How Peloton’s Head Coach Is Powering Me Through the Pandemic
Turns out Robin Arzón’s motivational koans do double duty as a balm for coronavirus anxiety
I’m dripping with sweat, but it’s not a fever. I try not to think about the global pandemic as a woman’s voice rings in my ears. “The thing I hear most from people is that they’re scared,” she says. “I know strength because I’ve known fear. Deep fear. Fear usually comes from the unknown. So let’s break it down.”
That sounds pretty good right now.
“Let that shit go,” she commands. “We’ve done harder shit than this.”
Have we? I’m not sure. It’s so lonely in the apartment, reading Twitter, wondering whether the grocery across the street will ever have paper towels again. But I’ve read Robin Arzón’s backstory, so I know that she, at least, has previously done some very hard shit. So I keep listening.
When Peloton’s head instructor was in college, in 2002, she and 40 others were taken hostage in a New York City bar by a guy who doused everyone with kerosene and threatened to light them on fire. He grabbed Arzón by the hair and held a gun and a lighter to her head while he was negotiating with the police.
“You’re not actually in the woods being chased by a bear,” she says. She is cooing, sort of, but in a hectoring way.
Now she’s on my laptop talking to me. She’s got abs like the underside of a turtle. But they’re not her best feature. Her true allure — what she might call her “superpower” — is her unwavering positivity. She practically glows with it.
“You’re not actually in the woods being chased by a bear,” she says. She is cooing, sort of, but in a hectoring way. Her long braid is flipping around. Her smile seems bigger than her face. “Curate a savage moment with me. We’re warming it up right now. Let’s dig in. We’re gonna conquer.”
As we all shelter in place, with coronavirus like a wolf at the door, there’s been a lot of talk on social media about the revenge of the Peloton wife:
Now, suddenly, many of us would kill for an exercise bike in the house. Peloton doesn’t release sales numbers, so there’s no way to know how many people actually have bought the bikes (price tag: $2,245 and up). But it no longer matters because this week, as social distancing veered sharply toward self-quarantining, Peloton made all of its fitness programming free for 90 days. That means you can use your home computer to access thousands of classes, including yoga and meditation and, yes, Robin Arzón. Even if you don’t have a bike, I recommend keeping her on in the background: all Arzón all the time. Like psychic healing wallpaper.
“Pain is temporary. Regret is forever. Turn pain into power,” says the former corporate lawyer and 26-time marathoner, who is also a Type 1 diabetic. “Take a deep breath and remember who the fuck you are. That little bit of panic that sets in? That just means you care! Trust your struggle.”
Arzón took most of February off to go on her honeymoon. That means that much of what you can see of her in the Peloton archives was recorded before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19. (She’s been teaching classes for six years.) But it resonates powerfully today.
“You’re halfway up this hill. We’re going to be building resistance. No, you’re not going to like it. Are you going to grow from it? That’s your choice,” she says. “If you don’t try, you don’t know. Whatever you’re feeling right now, you don’t need to apologize for it. Strangers can become a family. We have a responsibility to take care of our family and ourselves. And that’s what we’re going to do. If you’re new, introduce yourself. You’re part of my crew, and I don’t leave any rider behind.”
Arzón calls her fans her wolf pack. She is known to growl. I find it comforting. I don’t need a #PrisonBody, the sinewy physique some intend to acquire while they shelter in place (by doing pushups, presumably, in the corners of their “cells”). What I need is what Arzón offers: hope.
“To the days that haven’t lived yet: What could go right? We don’t have to live in the boxes people check for us. I recreated myself, and so can you. Do what you’ve got to do. Bigger the dream, harder the hustle. Hustle is the gift that keeps on giving. But you can’t buy hustle at Whole Foods!”
You can’t buy eggs there, either. Not at the moment. Arzón talks about the joys of “extended recovery” — the rest after a hard push. That’s what America is holding on for. Extended recovery.
“See if you can take it a little bit heavier and just as fast. Solid effort but nothing crazy. Nothing you can’t handle. Nothing you weren’t born for. What can you relax right now? Maybe turn the corners of your mouth? Your eyeballs? If you woke up today, you are owed nothing.”
I’m awake. That’s my reward.
“I’m going to be asking a lot of you,” she says. “And it’s because I respect you. This is a longer endurance climb. If you’re uncomfortable, you’re doing it right.”
Then she asks a question.
“What will the next two minutes say about who you are? Character is revealed when we’re in the depths. These are the moments people talk about. Let’s become so good that they cannot ignore us.”
What a thought: Could it be that we can use this time to become better people? To be kinder? More connected to those we love? More committed to condemning the anti-Asian slurs, the revisionist histories, the partisan hostility?
“You don’t need to come close to death to be reborn,” Arzón says. “Remember that everything before this was practice. You will rebuild. That’s what we do here. On the days you forget who the hell you are, bang on your chest and remember: You’re part of this wolf pack. You thought I was playing with y’all? I will not babysit you. But I’m glad we’re doing this together. You should absolutely be breathless. I’m gasping for air, too. But this is the heaviest it’s going to get. Now is not when you skip out. We’re smart enough — strong enough — to get through damn near anything. Breathe. Hydrate. Get ready to slay.”