a trainer, up to 60 people or so gather in these cycling studios, channeling their frustration, bad days, and pent-up energy into sweat and screams on bikes that go nowhere.

But now, because of a fundraiser for President Trump in the Hamptons, Soulcycle is finding its once-loyal members’ energy directed right at it — as they unleash on the fitness studio the same aggressively focused vigor that SoulCycle spun into profits and cardiovascular health.

This week, the Washington Post reported that Stephen Ross, the billionaire real estate developer (reported net worth: $7.7 billion) and SoulCycle investor by way of his Related Companies real estate firm, is hosting a fundraising effort for Trump’s reelection campaign at his Hamptons mansion on August 9, with ticket costs ranging from $100,000 to $250,000.

Ross’s fundraiser has incensed SoulCycle’s liberal-skewing, millennial clientele: Not only does supporting Trump run against the open-minded mantra and credo of SoulCycle, which refers to itself as “a space to come as you are and celebrate who you are,” but the event is occurring at a particularly difficult political moment.

Events like Trump’s recent racist comments that nonwhite Americans should “go back” to the countries they came from; a lack of grace in the aftermath of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio; and an attack on the city of Baltimore have left a terrible taste in the mouths of those who pay a hefty price to get their soulful cycling on every month.

SoulCycle is a place where everyone (or rather, “all souls”) is welcome and hate isn’t tolerated, according to SoulCycle (and the merchandise it sells). It’s a message crafted by its founders and passed down to its staffers and its loyal riders.

The fitness company’s indirect connection to Ross’s expensive campaign soiree has rankled more than just its high-paying members. The investor’s conservative ties caused a meltdown with SoulCycle’s instructors — the ones in charge of spreading its message of goodwill, hope, and tolerance to people in studios across the country.

“I don’t think there’s a single employee at SoulCycle who has been more vocally anti-Trump than I have been,” wrote a longtime instructor on a private, SoulCycle instructor-only Facebook group the afternoon the news broke. Screenshots of the message board were provided to Vox from a current instructor.

“Now I have to figure out how to continue to pour my heart and soul into every class I teach, knowing that every dollar riders spend with me is enriching a man who is supporting what I consider to the most corrupt, evil administration in our country’s history,” the instructor continued.

We reached out to SoulCycle about numerous instructors’ concerns shared to Vox. Melanie Griffith, a master instructor with more than a decade at the company, told Vox that the leadership team is making efforts to reach out to any instructors hurt by the news and not placated by SoulCycle’s initial response.

“Yesterday, I was able to sit with our CEO, Melanie Whelan, and the leadership team at SoulCycle,” Griffith told Vox. “I was so impressed with their humanity, their grace, their willingness to listen and to take action to make sure our authentic voices are heard. I’ve spent more than ten years with SoulCycle, and I still full-heartedly believe in our mission, and in our incredibly talented team who carries out that mission each day. We are a community committed to empowerment, diversity, inclusivity and love.”

But while the meltdown and infighting are undeniably spicy — akin to the mordant satisfaction of watching someone’s perfect facade come crumbling down and reminding you that they, too, are mortal — a big investor in SoulCycle vouching public support for such a controversial figure has left those dedicated to the studio to wonder about the state of SoulCycle’s once-hot brand.

It also brings into focus just how well brands have commodified our values and identities. SoulCycle has insinuated itself into its members’ and instructors’ lives, inspiring people to rethink how they treat their bodies; but the ethics SoulCycle espouses also have left an impression on how they lead their lives. And for the progressive, liberal member base that prides itself on its well-rounded lifestyle, SoulCycle’s political ties (even if indirect) throw all their soulfulness into disarray.

The anti-Trump backlash to SoulCycle, explained

Disclosure: I used to be a devout SoulCycle rider and would take four to six classes per week (over the past six years). I still think it’s a great cardio workout and I only had positive experiences there. I stopped riding in February, not due to political reasons but because my favorite instructor left the company to start her own fitness business. Despite the time and money I poured into SoulCycle, I haven’t really had a compelling reason to go back as regularly — such is the power of a good instructor.

What I’ve gleaned from all these classes is that while the instructors and their personalities are very different, the fundamental idea behind SoulCycle is that it can serve as the highlight of your day — and that is largely determined by the trainers in charge of your class. The studio pledges that it’s about positivity and community, and instructors will often emphasize that it’s a team concept and the participants are all inspirations for each other. And as corny as it sounds, there’s a true sense that for 45 minutes in the dark, you can start to become who you want to be, alongside 60 people who want the same thing.

