Saturday, May 10, 2014

The final numbers / endings + beginnings


~5 miles to Miami Amtrak station
~25 hour train ride to Philadelphia

You know that feeling of resistance that comes when pulling a Bandaid off of a fresh wound? Or that feeling of unexpectancy and anticipation that comes at the height of a rollercoaster before it descends? Or that feeling of uneasiness and stomach churning when going outside of your comfort zone?

All of these allude to how I was feeling on the day I left my home in Philly for this bicycle tour but, still, words can't suffice in place of honest feeling. I had no idea what I was doing. I was sick with fear.

I had spent the entire last year planning-- mapping the route, contacting organizations and facilities, emailing, having phone conferences, lesson planning and designing, fundraising, et cetera. 

But we had a rough winter in Philly, and one thing I didn't do was train (physically). I was accustomed to riding my bike everywhere in Philly-- it was my mode of transportation, my livelihood-- but I was not a cyclist. I didn't know how to use the gears on the new bicycle. I'd worn the clipless shoes once riding through Philly and fell over flat on the ground because I couldn't clip out in time. 

Could I do this? I really had no idea. 

My friends sent me off with a huge, delicious breakfast and a lot of love, and when I left Philly for Wilmington-- the first stop of tour-- I circled around for awhile feeling lost even though I knew exactly where I was.

I biked to Wilmington as fast as I could, I think because I needed it all to feel real. And because the weather was still freezing cold.

In fact, during the first few weeks of tour (up until mid-North Carolina), it was cold. It snowed twice. Rained often. I couldn't feel my toes because my riding shoes were a breathable mesh material. I was still getting acclimated with clipping the shoes out of the pedals in time, and I fell over twice (in Maryland and D.C.) in my failed attempts at doing so.

I can't recall how many times I truly wanted to give up, because I lost count.

In the beginning, I'd feel so sore after a long day of riding that I couldn't imagine doing it all over again the next morning. Yet somehow I'd wake up the next day and go for it anyhow.

Often, my mantra during my morning meditation would be "I don't know." Because I didn't. But I was quickly becoming okay with this not-knowing, gaining more trust in this learning curve and myself. I was committed to surrendering. Not giving in, but surrendering. There is a difference.

Just as how there is a difference between pain and suffering. And there is a difference between wearing our "story" as a badge of honor or allowing our "story" to be a rite of passage. And there is a difference between taking shallow breaths and breathing mindfully.

I packed my bags again each morning, feeling teased by the shorts and short-sleeve shirts that were wrinkled at the bottom of my bag, and I'd layer up and head back out into the cold, feeling somewhat burdened by my bicycle.

This feeling of burden soon turned into a oneness with my bicycle;  a feeling of being inseparable. And, as I traveled further south, it became warmer, and I sent my winter jacket, hat, scarf and gloves back home to Philadelphia. 

And things became lighter, literally and figuratively. I was now literally biking with less weight, and I could also feel my darkness turn into light as I eased and dove into this not-knowing.

Truth is, I love riding a bicycle. It is cathartic. I would even go on 'recreational' rides sometimes after riding all day to the next town. That was never the most challenging part of the journey. The challenge was mostly mental and emotional. But challenge is growth.

Over the course of this journey, I was blessed to have met the amazing people that I did, both on the yoga mat and off. I was truly taken care of. 

Now, at the end of this journey, as I prepare to break down my bicycle and take it on to a train back home to Philadelphia, I have just one question for you: how can you bring more yoga to your life and to the lives of others, off of the mat?

And for the final numbers from the ProjectSPACE tour:

~ 1603 miles
~ 486 students
   56 days  
   29 classes
   22 facilities
   17 cities
   3 falls
   2 flat tires
   2 snowfalls
   1 injury
   1 year planning
   countless stories
   endless gratitude

ProjectSPACE --> transforming 'unconventional' spaces into yoga studios; mindfulness to the streets

So, this is the end
the beginning I should say
though unsure of what








Route planning:

Finally it's warm:


Final destination:


Friday, May 9, 2014

Yoga Gangsters

~10 miles to class in Miami

Yesterday's class was with youth from Girl Power Rocks, in conjunction with the lovely Naya from Yoga Gangsters. ~5 students.

''Yoga Gangsters empowers youth by addressing the symptoms of trauma and poverty such as limited education, addiction, violence, incarceration, teen pregnancy, HIV, and more through the practice of yoga.''

Last year, Yoga Gangsters came to Philadelphia to do a trauma-informed outreach certification. It was a super inspiring training, and I was thrilled to be able to link up with them during my stay in Miami, and join in one of their already existing programs on my last day of tour.

