Peloton star Tunde Oyeneyin shares her tips for self-care and staying disciplined: 'Focus on what you want to gain'

Erin Donnelly
·14 min read
Tunde Oyeneyin opens up about practicing self-care and motivating Peloton clients. (Photo: Courtesy of Peloton)
Tunde Oyeneyin opens up about practicing self-care and motivating Peloton clients. (Photo: Courtesy of Peloton)

If you’re one of the many, many folks who snapped up a Peloton to up your home workout game during the pandemic, then you’re no doubt familiar with Tunde Oyeneyin, the infectiously upbeat cycling instructor known for leading empowering workouts that motivate Peloton members into more than just getting in their miles.

Off the bike, the native Texan is a longtime makeup artist, fitness model and influencer who’s been candid about her own weight-loss journey, having overcome obesity as a teen to become a celebrated workout queen. Now based in New York City, she’s also founder of the Instagram Live series S.P.E.A.K. — as in, Surrender, Power, Empathy, Authenticity and Knowledge — which sees her tackling topics like resilience, race and self-love with the likes of Venus Williams, Common and Cynthia Erivo, all the while spreading a message of positivity and encouragement.

“People always say, is the glass half empty or half full?” Oyeneyin tells Yahoo Life of her mental mindset and “joyful” personality. “And my thing is, to me that doesn’t matter because I want to pour from a full cup. I want to pour from my overflow; I want to give the excess that’s flowing out.”

Feeling inspired? Read on as she shares her advice for harnessing that joy, finding discipline and making time for self-care.

You’ve been open about your weight loss. Do you have any advice on maintaining discipline for anyone who might be inspired to take on a challenge of their own?

I think it all comes down to why — what is the motivator for said goal, whether it’s losing weight, writing a book, running a marathon ... regardless of what it is, it comes back down to the why. I speak to this a lot, but when I set out to lose weight, I set out to lose 70 pounds, which I did. The irony is that it’s been so much less about what I lost, and so much more about what I gained. I lost one thing: I lost weight. But I gained confidence, I gained a sense of power, I gained an understanding of who I am, I gained friendship, I gained a feeling of strength.

For so long I allowed that scale, that thing, to control how I felt about myself. I say that because, if a scale is going in your favor — you’ve worked really hard all week, and today is weigh-in day — and you look and the scale says you’re going in the right direction, you feel really, really good. The scale has given you that really, really good feeling. Now another seven days pass and you’re working out even harder this week, and you’re eating even cleaner this week, and you step on that scale on weigh-in day, and the scale is going either backwards or it’s just still in the same place. The scale controls your feeling — you feel bad. Although for the seven days that it took before your weigh-in day, you felt great, your clothes were fitting good, you were feeling confident, and then that one thing was able to determine how you feel about yourself.

And so rather than focusing on what you are trying to lose, focus on what you gain. “This week did I feel good about myself?’ ‘This week did I come up with some really awesome recipes?” “This week did my family members tell me that I have more energy?” “Did I sleep better?” Focus on all the things that you are gaining versus losing, because then you will continue to show up for what you are gaining. You will continue to show up because you want your skin to look better, or whatever. You will continue to show up because you notice that you’re sleeping better. You’ll continue to show up because your clothes are fitting better.

So to someone who is starting, I would say, what is your why? A clear why — it has to be something for you, not for your partner, your friend, your mother — and once you’ve established that why, rather than focusing on what you want to lose because that will come, that will come, that will come, focus on what you want to gain.

And then in terms of workouts, find a workout that you like to do. If you hate running, Tunde’s not going to suggest that you go and run a marathon next year. If you hate running, then try cycling. If you hate cycling, then try dancing. If you hate dancing, try yoga ... Find something you love to do because you will show up for the thing that you love to do. For me, during my journey, I was taking these different classes, and I fell in love with taking the class, so it wasn’t like, “Oh my God, I have to work out today,” it was “Yes! I’m going to take that class tonight.” So find something that you want to show up to do, something you think it is fun. And then later if you get into running, then get into running. But don’t let that be thing that you’re like, “OK, I’m going to lose weight and I’m going to do it through running, even though I hate running.”