Throughout the class, the instructor peppers in mantras about acceptance and tolerance and treating each other with kindness and encouragement. Outside of class, instructors sometimes promote organizations, charities, and causes they believe in on their social media accounts, which their students often follow.

SoulCycle has also openly supported efforts like International Women’s Day and Pride for years, along with offering charity rides at its studios any given day of the week. And while it has claimed to not be political, its messaging tends to hew toward the liberal side of the political spectrum.

Granted, feminism, LGBTQ rights, and welcoming people of all ethnicities aren’t exclusively the province of liberals and Democrats, but with Trump’s repeated racist rhetoric and prejudiced policies, like banning transgender people from serving openly in the military, supporting equality and women and people of color has somehow become a political issue. And SoulCycle often targets big metropolitan areas — it has studios in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Atlanta — which tend to vote blue.

All of which gives context for the clientele’s inflamed reaction (the SoulCycle Instagram page is full of angry comments) to finding out SoulCycle has a Trump-supporting benefactor.

SoulCycle’s instructors were blindsided by the news

Some of the fiercest backlash to Ross’s Trump fundraiser stems from inside the company.

Numerous instructors, many of whom identify as LGBTQ and nonwhite, and who are paid to spread a message of positivity and welcomeness, felt frustrated, blindsided, and hurt by the news.

According to an instructor who wishes to remain anonymous, the news of Ross’s fundraiser was a huge surprise to instructors, who found out at the same time as the general public — between August 6 and 7.

“Ross has had this on the calendar for a while,” the instructor told me, explaining that a fundraiser of this magnitude just doesn’t happen overnight. “Getting in front of it would have mitigated a lot of the backlash.”

Judging by SoulCycle’s maligned response and SoulCycle sending out an email blast on August 7 announcing its digital/home exercise bike, the news caught the company by surprise as well.

On the same day of the news, a master instructor — the highest level of instructor at SoulCycle — posted an anti-Trump declaration on their Instagram Story page: “In the cleanest way possible, if you support Trump and would donate money towards a fundraiser to re-elect him … DON’T TAKE MY CLASS AND DON’T ASSOCIATE WITH ME … your ‘support is not needed.”

These confused and raw initial reactions were understandable, considering SoulCycle didn’t release an official statement until later the day the news broke. In the afternoon of Wednesday, August 7, SoulCycle posted an official statement from CEO Melanie Whelan insisting that Ross’s values have nothing to do with the company and that he’s merely a “passive investor.”

Instructors greeted the response with criticism, mainly at the lack of clarity behind the term “passive investor.” Ross is the chair and majority shareholder of the Related companies, which own SoulCycle and Equinox, and judging by responses on the private Facebook message board, instructors are still confused as to how much he gains from his investment in SoulCycle.

At a time of PR crisis like this, it’s natural to look to the CEO for answers and leadership, and it’s a CEO’s responsibility to right the ship. The problem for Whelan is that the company she’s been leading has been struggling to keep up with its meteoric pace since she took the helm.

Whelan was named CEO in 2015 and is credited with increasing the company’s footprint to more than 90 studios across the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. Her ascension to CEO came nine years after Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler co-founded the company. And that same year, 2015, may have been the tail end of SoulCycle’s meteoric rise.

By 2015, celebrities such as Oprah were seen going to classes. The elite of the elite wanted to follow in these famous footsteps, encouraging more newbie cyclists to strap in. SoulCycle was the workout, and there were no worthy competitors in sight, though it would eventually inspire successful imitators like Flywheel.

In 2016, Cutler and Rice each left with a $90 million buyout (which became Ross’s Related investment), with the company poised to go public with an IPO:

Since then, however, news surrounding that IPO has all but vanished; meanwhile, SoulCycle finds itself fighting to keep its riders from switching over to the upstart Peloton. Its 2017 experiment in non-cycling fitness classes, called Soul Annex, shut down a year later, in October 2018.

These factors, combined with the Trump-tied firestorm and Whelan’s response, have led instructors to call Whelan’s leadership into question, especially in comparison to how Cutler and Rice ran the business.

But some were even reexamining the positive vibes of Cutler and Rice’s tenure in the wake of the fundraiser news.

“One thing I will say is before you wax nostalgic about Julie [Rice] and Elizabeth [Cutler], they knew who they were selling their company to and they walked away with $89 million EACH without sharing one penny with the handful of strong women who were CRUCIAL to the company’s success. So there’s that,” a master instructor wrote in a message posted to the Facebook message board.

In addition to Whelan’s response, SoulCycle released talking points to instructors in anticipation of questions from riders. Vox obtained the bulleted list, though at least one instructor posted them on a social media account.