The next Yoga Gangsters training in the Philadelphia area is in September 2014; I recommend signing up! Whether you are a yoga teacher or not, it is very good knowledge and super inspiring.

Thank you to Terri Cooper, Todd Space, Jodi Weiner, Claire Santos, Naya, Connie, and Linda for all of your help in my stay in Miami!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Something opens our wings


~30 miles to class in Plantation
~30 miles to Miami
~18 miles to class in Miami

Yesterday was the day I was biking to Miami, but I'd be stopping first-- about halfway-- for a class in Plantation.

I left as the sun had risen, feeling so motivated for the final stretch of this journey. The ride from Boca Raton to Plantation to Miami would be a straight shot down 441/SR 7.

I arrived to plantation to co-teach with Yoga Gangster's volunteers Connie and Linda.

Class was with youth at FLITE Transition Center. ~6 students, ages 13-18

After class, I told the group some of what I was doing, and one teen said, "I once did something like that. I ran from Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton."

We were amazed by the distance and his ability and because he said he had done it for a girl.

He, realizing we were probably confusing the girl for a girlfriend, said, "Oh, it's not like that. She was suicidal and going to kill herself, and I just couldn't let that happen."

So he ran to her. Without water. And ran back.

I often feel inspired by my students and the connections I make, but this particular person/story I don't think Ill ever forget.

So I returned to 441/SR 7 to finish the last 30 miles to Miami. There are not many roads going South to Miami; it's either take 441 or Route 1.

Neither have a bike lane or a shoulder.

If in any previous blog post I mentioned the ride/road being treacherous... scratch that. This was the most dangerous ride yet. By far.

I went through several mile-long stretches of just walking with the bike because it was safer. I kept thinking about the kid who ran from Ft. Lauderdale to Boca; his determination, his (inner + outer) strength, his selflessness.

Humans are capable of anything, and I brought his energy with me the rest of the way to Miami. Riding. Walking. Riding. Walking. 

And when I arrived to Miami, I sat beside the bay overlooking the Miami skyline, laying on my back with tears in my eyes recapping the hundreds of humans I was blessed to have met on this journey and thinking about how many times I wanted to give up, but I didn't.

Like Rumi says, "Something opens our wings. Something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us. We taste only sacredness."

Something. But when we use logic or a name for that thing, we miss the totality of what we're trying to reach.

Today, classes were with youth from Urgent INC in Miami. Two classes ~17 students each.

Class was in a section of Miami called Overtown. In the hood. A staff member at the facility told me their building was the first new building built in Overtown in 40 years. Afterwards I had to bike by million-dollar and billion-dollar condos/homes to get back to the place where I'm staying. Oprah has a home on one of those islands.

I'm currently sitting on a balcony beside the bay overlooking downtown Miami miles away, visualizing my body moving in between the spaces of the buildings, all of the stories that have been told and all of the stories that are still waiting to be told.

Something opens our wings.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Life is a dance; successive approximations

Tuesday 5/6/14

~to Boca Raton
~to Plantation
~to Miami

52 days ago I left my home in Philadelphia on a bicycle. I had done this many times before, but this particular time was different. This time, with my belongings packed into two pannier bags, I'd be gone for nearly two months. And I'd be riding all the way to Miami, Florida.

"I'm not riding to Miami," I'd repeat to myself, especially on the morning of departure. "I'm not riding to Miami."

Though a technique to keep myself calm and present, it was true. I was never biking to Miami. It was never about getting to Miami.

The reason the saying "It's the journey, not the destination" is so accurate is because we never set out to just arrive at the end, or to just arrive at some future point.

Life is like a dance, or a song. We never set out to reach the end of a song; otherwise, the goal would be to see who could play the fastest, and our most talented musicians would be the ones who brought us to the end of a song as quickly as possible.

Like our recoveries...we don't just arrive at having 10 years clean. We start with one. There is only ever that one. And we keep coming back.

Imagine if I was leaving to bike from Philadelphia to Miami on March 16th. What a feat that would be! How overwhelming that would be!

But I was never biking to Miami. I was biking to Wilmington. I was biking to Forest Hill. I was biking to Baltimore. (et cetera)

But today, after 52 days and 1600 miles of successive approximations, I am biking to Miami. From Boca Raton; a much shorter distance than from Philadelphia.

I am stopping first in Plantation for a class with youth at FLITE Transition Center alongside volunteers from Yoga Gangsters, an incredible non-profit organization based in Miami who regularly provides yoga programming to youth-in-crisis and at-risk populations.

I will be in Miami the rest of the week doing different classes, and I will return to Philadelphia on May 11th. via train.

