I Tried Alicia Keys’s Favorite Workout Class, and It Was a Different Kind of Intense


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I have a hard time letting go. During yoga class, when the instructor encourages us to release our tongue from the roof of the mouth, I keep mine glued in place out of sheer spite. So when I sit down to try Alicia Keys‘s favorite workout class — aptly named “The Class” — and the founder, Taryn Toomey, starts talking about release, I’m already uncomfortable.

In essence, The Class repeats a singular movement for the entirety of a song, building heat in the body, then asking you to observe what comes up. “As you begin to move — [with] exercises like squats or jumping jacks — the teacher then guides you into an awareness of your movement,” says Natalie Kuhn, Co-CEO & Founding Teacher at The Class. “Unlike other practices, you don’t ‘check out’ when you start to move — you ‘check in.'” Keys is such a loyal fan, she previously collaborated with The Class in 2021 for Mental Health Awareness Month, even bringing The Class to her recent Athleta launch in January.

Building awareness is one thing, but as Toomey notes before diving into the programming, the real challenge is deciding whether or not there are any tendencies you’re willing to release. In all honesty, I’m not sure. But I’m curious enough to give it a try, and I focus on one of Toomey’s mantras to help, repeating after her: “Show me.”

I’m practicing The Class at home on a sunny Sunday in Arizona, still slightly apprehensive, but pleasantly surprised to find that the 60-minute practice starts off like some kind of psychedelic yoga disco. To get the full experience, I choose a session taught by Toomey herself, and after warming up, the class is bouncing and shaking. “Let the movements be a bit unique,” Toomey says, and that’s all the permission I need to hear.

In what ends up being one of my favorite parts of The Class, we’re encouraged to move freely for the full duration of the song. I’m inspired by the quiet absurdity of it all, prancing around my living room and dropping it low in a way that (however inexplicably) brings me great joy.

After this first burst of movement, we pause to observe, and I notice my heart is racing, but the rest of my body isn’t speaking to me just yet. Maybe she doesn’t have anything to say.

Although The Class incorporates guided meditation, I can confirm the physical practice is still very legitimate. Much of the movement feels similar to yoga, including poses like cobra and downward dog, and I actually appreciate the repetition. With every exercise, I have plenty of time to build a solid mind-muscle connection and feel the type of burn you’d expect from any other workout class. We move through back extensions, glute bridges, and ab work, with Toomey reminding us to return to the breath. I’m only a little thrown off by more unconventional instructions like “soften your scalp.”

It’s worth mentioning that sound is a significant component of The Class. Toomey guides us through deep, guttural sounds “from the root,” which she says work against tension and show a willingness to evolve. I gather that the sounds are also meant to help us stay in tune with our bodies, serving as another act of release. It’s interesting that, even alone in my living room, I still feel a bit embarrassed.

About halfway through the class, I’m hit with the sinking realization that we’re building up to an entire song’s worth of burpees. Hearing a spiritual mentor like Toomey say such a bro-ish word feels a bit bizarre — like seeing your teacher outside of school. I wonder if maybe this is just a short segment meant to challenge our sense of discipline, but I’m woefully mistaken. “What would you like to express?” Toomey asks mid-burpee. Anger, Taryn, I respond.

If my body was quiet before, it’s now screaming at me. We pause to observe again, and in my own subtle act of rebellion, I abandon the virtual class for a 10-second water break. Payback for the burpees. It takes time to regain my trust, but over the course of planking and curtsy lunging, I stubbornly admit the endorphins are flowing, and we eventually find our way back to my favorite block of free-for-all movement.

Maybe it’s the rainbow shadows seeping through my stained glass window film, or perhaps the merciful absence of burpees, but the final round of dance unlocks a new level of unadulterated play I’m not used to in my usual workouts. I pull off my claw clip and whip my hair around, which might’ve made for an incredible main character moment if I wasn’t completely alone. We end the class with a meditation, using our arms as tools to release and redirect any lingering energy.

Letting go is uncomfortable, as Kuhn acknowledges, but that doesn’t make it impossible. “Just about everyone struggles with letting go,” she tells POPSUGAR. “We all grow up with different ways of wanting to feel safe, seen, secure, and loved, and those mechanisms turn into attachments. So when someone says, ‘Oh just let it go,’ for some, that feels like you’ve just been asked to let go of your life raft in the middle of the ocean.”

The Class is nothing if not self aware. In the middle of the session, Toomey levels with us, saying that the first step of any new thing will usually throw you off center, like trying a new workout class, for example. From here, we practice and gather the tools we need to succeed. There’s still a lot I’d like to release, and I don’t think I’ll ever get there in a single workout, but The Class gave me the space, the freedom, and very possibly the willingness, to recognize the work that’s yet to be done.

To me, that’s worth every burpee.

Image Source: Courtesy of Chandler Plante

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