The talking points weren’t any clearer about the fundraiser, and instead seem to be Whelan’s statement broken down into bullet points like, “At SoulCycle we believe in diversity, inclusion, and equality. All souls are welcome,” and, “Mr. Ross is a Passive Investor.”

On August 8, Whelan sent a company-wide email to instructors and staffers, apologizing for a perceived lack of urgency and clear response to the outrage and backlash.

“We’re human. We’re not perfect. But we’re unbreakable. I know we’ll come out of this stronger,” she wrote. “I’ll be on calls tonight with our studio and instructor teams answering questions.”

On the same day as Whelan’s call, an instructor posted their frustrations on the board: “Does anyone else just want to hear someone say, ‘we’re sorry that the company has put you in this position. We’re sorry that burden has fallen on the shoulders of the studio staff and instructors.’ Like just say SORRY one time.”

The outrage among instructors isn’t necessarily universal. After Whelan’s call, a few instructors noted on the message board that there had been an improvement in the company’s efforts to support its instructors. Others put up social media posts pledging to stand by SoulCycle, no matter its affiliations.

“I’ve been working for @soulcycle for 4 years, and I’ve had the privilege of getting to know and love my co-workers,” instructor Eddie Corley, who is based in New York City, wrote on his personal Instagram on Thursday. “They’ve been fighting the good fight since I stepped foot into this place and that’s why I am still here. One person, or opinion won’t change that. What can change is how you approach your choices.”

Others are opting to express their beliefs and rebuke Ross himself, instead of directing their agitation toward SoulCycle.

“A single person might have money, but we got mics,” San Francisco-based instructor M.K. (Mary Kate) Hurlbutt wrote on her Instagram account. “They might be trying to fill the coffers of hate and bigotry and racism and misogyny, but we’re out here pumping up the volume on LOVE and INCLUSION and EQUALITY and JUSTICE. And we’ve got people in those rooms hell bent on changing the motherfucking world.”

Whelan followed her Thursday email and phone call with another message to staff on Friday, obtained by Vox, detailing a plan to soothe concerns: Instructors have been given the opportunity to host charity-based community classes, during which SoulCycle would “donate 100% of the proceeds of each ride to the social justice causes” chosen by the instructors and studio staffers.

“This is not the only answer. But it’s our answer for today, so our community can start to heal,” Whelan wrote.

Vox received an e-mail sent to Whelan from Sean Linehan, SoulCycle’s manager of talent development, after the charity rides were announced. He echoed her enthusiasm and supported the brand’s efforts.

“We will 100% come through this stronger,” he wrote. “It’s been a lousy few days, but this has clearly galvanized us as a company … You deserve it. Thinking of you. And of course, 100% here to dig in and reclaim the narrative.”

SoulCycle is a tribe in an age of tribal consumerism

It’s understandable that SoulCycle wants to tamp down what sounds like vocal opposition to its brand right now, and we’ve reached out for the company for further comment. But the outrage over Ross’s unearthed Republican ties really boils down to a simple idea: As seemingly every facet of our lives become political, consumers today want to know if and when their money is going somewhere politically affiliated. The backlash to SoulCycle isn’t unlike the negative response to Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay, Republican-supporting donations or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, the right-wing backlash against Nike for making the controversial, outspoken football player Colin Kaepernick the star of a major marketing campaign.

There is an important difference between Soul and Nike’s campaign with Kaepernick, as SoulCycle pointed out: Ross’s politics never enter the studios or gyms, and SoulCycle has never run a pro-Trump ad campaign or endorsed Trump.

“Ross won’t feel the boycott,” an instructor told me. “He was a billionaire long before his company invested in SoulCycle. But we will. We feel it. … Life isn’t as simple as, ‘Well, get new investors.’”

Yet that sentiment won’t mitigate the frustrations of consumers.

One of the terms that SoulCycle uses to describe itself is tribe; there’s a sense of identity in participating in SoulCycle. It isn’t just an exercise; for many people, it’s also a place that stands for something and for everyone — the company has repeated that over and over again. So it makes sense that people who believe in SoulCycle because of how they perceived it to align with their personal politics were hurt by Ross’s fundraiser.

In a sense, it’s a testament to SoulCycle’s success in co-opting social justice ideologies of welcoming, acceptance, individuality, and community into a marketing strategy that the company has gotten into such trouble over its investor’s politics. As brands have become extensions of our self-expression and identity, burning a pair of Nikes or publicly breaking up with SoulCycle becomes a crucial way of asserting our identities and values.