But, in the meantime, today.... I am biking to Miami.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Verily, with every difficulty there is relief

~22 miles to Melbourne
~60 miles to Vero Beach
~10 miles to class at Hibiscus Children's Center

I packed my bags in the morning, per usual, as I prepared to head back to the coast towards Melbourne. An inner tube fell out of my bag as I was packing (I've been carrying around several extra just in case). I found this strange because they've been sitting all the way at the bottom of my bag untouched. In fact, I was beginning to feel cocky and confident about how I only had one flat tire all trip, about a month prior in Washington D.C.

I was back on the coast with the Atlantic, riding Scenic Route A1A. When I was crossing a bridge to return to the mainland from the intercoastal, a sharp nail pierced my tire, leaving me with a flat on the busy bridge. Florida is nice in that the only hills are bridges, but oftentimes the bridges are 2-3 miles long as you cross the different rivers.

I knew I couldn't fix the flat on the bridge-- there wasn't even a true bike path-- so I decided I'd walk with the bike the rest of the way over the bridge until I reached land, another 1-1.5 miles from where I was.

In what strange way was I being prepared for this earlier that morning in Apopka?

I walked cautiously with the bike as I crossed the bridge, having decided I'd choose a nice location to fix the flat, now that I was allotted that opportunity. It is actually enjoyable for me to fix flats and to fix the bike; I like to be informed of the mechanics of this beast of a machine that is my loyal companion in this 1600-mile journey. Neither of us have been on a bike tour prior to this trip.

I arrived to Melbourne, where I'd only be resting for the night before continuing the next morning to Vero Beach. When I awoke in the morning I had every intention of leaving before the sun arrived. But I still didn't make it on the road until 8 AM. It takes me time to gather my belongings (and myself) each morning.

The ride to Vero Beach was some of the most difficult biking weather as of yet. Painfully and dangerously hot, and I fought heat exhaustion and feelings of faint all day. I took my time, stopping often for water.

As I crossed bridges and rivers to different inlets, I'd sometimes go through stretches without seeing a gas station or store for awhile. And when you're drinking 3 water bottles every hour in this heat, that becomes frightening and dangerous. 

I'd pass through more affluent areas, feeling almost joyed to see water fountains wasting water on people's lawns. I'd hop off my bike and douse myself beneath their fountain, a fraction of me wondering whether they'd look outside their window and notice this crazy girl in spandex and a bandana showering herself in their fountain, the majority of me being too overheated and destroyed to care.

I continued onwards, hoping to soon find a place to restock on water and hide from the sun. I haven't seem too many cyclists out-- probably because of how hot/humid it is-- but I saw a woman standing on the side of the road beside her bicycle. I decided to ride to her to make sure she was alright; I hoped maybe she'd know how far the next store/gas station was, too. 

It turns out that her and her husband were riding together but had gotten separated and now she was semi-stranded there waiting for him to return. I asked her if she knew where the next gas station was, and she was unsure but guessed that maybe 5-6 miles up the road (south); I hadn't seen one north of where I was in well over an hour. I had only sips of water left, and I felt panicked. 

She then remembered that there was a fountain by where we were-- the kind that you shower yourself with after having been in the sand/ocean. I was relieved. I biked over to the fountain, hopped off and stood under the steady stream of lukewarm water until I was soaked and could feel my core temperature decreasing. And I filled up my water bottles, the taste of (my own) salt the dominating flavor in my mouth.

I continued on, temporarily cooled, hoping soon to reach my destination.

When I arrived, I napped and restored, feeling so discouraged about how I'd continue the rest of the way to Miami, despite how far I've come and how little I had left to go.

Class the next day was with youth and staff from Hibiscus Children's Center in Vero Beach. ~8 students, teens and adults.

We had fun. I love and am grateful for the connections I am able to make on this journey. Challenging and filled with growth.

I am currently still in Vero Beach waiting for this bad storm to pass, heading further south to Boca Raton tomorrow morning.

There is a passage in the Qur'an that says, "Verily, with every difficulty there is relief."

Retract and return

~62 miles to Apopka
~20 miles to class in Orlando

The weather is getting hotter these days, and I am slowly realizing that I need to depart earlier in the morning. 

I usually wake up between 5:30-6:00, practice yoga/meditation, eat breakfast, digest, gather my belongings, then leave. So, by the time I'm on the road, it's already 8:00 AM, sometimes later. And that doesn't cut it with the scorching sun.

When I left Daytona Beach, it was nearly 9 AM, and I'd be headed southwest towards Apopka/Orlando. I'd be leaving my Atlantic companion for a few days; we have been getting to know one another quite well. There is much to learn from the natural rhythm of the ocean and the way in which it selflessly returns to the shore no matter how many times it is turned away. It retracts and returns. Contracts and expands. 

