The Energy In That Room Changed Me: Ali Prato's SOUL Story
March 9, 2016
Once you go Noa, you can’t go back.
OK, so it’s not exactly an old adage, but it should be — and anyone who’s ever taken one of Noa Shaw’s classes knows exactly what I’m talking about.
When I first met Noa back in 2013 when the Williamsburg SoulCycle studio first opened, I was like, “Hell YAAAASSSS.” He’s not your typical instructor. He's covered in tats, older than most and in shape -- but not in a fitness video, ropey arms and formidable six-pack kind of way. He had a bit of a belly, and he looked like he’d been around the block a few times. He probably knew where the bodies were buried. I liked him immediately. He wasn’t perfect. Neither was I. Far from it. I felt an instant connection.
On the bike, as Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, Motley Crüe, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Elton John blasted my eardrums off, I felt like I was back in high school. At one point, Noa told us to think of something in our lives that we really wanted to make happen, and to picture it happening. “Put your heads down and close your eyes. It’s the hardest move in SoulCycle. But do it, because there’s nothing to see here. You’re in the dark on a bike that goes nowhere.” We were on our last song, “Last Goodbye” by Jeff Buckley. “Look inside yourself,” he said. I found myself overcome with emotion, wiping tears from my eyes with a sweaty towel. Thank god there was nothing but candlelight.
As pathetic as it sounds, that wasn’t the first time I’d cried in SoulCycle: When I met Noa, my husband and I had been trying for what seemed like a million years to have a second baby (our daughter, Ever, was 4 at the time), and I was feeling desperate, heartbroken and totally depressed. Being a mom is my favorite thing on the planet, and I wanted more than anything else to have another kid. I couldn’t figure out what the hell we were doing wrong.
Over the past few years, I’d dived headfirst into trying to get pregnant: Fertility acupuncture, chiropractors, IUIs, ovulation kits, progesterone cream, apps with names like “Maybe Baby,” books with names like “Every Drunken Cheerleader: Why Not Me?”, vitamins, supplements, weird-smelling teas and gross elixirs, smoothies packed with baby-promising ingredients, magic wish papers you light and release into the sky, a visit to a psychic… the list goes on.
After four miscarriages and countless pillowcases soaked with tears, I finally went to a fertility specialist, who told me that my issue was likely age-related: I was 40, and while I had a lot of eggs in my “reserve,” the quality of those eggs was not good. A lot of my eggs carried genetic abnormalities, which meant that even if they were fertilized, they’d create unhealthy embryos, which in turn meant miscarriages. I wasn’t having trouble getting pregnant, but I was having trouble staying pregnant.
Meanwhile, it seemed like everybody with a uterus was knocked up and having no problem creating the families of their dreams: Moms on the subway with four kids in tow; Facebook friends from high school and college and celebrities who flaunted their wonderful news on the covers of magazines — “She’s pregnant again and they weren’t even trying! AND she’ll lose the baby weight in five minutes!” Every time I saw another baby bump, I seethed.
I was feeling sorry for myself, and pissed off at the universe. I felt like I was studying as hard as I could for a test and still getting an "F." To make matters worse, no one else seemed to be talking about fertility struggles — there were no good books or articles, and I felt totally alone. I knew real women were out there struggling, but where were they? After a while, I decided to try really hard to not want that second child, because it was causing so much anger and depression. But I couldn’t do it. It was a guttural desire I felt deep in my core. As much drama as it was causing in my mind and my personal life (and damn, does infertility do a number on your marriage…), I couldn’t shake it. I would stop at (almost) nothing to have that second kid.
My doctor tried to make me feel better. “You’re frustrated with your body, but in reality your body is doing the right thing by getting rid of unhealthy pregnancies,” he said. It made sense, but I was still pissed off and sad, and at a loss of what to do next.
I decided to try to get into the best shape — physically and mentally — of my life. To that end, I ramped up my yoga and starting going to SoulCycle at least four times a week. Even if I couldn’t control what was going on with my body pregnancy-wise, I could control what I was doing — and how hard I worked — in that room. In the confines of the studio, it was dark and the music was loud, I could cry into my towel and no one would know. I could leave shit on the bike. And every single time, I left class feeling better. I was focusing more on what I did have, rather than what I didn’t have. I adopted Noa’s mantra: “Love, kindness, and gratitude.”
