Riding as therapy


If you go

What: The M*ergy Experience

Where: Body & Soul Gym, 3183 SW 38th Ct., Coral Gables

When: 7:15-8:15 a.m. and 9-10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 6:15-7:15 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 8:15-9:15 a.m. Saturdays; 10:15-11:15 a.m. Sundays. Classes cost $18.

Information: 305-441-2348,

It’s dawn at Body and Soul Gym in Coral Gables and 36 indoor cyclers pedal before a wall that reads, “It’s not why, it’s why not.”

For the next hour, they tone their minds as well as their thighs. Created by trainer and soul searcher Maria Sentmanat, the indoor cycling class, dubbed M*ergy — the combination of “me” and “energy” — shifts the focus from building muscles to developing mental strength through personal stories, quotes and music that inspires. It’s the bike ride as metaphor for life’s journey.

“Think about something you’re going through in life,” said Sentmanat, 42, who began teaching in Miami in 2002. “Now let’s parallel this climb with what you’re doing in life.”

The class begins with an intention of the day: words written on a white board that on this day read, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase; you just have to see the first step.”

Sentmanat chooses the music for its inspirational lyrics. Take the song Ali in the Jungle by The Hours. It speaks of life’s toughness:

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,

And it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at,

Everybody gets knocked down,

Everybody gets knocked down,

How quick are you gonna get up?

How quick are you gonna get up?”

“Some people listen to the songs and some sing along,” said Sentmanat. “It’s about sending little messages of the mind, soul, journey, the now, and not our mistakes made.”

For Sentmanat, life is not stationary, which explains the type of bike she uses: the Real Ryder. The bikes require riders to balance themselves as they work through a range of movements, including standing, leaning, and bringing one’s arms up and down while holding a taut towel overhead.

“Traditional spinning is stationary, but nothing in life is stationary,” said Sentmanat, who said stability on a bike represents stability in life. “If you’re stable, everything else around you will become stable.”

Sentmanat lacked stability for much of her youth. She said she dropped out of school in seventh grade and by 15, was living on the streets in Miami.

“I’m always the person who was not supposed to be here,” said Sentmanat, who is a mother of two and beginning the process of certifying more instructors for M*ergy.

Her life changed in the late 1980s when a woman she met while living in a homeless children’s residency offered her a home in New Mexico on a Navajo Indian reservation.

That woman is Diana Salinas, 55, an executive healthcare professional in Westchester. She became the mom Sentmanat never had.

“She could’ve been a drug addict, in prison, or dead,” said Salinas, who attends M*ergy classes at least twice a week. “Instead she’s a functional citizen and a great mom. The whole class is a giant intention.”

While living in New Mexico, Salinas gave Sentmanat the love and human connection that would become the M*ergy curriculum. In each class, Sentmanat acknowledges every person in the room, either by an exchange of words, a tap on the shoulder or a smile.

Lisette Ross, 49, a hairdresser from West Miami who has struggled with weight loss all her life, said Sentmanat changed her life.

“Other places don’t connect,” said Ross, who has kept off 115 pounds since she started taking Sentmanat’s course in 2010.

“Maria makes you feel like you’re a part of her family and because of that, everybody becomes a family.”

Although Sentmanat slipped back into rebellion a few times during the course of changing her lifestyle, she said whenever she fell, she quickly got back up. That experience led her to coin the phrase, “Trust your struggle,” which has become the M*ergy motto.

“We try to muffle our past and I try to embrace it,” said Sentmanat.

Ross echoed that: “If you don’t struggle, how do you know who you are?”

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