Like the breath.

The distance between 'home' in Daytona and 'home' in Apopka was 62 miles, a much shorter distance in comparison to previous rides. But leaving the shore and heading further south meant one thing: it would be hotter and more humid.

I paced myself, trying to bring the Buddha on the bike, stopping often for water. It seemed that no matter how much water I drank, the amount I was burning off mixed with the intensity of the sun, was truly exhausting me.

I eventually stopped for a good while to rehydrate and sit out the migraine I had, now only 10 miles away from 'home' in Apopka. 

When I arrived, I was glad. I'd be spending several nights there with a lovely family (Terry, Dave, Anna), and I looked forward to the upcoming classes.

Classes in Orlando were with youth from the Boys and Girls Club at John H Jackson Community Center. Two classes, about 20-25 students each, ages 7-15.

Earlier in the day I received my usual "You're going to Carter Street?" and "You're going to Parramore (neighborhood)?" Followed by, "Be careful."

Stopping in Apopka/Orlando for a few days was exactly what I needed to recharge with good company and good food. Each moment prepares me for the next, in ways that are not always obvious to me at the time.

I looked forward to returning to my Atlantic companion for lessons in expansion and growth, retracting and returning. 

The most natural of all rhythms.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Regardless of circumstances


~52 miles to Daytona Beach
~20 miles to class at STAR Family Shelter

In 42 days I have seen and been in many situations, and with each one and with each new road traveled, I can honestly say "I have never been here before."

I've been in a motel, in a Penthouse suite, in my own bedroom with a piano, on the couch in someone's living room beside the TV, on the wooden floor with no covers, in towns with no development, in towns that have been overdeveloped, through country roads with no sounds permeating but my own breath, through fatally busy roads with exhaust and chaos, in city streets with prostitution and heroin, in beach towns with Yacht clubs and an endless Atlantic, in towns stamped with labels 'organic' and 'healthy,' in towns where the only thing to eat is gas station "food" and Burger King, in homes with tension and fighting, in homes with calmness and compassion, through stretches where no one has yet seen a cyclist traveling, through stretches where it's common to see cyclists passing.

And though my situation be new and the roads unfamiliar, there is one thing I am certain: circumstance influences one's experience.

Obviously the goal is to learn to live like a lotus flower; at ease in the muddy waters it lives in, rising above the manifestations and challenges of the material world. But it is much easier to practice patience from a cave. And it is much easier to practice yoga and meditation (these things are not separate) when conditions are in our favor.

So, in 42 days my conditions have changed countless times. My path is now mainly Scenic Route A1A. There is usually a bike lane. The Atlantic is usually my left-wing companion. Sometimes there are snakes in the bike lane. Often there is a roadkill assortment of armadillo, possum and birds.

Throughout this journey, I've watched my practice of yoga and meditation (these things are not separate) shift between physical, subtle, mental, emotional and, at times, non-existent or dormant.

When I have space to claim and my environment is calm, it is easy to feel inspired to practice. When I am sleeping on the floor and there is fighting in the living room, I forget to breathe. Like I don't know how.

It is challenging.

I think it has been important for me to witness my fluctuating environment and the way in which it informs my practice for similar reasons as to why I always purposefully wear jeans to the classes I am teaching: to be informed of what it is like to move and breathe from the perspective of an individual who doesn't always have conditions in their favor.

Class in Daytona Beach was with youth from STAR Family Shelter. ~5 students, ages 4-10

Sometimes when I'm chatting with locals, they say, "You're going to ______ Street?" or "You're going to ______ neighborhood?" I nod, uninformed, and they say, "Be careful." 

I suppose part of the blessing of being uninformed is I don't hold a bias of where I'm going.

So I ride my bike to class an extra 10 miles from where I'm staying in Daytona Beach, and of course I see where their hesitations and concerns derive from. There are police cars/sirens zipping down streets, people high on street corners, abandoned buildings everywhere. Already there is a vibe of tension in the air, and I havent even gotten to the class. 

I arrive to STAR Family Shelter and the same vibe is present. Yelling, screaming, tension. And that's where we start.

When people ask me my teaching style, I don't know how to answer because the way I teach is conditional upon the way a person learns. And everybody learns differently.

My challenge moving forward is to notice the different ways in which I "check out." When is my practice strong? When is my practice non-existent?

If I can correct the modality of my mind, I can correct the modality of my body (and vice versa).

And, regardless of circumstances, I can expand my practice of yoga and meditation (these things are not separate).

My two yoga studios for the day