A year ago Tamika Caston-Miller was on a trip to the Andes when she began to seriously reevaluate her life in Houston.
“Why do people have to go? Why do people travel? ”She wondered.
For Caston-Miller it was about finding a way out into nature. She wondered, “Can I do this in Houston?”
She also thought about the city’s lifestyle, the hustle and bustle – and how many Houstonians are separated from nature, often without community or without knowledge of their neighbors.
“We’re not supposed to be alone,” she said.
Then Caston-Miller began to think of a solution. She dreamed of a garden room where adults could dig in the dirt and watch plants grow; Here school children could go on excursions and get to know nature first hand.
As the founder of Houston’s Ashé Yoga, Caston-Miller also envisioned restorative yoga near the garden. Since her wife Lenie Caston-Miller is a sculptor, there would also be a place for art.
“It would be a whole space for a healthy community,” said Tamika Caston-Miller.
She and Lenie were still in Peru when they looked for a piece of land on which this vision could take root.
At the time, they lived a few miles north of downtown. “Let’s get our house on the market and see what’s out there,” thought Caston-Miller. “We need a place where we can live and create this space.”
The couple designed it and decided it would take them at least 2 acres.
“When we find a property that fits what we’re looking for, we take that as a sign that we should move forward,” thought Caston-Miller, who has worked as a school teacher and yoga teacher for about a year. She started her own yoga practice a year ago.
Despite feeling the urge to do more in her yoga business, leaving the security of a day job behind was daunting. But after the trip to the Andes, Caston-Miller made a leap in confidence.
At the end of the school year her new life began as a “solo preneur”.
First Caston-Miller had to find the place – inside the Beltway. After a few unsuccessful attempts, she found an ideal location south of Sunnyside, 10 minutes from the University of Houston.
“It was exactly what we were looking for and I was so surprised,” she said. “I didn’t think there was anything like that in town.”
Caston-Miller closed the property in January – and named it “The Ranch Houston”.
“It’s old ranch land,” she explained. “Everyone has horses. There were cattle on the property. In essence, it looked like a ranch. “
The couple planned to convert the house into a habitable space and an urban homestead, but then COVID-19 hit two weeks after the renovation began.
“We moved from what we couldn’t do to what is possible now,” said Caston-Miller. “And what was possible was to sow the garden and till the land.”
Another option was to teach yoga outside. So she started sending out invitations for private lessons. In June she started offering yoga classes. First the meetings were on the front lawn. Then she built a 1,000 square meter covered pavilion.
Caston-Miller noted that the students were grateful to have this option. For some people, going back to a yoga studio was not attractive. “But what was comfortable was practicing outdoors, socially distant,” said Caston-Miller.
Since Ranch Houston was built during the coronavirus pandemic, establishing safety protocols was part of the blueprint.
“Because of COVID-19, we had to slow down and think everything through,” said Caston-Miller. “We had to take all risks into account. Everything had to be done on purpose. “
She believes that attention to detail will pave the way to success in the long run. “This is not the only time that disease will occur. We can build security into our design, ”she said.
The pandemic also amplified what Caston-Miller recognized in the Andes – the need for health and wellbeing, the importance of stress relief and the outdoors.
“I want people to see this as a home – not just for yoga, but for total wellbeing,” said Caston-Miller.
Customers can wander the garden watching a plant they started as a seed growth before settling on the lawn for a yoga class.
Caston-Miller said being close to nature is therapeutic – especially in the midst of uncertain time and heightened fear.
“No matter how difficult life is, growth is still happening,” she said. “Life still happens. We just lean in and change with life. “
Caston Miller’s yoga community consisted of residents of Heights and Uptown prior to COVID-19. Now they are hiking a little further south to the ranch.
“It’s right on the Beltway, but when you get there, am I in Houston? It’s an acre of land, ”said Heights-based Crystal Sellers, who was one of the first to visit the property. “It was really great to have this experience.”
Sellers has practiced yoga with Caston-Miller for years and was drawn to the instructor for her approach which was more focused on the philosophy of the practice.
When Caston-Miller went online during the lockdown, sellers signed up. Still, she missed being in the church. When Caston-Miller mentioned The Ranch, Sellers took the option.
“It literally gave me a moment to escape,” said Sellers. “You drive for 20 minutes and it feels like you are in another world. It is wonderful.”
She remembers taking off her shoes on that first trip and running into the grass. “It was so grounded,” she said. “The ranch only offers this pleasant rest.”
Caston-Miller was also a source of comfort, added Sellers.
“It’s a combination of who she is, how welcoming and caring she is, being able to connect with her, being outside and continuing that practice,” Sellers said. “The icing on the cake of the whole experience is Tamika and her wife as they decided to show up for everyone who shows up here.”
When the weather gets cooler, Caston-Miller plans to continue classes outside with only heaters. She continues to offer online courses. Finally, Caston-Miller plans retreats at the ranch, as well as events like yoga and arts festivals, workshops, and teacher training.
She has already offered virtual excursions for children – and hopes that after the pandemic, the students can come in person to learn about sustainability, gardening and nutrition.
Looking back on the past year, Caston-Miller reflects on her original vision, the progress she has made, and how she now offers an oasis amid the pandemic.
“I think I did a pretty good job,” she said with a laugh. “You don’t have to take a flight to get away from it all. Just Come over. “
Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.