But our strong feelings toward brands almost always say more about us and what we hold important, the hypocrisies we find inexcusable, and what we think other people should believe pertinent than the brands we support. And as we examine why exactly SoulCycle’s news hit its devotees (past and present) the way it did, it makes it clear that this backlash is really more personal than it seems.

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11 Exercises to Fix Rounded Shoulders and Sculpt Beautiful Posture

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Modern life takes its toll on our posture when we spend hours sitting and neglect the position of our spine. Poor posture leads to an imbalance in our muscles which means that they can’t support the body properly. Luckily, this can be fixed by doing a set of effective exercises. Moreover, they can help you to reduce back pain, stop headaches, increase energy, and improve circulation and digestion.

Bright Side is ready to help our readers achieve a beautiful and healthy body, and found 11 simple exercises that can be done at home by anyone. At the end we included a small tip, as a bonus for those who enjoy massage.

1. Upper trapezius stretch

It’s better to start from your shoulders first to relax your upper muscles. An upper trapezius stretch is just perfect for this.

Initial position: For this exercise, you can stand or sit on your yoga mat, whatever you like. Keep your head straight.

What to do:

  • Slowly move your right ear toward your right shoulder. When you do this, it’s normal that your left shoulder might lift as well. If it does, bring your head back to the initial position and try to relax your left shoulder.
  • Put your right hand over your head and place it on your left cheekbone. Don’t push your head down with it, it should just lie there. This will stretch your upper trapezius muscles very gently.
  • Calmly breathe and sit in this position for 30 seconds.
  • Slowly remove your hand, come back to the initial position and repeat the same on the other side.

2. Superman

The Superman exercise engages your upper and lower back. It helps you fight lower back pain and prevents a curved spine.

Initial position: Lie face down on your stomach, on your yoga mat.

What to do:

  • Extend your arms and legs. Keep your neck neutral.
  • Keep your torso stationary and lift your arms and legs up toward the ceiling. Try forming a “U” shape with your body.
  • Hold the position for 5 seconds, lower your arms and legs, and go back to the initial position.
  • Repeat 10 times.

3. Bridge

The bridge works out glutes and strengthens the lower back, which is important for good posture.

Initial position: Lie on your yoga mat, bend your knees, and place your feet hip-width apart. Place your arms by your sides.

What to do:

  • Engage your buttocks and raise them up, creating a straight line with your body. Your shoulders should be on the floor.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds and slowly lower your body back to the initial position.
  • Repeat 15-20 times. Give yourself a rest for 30 seconds after every 5 reps.

4. Reverse shoulder stretch

This is an effective exercise to stretch your back and shoulder muscles and remove tension and pain in them.

Initial position: Stand on a yoga mat, with your feet wider than your shoulders, place your straightened hands behind you, and lock your palms together.

What to do:

  • Bring your shoulder blades together and start putting your arms up. Try to feel the tension in your spine and shoulder muscles.
  • For more spine stretch bend forward and bring your locked hands up. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds.
  • Slowly return back to the initial position.
  • Repeat 20 times.

5. Foam roller exercise for upper back

A foam roller will help you to relieve pain in your back muscles, fix rounded shoulders, and improve your overall posture.

Initial position: Get a yoga mat and lie on it with your hips apart and your feet on the floor. Place your foam roller right under your upper middle back, in your shoulder blade area.

What to do:

  • Bring your hands behind your head, this will support it. Bring your hips into a bridge pose, and hold your balance, supporting your body with your legs.
  • Inhale, push your body from your heels, and roll on your spine. Stop when the roller reaches the top of your shoulder blades.
  • Exhale and roll back until the roller reaches the bottom if your rib cage.
  • Repeat this for 30-45 seconds.

6. Cat-cow exercise

The cat-cow exercise is perfect for stretching your back, lower spine, and core muscles.

Initial position: Stand on all fours on the yoga mat, place your hands right under your shoulders, and knees and feet hip-width apart. Keep your toes pointing toward your body. Your spine should be natural and straight, no bending or arching.

What to do:

  • Cat position: exhale and engage your abdominal muscles. Arch your spine up toward the ceiling, bringing your head to your chest, aligned with your spine. Hold this for 10 seconds.
  • Cow position: slowly start bringing your stomach toward the floor and try to feel the tension in your lower back. Bring your shoulder blades together. Hold this for 10 seconds and go back to the initial position.
  • Repeat 15 times.

7. Kneeling hip-flexor stretch

The kneeling hip flexor stretch will help to remove tension from your pelvic and lower back muscles.