Oyeneyin is a popular Peloton instructor and founder of a the S.P.E.A.K. series. (Photo: Courtesy of Peloton)
Oyeneyin is a popular Peloton instructor and founder of the S.P.E.A.K. series. (Photo: Courtesy of Peloton)

How are you coping with the pandemic?

There’s been so many layers, or so many levels, or so many different colors, or faces of Tunde throughout this pandemic. I remember, I think it was the first week, week and a half, I found myself at the refrigerator more times than not. It was almost like when you’re driving and you’re on auto-pilot and you’re like, “How the hell did I just get home?” My thing was, “How the hell am I at the refrigerator again?” Obviously, no one knew how long this was going to last, so at first I was like, “OK, this will be a great opportunity to allow my body to rest, to eat a whole bunch of junk food and take this as a little bit of self-time.” And then a week turned into two weeks, turned into three weeks, turned into where we are now ...

I’m tagged so often on instagram from members taking classes. I was taking it really easy and I see all of these members who are taking, like, two or three or four classes, like doubling the time that they’re working out, eating better than ever, getting in the best shape of their life, and I’m just like, wait a minute, OK, is this what we’re doing? So the members truly motivated me to, for the lack of a better word, start getting my s*** together.

But I’d say, at the beginning of this, I felt so much stress. I live in a high-rise building that’s got floor-to-ceiling windows. Before the pandemic, you’d look outside and you’d see people on the streets, and cars, and taxis, and New York City thriving. And the first month of this, it was just like waking up to gloom. There was no one in the streets, you couldn’t see a taxi for miles, It was dark. It was almost this feeling of, is the world coming to an end? Truly, not in a joking way. Like, is this it? And so there was that piece of it.

And then I was off my workout game, off my nutrition game. Finally it was a friend that said, “Tunde, you need to give yourself a little grace. You’ve never been in a pandemic before, right? Why are you comparing yourself in a pandemic to Tunde out of a pandemic? It’s not apples to apples.” ... I gave myself the grace, and I was in that and OK with that, and it was like, “Oh well now you’ve just got to create within all of this.”

Everybody talks about going back to the way things were and for me, I think this is a really great opportunity to not go back to the way things were, but to rather create how you want things to be.

And what do you see that looking like?

When I think of the word “power” I’m not thinking of how much you can benchpress or how much you can squat. I think power is that feeling, that tingle, that inner being. When you’re living in purpose, on purpose, you can access your power. You’re doing something that just feels good, or you’re doing something and it just feels right. I’ve known my power for a long time now, but within this year, within the pandemic, I’ve been able to access or tap into my power more frequently, which feels good. And so when I think of our current world and I think of the world post-pandemic, I see myself living more on purpose and in purpose, and tapping into that power more frequently.

Self-care can mean a lot of things to different people. How do you define it, and how do you work that into your day-to-day life?

Self-care to me is giving yourself exactly what you need, especially when you don’t have the time to. That’s true self-care. Because it’s really easy to say, “Oh, I’m off today, I’m going to go to the spa and get a massage or do all the things, because I need self-care.” To me, the moment where your neck is just above water — that’s the true moment for self-care because that is true self-care, telling everybody else it can wait because you need to focus on yourself.

My self-care ritual is doing nothing and I think that when you do nothing it’s this thing that we have to apologize for — like, “Ah, dang it, I didn’t get anything done today.” But for me, true self-care means I’m just doing nothing and allowing myself the space to do so and not feel guilty about it. I can see the water from my view [at home], and self-care is just lighting a candle, putting on really good music and watching the water, or giving my dog extra cuddle time. Self-care is living in a space where a clock does not exist. Time no longer exists, and I can just be.

How do you stay motivated as the pandemic stretches on? And how do you, as a fitness professional, motivate others?

