Celebrate bike month with Kelli Refer, author of “Pedal, Stretch, Breathe: The Yoga of Bicycling,” on Saturday, June 18th, 11am-12:30pm. The event will include a bike ride on the beautiful Elliot Bay Trail, the chance to stretch — no yoga experience required, and to eat some delicious baked goods from Nielson’s Pastries in Lower Queen Anne.
We are very fortunate to have Kelli as a boardmember at The Urbanist, where she lends us insights from her experience as a bike advocate, former legislative aid for Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, and current Advocacy and Communications Director at Move Redmond. In the lead up to the 21st, she graciously answered my questions about the experience of writing her book and what she wants readers to know about her upcoming event.
1. What inspired you to write “Pedal, Stretch, Breathe”?
When I first moved to Seattle in 2009, I was teaching yoga and working all over the city. I was riding my bike from class to class and I started thinking about specific yoga asanas, Sanskrit for poses, that really support people who bike. I also believe that biking and yoga are two practices that compliment each other. Yoga is this practice of connecting your mind, body, and breath. I find biking does the same thing. I am present and feel deeply connected to my body and breath as I pedal through the city. “Pedal, Stretch, Breathe” started out as a small zine and grew into a full book a few years later.
2. What did you learn during the process of writing your book?
During the writing practice, I was very dedicated to my yoga practice and dove deep into human anatomy and yogic philosophy. I wanted to make a book that was accessible for people who were new to either yoga or bicycling. “Pedal, Stretch, Breathe” takes the practice of yoga out of the studio and incorporates it into daily life. I want to encourage people to be mindful before they head out on a bike ride and take just a few minutes to check in with their bodies and their breath. I offer suggestions of how to stretch at a stop light with poses like the turn around twist, which is great at long lights like the one at 9th Avenue and Mercer Street. You can take a moment to check in with your body and be really aware of the world around you.
3. How did your experience as a biking advocate inform your book?
Most people who teach yoga teach at multiple places — that was definitely true for me. I also always had at least one part time job in addition to teaching (because Seattle is expensive). So I was biking literally all over the city and sometimes throwing my bike on a bus to teach a class or workshop across the region. I remember someone told me I was brave for biking around, and it really struck me that you shouldn’t have to be brave to bike for transportation. When you bike as your main form of getting around you are basically forced into bicycle advocacy because you know things need to be better. In 2013, I started working part time doing outreach for Cascade and from there really shifted my focus from teaching yoga to working transportation issues. Yoga is still a very important practice in my life, and I am thankful for its continued teachings.
4. What are you hoping readers will take away from reading your book?
I want people to have practical options for simple yoga poses that they can do on the go, using their bicycle. When you bike a lot, it is really important to stretch your legs and hips. I want people to know you don’t need to roll out a mat or have a set space to incorporate yoga practices and philosophy into your daily life.
I also want people to celebrate the connection to yourself and to where you live that comes with biking for transportation. I am more aware of the changing seasons, the steepness of the hill and my own strength and power when I bike. I think that is amazing.
Finally, I wanted to stress that yoga is not just about stretching of having a certain flexibility, that it really is a whole spiritual practice that can be incorporated into people’s lives.
SUSANNA BARKATAKI, AUTHOR OF EMBRACE YOGA’S ROOTS
“Yoga is a way of life based on consciously choosing our actions, attitudes and habits. It’s about living in congruence with the ethics, philosophy, and moral values of peace — inner peace, and outer peace.”
5. Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about your book and/or the upcoming event on the 21st?
The Pedal, Stretch, Pastries event is really accessible for people who have not biked or practiced yoga before. The ride will be really short, only two miles, and all but one block of the ride will be on protected bike lane or trail. We will do yoga poses using our bikes as props, so these are poses you can do right before you ride or right after. Then we will enjoy delicious pastries and coffee! If you haven’t had a snitter from Nielsen’s pastries, you have to try one!
Natalie Bicknell Argerious (she/her) is Managing Editor at The Urbanist. A passionate urban explorer since childhood, she loves learning how to make cities more inclusive, vibrant, and environmentally resilient. You can often find her wandering around Seattle's Central District and Capitol Hill with her dogs and cat. Email her at natalie [at] theurbanist [dot] org.