Inside Peoplehood, The SoulCycle Of Social Skills
Here's what it's actually like to take a session.
I’m sitting in a dimly lit room on a chair that’s marked with the number four. Numbers one through six join their seats around a simple — but undoubtedly chic and expensive — table holding not much but a large, fragrant candle in a tin bucket. My eyes settle on the flame as I try to avoid awkward eye contact with the others. Then, our “Guide” (aka the discussion leader) changes the music and it’s time to begin.
This is Peoplehood, the brainchild and latest venture of SoulCycle founders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice. When they founded the spin studio in 2006, they realized that “people came for the workout, but stayed for the connections they created in the studios.” After they exited SoulCycle in 2016, the serial entrepreneurs spent three years researching how communities form and how these connections impact health and happiness. Their ultimate goal? To cultivate a space where people can gather and exercise their relationship-building skills. This materialized in March 2023, when Peoplehood opened its doors in New York City.
Think of Peoplehood as SoulCycle off the bike, with less moving and more being. The class includes breathwork and gentle stretches, but largely focuses on a group conversation led by a Guide or “super connector.” The whole idea is to exercise your people skills — and I had to try to for myself. Ahead, everything to know about Peoplehood.
How Peoplehood Works
Peoplehood classes are essentially 60-minute guided group conversations — called “Gathers” — with up to 20 participants. (Guides go through a training program that takes place over several weeks.) Currently, each in-person class is $35 and each virtual session is $25, but you can pick from various packages, like an introductory three-pack for $55.
Each Gather centers on an intention for the conversation such as burnout, imposter syndrome, or people pleasing. While you don’t get to see the topic ahead of time when you book your class, you are able to select the type of Gather you want to participate in, which will determine the kind of topics you may come across. Currently, there is Peoplehood, which is for everyone to talk about matters of the mind; Couplehood, for people to go with their S.O.; Motherhood, Singlehood, and LQBTQ+, which all create safe spaces to dive into topics near to these subjects’ hearts. All take place either in the uber-modern NYC Flagship studio in Chelsea or virtually on their online platform.
You’ll begin your session with about five minutes of breathing exercises and light stretching to get out of your head and into your body. After that, the Guide will go over the rules and share the topic of the day before having people share, chat, and listen — all with the ultimate goal of bettering your listening and social skills.
The rules are in place to promote “higher listening,” which, according to the Peoplehood website, is “listening without interrupting, offering advice, or giving an opinion.” If you want to agree with what a person is saying, you can either snap your fingers or put your hand over your heart to hold space for them and say you appreciate them without actually saying anything, or “nod your head aggressively and wildly,” as my Guide Juliana said. This way, you’re not filling the silence or interrupting — just making space for the other person to share... which, supposedly, makes you a more cognizant listener.
I arrived at Peoplehood’s flagship location 15 minutes early, where I was able to gawk at the overly expensive but equally attractive apparel and get an emotional support iced latte with pistachio milk to calm my nerves (they also have tea and alcoholic beverages). I was given a name tag and a number that told me where to sit inside the studio.
Once I took a seat and class began, the Guide, Juliana, led everyone through five minutes of breathing and light stretching before inviting us to share one thing that’s “true” to us (which can be as small as your love of sour gummies or as deep as a recent trip to the ER). She then had everyone go around the room to answer the question, “How are you really?” I’ll admit I felt really awkward, considering the fact that I didn’t know anyone. But I did my part and answered. (Some people said “I don’t even know,” which was valid and totally OK.) Juliana then introduced the day’s topic: imposter syndrome.
Throughout the Gather, we broke off into groups of two where we were to connect one-on-one and dive deeper into the topic. During these sections, each person will answer a question prompted by the Guide, and the other person can only listen (or snap, put their hand on their chest, and nod ferociously). The only thing the listener can ask is, “Is there more?” in case the person wants to dive deeper. The Guide may also ask the pairs to mirror what they heard the other person say by recapping what they heard (“What I’m hearing is… did I get that right?”).
The entire thing reminded me of the weekend-long retreats I used to do in my high school youth group. It was a mix of people of all ages, genders, and financial groups, and offered a little window into their world — which Peoplehood felt a lot like. I related closely to a woman in her 80s; I was able to let go and be present after a stressful day; I made new friends. Most of all, I left feeling more centered and in touch with myself.
The community aspect is one thing, but it’s the self-work I learned in Peoplehood that has stayed with me. One of the exercises I had in my Gather was to pay attention in our one-on-ones and see if we were trying to cater our answers to meet our listener’s interests. As a recovering people pleaser, I learned to “wait it out,” an active listening technique in which you don’t interject or comment — merely give the speaker space. I felt myself wanting to fill the void with something witty or clever; it was really hard to just be, but it was eye-opening to realize my natural tendency.
While I’d love to keep attending these Gathers on a drop-in basis for my dose of human learning, I don’t see myself paying the $165 per month membership fee for five IRL classes (or $95 per month for virtual gathers, for that matter). Instead, on my way out of my session, I stopped by the storefront and grabbed Flowmarket’s 200 Questions to Self to try and cultivate what I learned inside that space at home. So far I’ve gotten my mom and dad to try it, but still not my boyfriend. Hey, maybe I just need to wait it out.