Initial position: Kneel on a yoga mat, bring your right leg in front of you, and bend it at a 90 degree angle. Your foot is flat on the ground. Support yourself by standing on your left knee that is also bent at 90 degrees.

What to do:

  • Slowly start bringing your right knee forward and brace your core. Engage your glutes and keep bringing your hips forward.
  • Your left knee is already bent at more than 90 degrees. Keep your spine straight, don’t bend it forward or backward.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds to feel the stretch in the muscles then slowly return to the initial position.
  • Repeat 10 times for both sides.

8. Bird dog exercise

Bird dog helps to remove back pain, strengthens the core, and promotes proper posture.

Initial position: Stand on all fours on the yoga mat, your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Your spine should be straight and neutral.

What to do:

  • Raise your right hand and your left leg at the same time, bringing them parallel to the floor.
  • As you do this, lengthen your neck and bring your chin to your chest. Look down at the floor and remain like this for 10 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position and then repeat the same exercise with your left hand and right leg.
  • Repeat 10-15 times.

9. Forearm plank

Plank is not only effective at burning fat, but it also helps to strengthen the spine muscles, it prevents back pain, and it helps to improve your posture.

Initial position: Place your forearms on the yoga mat and align your elbows below your shoulders. Your arms should be parallel to your body at about shoulder-width distance.

What to do:

  • You can clasp your hands together for more comfort. Correct your neck and spine by looking at one spot on the floor somewhere about 30 centimeters in front of your hands.
  • Pay attention, so that your head is in line with your back.
  • Hold this position for 20 seconds.

10. T-Spine windmill stretch

The t-spine windmill stretch can help you fight pain and tension in your lower back and trunk. Moreover, it works out your shoulder muscles.

Initial position: Lie on your side on a yoga mat and bend your knees and hips at 90 degrees. Extend and stack your arms together on your right side.

What to do:

  • Raise your left arm up and then place it out to the left, opening your body up. Right now, your shoulder blades should be on the floor and your legs should remain in the same position.
  • Hold it for a couple of seconds and return to your initial position.
  • Do 30 repetitions on each side.

11. Tight shoulder massage

A simple tennis ball can help you to remove pain in your shoulders in different areas and relax them. All you need here is a tennis ball and a wall.

Initial position: Stand next to the wall and face it. Place a tennis ball on the wall and lean on it. Your chest should push the ball inside your shoulder.

What to do:

  • Start making a circular movement around this muscle and try to find a trigger point.
  • Hold a ball on this point until you feel that the tension and pain are gone.
  • Keep doing this until you relax all of your trigger points.
  • Repeat on the other shoulder.

Bonus: Thai massage is amazing for your back and shoulders.

Thai massage is an ancient form of massage that uses stretching and gentle pressure on the body to relieve muscle and joint pain, and balance your body. This massage helps to make muscles more flexible and removes chronic stiffness. For better results in achieving a healthy back and good posture, you can try this type of massage, focusing on your spine muscles.

Exercises can be effective, but it’s also important to pay attention to your posture throughout the day and strive to keep your spine straight. Do you have good posture? Maybe, you have a couple of exercises that help you relieve back and shoulder pain? Let’s share in the comments!

Illustrated by Alena Tsarkova and Marat Nugumanov for BrightSide.me

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8 Top Technology Trends To Watch In China

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This is a preview of 2019 Technology Trends Report in China from Business Insider Intelligence and EqualOcean. Chinese high tech firms have been leading the way in innovation for many technologies, such as 5G. These technologies are either currently undergoing or about to undergo major phases of change.

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Why Iran is attacking oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz

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The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway that lies between Iran and Oman. Dozens of tankers carry oil through the 21-mile-wide passage each day. This flow of oil represents 20 percent of the world’s supply.

Most of the tankers traveling through the Strait of Hormuz are bound for Asia. But an attack on any tanker there, regardless of its destination, can affect the price of oil everywhere. That’s because oil is a globally traded product — a drop in supply from the Persian Gulf can drive up prices from other sources around the world. After two tankers were attacked in June, the price of Brent Crude — oil sourced from the North Sea — jumped by nearly $2 per barrel.


The price of Brent crude, a global benchmark, jumped in response to the attack of two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.

Vox/Danush Parvaneh

The attacks in June weren’t the only incidents in Hormuz in recent months. Several other oil tankers have been seized, attacked, and harassed. These tankers — and this narrow water passage — have become a center of conflict between the US and Iran. It’s a conflict with the potential to escalate in one of the world’s most important oil chokepoints, sending the global economy into a tailspin.

You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. And if you’re interested in supporting our video journalism, you can become a member of the Vox Video Lab on YouTube.

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