Funnily enough, I think I’ve flip-flopped from most people. So when the pandemic started, I was in a rut, and now I’m like [lets out an operatic trill]. So I flipped a little bit. I spoke a moment ago about when you’re living in purpose and on purpose, there’s that tingly thing. When I’m motivating people to show up as their best self, that’s when I feel most in purpose. That’s when I feel most in alignment and most in my power. There’s just not a formula for it. I think it’s just why I’m here, why I was put on this earth to do. Sometimes I’ll say something, whether it’s on my Instagram series, S.P.E.A.K., or in a class, and afterwards I watch the tape and I’m like, “I said that?” It’s not a formula. “Oh, I’m going to motivate this person at 12 minutes into a class, I’m going to say this really awesome thing that’s gonna hit.” When I allow myself to let go and trust, it just comes. I think it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

On your Instagram page you have the quote, “Don’t shrink yourself to fit into small spaces.” What does that mean to you?

I think oftentimes we level down to match the energy in the room. I have a very bright personality; I’m a very joyful person. And there were times in my life [where] I would shrink myself, or I would minimize my joy, my exuberant personality, to match everyone else in the room. Don’t change who you are to be whatever everybody else is doing ... Find a different room if that doesn’t room doesn’t fit. And the truth is, other people will see that in you, that whatever — I’ll call it joy for me — people see that and feed off of that energy. So rather than bringing myself down to their energy, I am myself in full force and perhaps they’ll grab on to a little bit of that and they’ll come to my energy.

The Peloton instructor says meeting a goal is all about finding your "why." (Photo: Peloton)
The Peloton instructor says meeting a goal is all about finding your "why." (Photo: Peloton)

You’ve got so much going on professionally, between Peloton, S.P.E.A.K., modeling and other projects. How do resist the urge to always be doing something for work, and just take time for yourself?

That’s a really great question, and I’m learning. Living in this work-from-home world, boundaries are no longer boundaries, and so one job, one task fades into the next. But I have a really good community and support of friends around me who can tell me when I’m running near zero and say, “Hey, girl, stop.” So I’d say that that plays a big factor in it.

And I got a really great piece of advice. I’ve been a makeup artist for 16 years, and that’s what I did in my past world. There was a day I was at the office, and I think I was supposed to have left at 6 and it’s 9 o’clock, and my VP walks in and she’s like, “Tunde, what are you still doing here?” I was like, “Oh, I was going to do this and then I was going to do this and do this” ... And she was like, “OK, but after you do all those things will you be done? Will there be no emails? Will there be nothing else that you can do?” And I’m like, “No, well, I still need to do dah-dah-dah.” She’s like, “Tunde, the to-do list will never be complete so you might as well just go home.” There’s always going to be something else, there’s always going to be other things that you can do, so if you’re going to give yourself a boundary and say, 6 o’clock is my line, then 6 o’clock is my line — because if you stretch it, you’re still not complete. All of that to say, create a boundary and then respect it.

What brings you joy?

Life ... To me joy is laughing with friends, eating really, really, really good food. Staring at the water. Looking at the flames of a candle burn. Any and all moments that require you to be so fully present, because I think when I’m most fully present I’m able to feel — joy, pain, happiness, loss, whatever. There are times that I’ve cried and crying is just, real. For example, I watch the show This is Us. I love that show and I cry, and it feels so cathartic. It’s just so good. Even though I’m crying, I feel joy in the fact that I am human and I’m able to feel the pain. That’s joy.

You mentioned putting on music as a way of unwinding. Any particular songs you turn to?

When I’m on a photo shoot the song that I’ll play over and over again on repeat is Beyoncé “Brown Skin Girl.” Oh my God. That song is just so beautiful. It is such a beautiful love letter to brown-skinned women. That song makes me feel so alive and so in my queen-ness and power-ness. So when I’m on a photo shoot I ask them to put that on repeat and it just makes me confident and feel good. And there’s an artist, Kaytranada, that I’m loving right now.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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