Noa was an open book when it came to his story: He’d kicked drugs and alcohol, he used to weigh over 300 pounds, he used to hate having his picture taken, he used to smoke three packs a day. He took a Soul Cycle class one day on a whim and, against all odds, became an instructor. Him sharing his vulnerabilities made it safe for me to share mine. He was flawed. He was working on it. He felt lucky to be alive, to be in this room. He was one of us. Inside that studio, raw emotion came to the forefront: “Stop thinking thoughts that scare you,” he said. “Be a warrior for love.”
Over time, I got stronger, and the classes became easier. Noa and I became friends. One day, I asked him for his email address. I had the urge to write a letter to tell him how much he and his classes meant to me. He had become an integral part of my journey — part therapist, part comedian, part trainer, and I had come to rely on him in a major way. I poured my heart out in that email, and the next time I saw him, he gave me a huge hug and said, “Thanks for sharing your life with me.” At the end of class, as he does to somebody every class, he brought a candle over to me. I blew it out and made a wish.
Clearly there was something to this love, kindness and gratitude stuff. The energy in that room, class after class, changed me. I consciously started putting as much positive energy into the universe as possible. Overall, I felt happier. I learned to accept the fact that we might be a family of three after all, and that was okay.
In December 2014, my husband and I made the Hail Mary decision to try IVF. We needed this chapter—no matter what the outcome—to come to an end. We were going to give it one shot, and one shot only—which was good, because it turned out that at the end of the IVF cycle, and after doing pre-genetic testing, I only had one healthy embryo to implant anyway. The odds were against me, but I felt peaceful knowing that we had given it everything we had.
In April 2015, I found out I was pregnant. I was so incredibly shocked and elated that I dropped the phone on the ground and screamed. Noa was one of the first people I told. In class that day, he had everybody at the end yell, “F*&^ yeah, Ali!”
I continued taking his classes throughout my entire pregnancy — often with two of my best friends and fellow Soul die-hards Kate Flynn and Gail Kegolis — something I never could have done even a few years before. During one of my sonograms, when I asked the doctor what position the baby was in, she said, “He’s bent over, kind of like he’s riding a bike.”
At eight months along, the day after Thanksgiving, I did a 90-minute turkey burn. “See Ali Prato in the front row here? She’s going to have a baby any second now, so if she isn’t putting the weights down, you can’t either,” Noa said. “The goal of today’s class is to get Ali Prato’s water to break,” he said another day. “C’mon, we’ve got plenty of towels. I want to deliver a SoulCycle baby.” Even on the days when I felt like Gilbert Grape’s mom, or my legs were swollen and it looked like I was baking bread in my shoes, I’d drag myself into class, knowing I was in a room full of total support.
In November 2015, at 38 weeks pregnant, I took my final, pre-baby Sunday 5:00 PM Rockstar Ride. Before class, I told Noa, “This is it, because I don’t think my body can get any bigger.” I could barely bend over to put on my shoes. In the mirror, I started laughing because I looked RIDICULOUS on the bike. My knees came up and hit my belly every time I’d pedal. During the last song, he came over and whispered to me to get up on the instructor’s bike. My initial reaction was, “Aw, hell no,” but he grabbed my hand and pulled me up to the podium. In front of a sold-out class, 62 people who were strangers and friends, he told everyone my story: how I had been coming to his class before and throughout my pregnancy, how I’d been working my ass off every single ride, and that this was my last class for a while. “Having a baby with you is taking a realllly long time,” he joked. As cult-y as it sounds, I did feel the love in that room. And it was hands-down the best ride of my life.
On December 11, 2015, our healthy and gorgeous baby boy, Sonny Vincent Prato, was born. And at six weeks postpartum, the second I was cleared by my doctor, I was back on the bike. The day before my first class back, I texted Noa: “Noa! I just got cleared by my Dr. to finally workout! So I will be back up in your face tomorrow! CANNOT *&^%ING WAIT!”
He texted back: “Yes!!!! I saw u on the list!!! Welcome back!”
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