Most people are still asleep when Steve Procknal and Jason Jerome lead a determined group through the fitness paces Wednesday mornings in and around Delaware Park.
As many as several hundred people gather on the back steps of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery at 6 a.m. and take off – at 6:10 sharp – for 40 minutes of calisthenics and jogging.
"The November Project is about free fitness but it's also about meeting friends," said Steve Procknal, a yoga instructor who lives in the Elmwood Village. "It's about community. It's about connecting with one another. It's about inclusivity. It's way more than just a workout."
Those who'd like a later morning taste of November Project Buffalo will have a chance at 10 a.m. on March 11, when the two co-leaders take participants on a "Harry Potter-style" fitness adventure on the grounds of the Hotel Henry to kick off the HEAL Bflo yoga festival.
The project started in 2011 in Boston, Mass., when two rowers wanted to hold each other accountable throughout the winter months.
Procknal and Jerome – manager of Impact Sports Performance in HarborCenter – pledged the Buffalo group last May. The Buffalo "tribe," one of 44 around the world, officially joined the fold last June. The next closest to the city are in Toronto and New York, though a Syracuse group is working toward membership, Procknal said.
"We thought there was a need for some free fitness in the community," he said. "We had a bunch of different things going on at nighttime in the summer, but there was nothing year round and nothing in the morning."
Accountability is key – year round. Wednesday gatherings have averaged 200 t0 300 during the warmer months, Procknal said, and about 50 to 100 this winter.
"We call ourselves weather-proof because we do it all year round," he said. "We always show up, even in the worst of conditions," which in December included more than one outing in single-digit temperatures.
HEAL Bflo co-founders Cheryl Erbacher and Jocelyn Kowalczyk see the November Project as a perfect complement to their efforts.
"We have a lot of gyms involved this year as well as different yoga studios," said Erbacher, head of the ATTAIN computer and job training lab at the University at Buffalo.
She and Jocelyn Kowalczyk, an events planner who owns a custom jewelry business, launched HEAL Bflo four years ago to help make the regional yoga community part of the regional revitalization. HEAL stands for Health, Energy, Art and Love.
The duo lead free yoga classes Saturday mornings at the Elmwood Village Farmers' Market and monthly, music-themed yoga classes once a month at BikeOrBar cycling center. Erbacher also teaches free classes regularly to students and staff at SUNY Buffalo State, as well those who use Evergreen Health Services, which provides health and wellness opportunities to those with chronic conditions in underserved communities.
HEAL Bflo yoga festivals have been the cornerstone of their work.
Three yoga classes – all in different styles – will follow the November Project workout. More than 60 local businesses related to health, nutrition, fitness, wellness, arts and culture will set up shop in a vendor area open free to the public.
"Being a small business owner, it's important to me that small businesses in this community are being seen and supported, and coming together," Kowalczyk said. "Who knows what can form out of this event."
Procknal is a Power Yoga Buffalo Vinyasa Flow instructor who also teaches at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, the VA Medical Center and schools across the region. He looks forward to the opportunity to share the November Project phenomenon, as well.
The group also has taken gatherings on the road, sledding on Shakespeare Hill near Hoyt Lake, skating at Canalside, and tackling the stairs, aisles and corridors at New Era Field, KeyBank Center and Coca-Cola Field.
Tribe members range in age from 20 into their 60s, though people of any age and fitness ability are welcome. People have come from as far away as Fredonia and Rochester. Western New York natives who live in other November Project cities have participated when they're back in town.
"Watch the YouTube video about the November Project and you'll cry," Erbacher said. "The way it's connected people and brought people out of their comfort zone is really cool."
HEAL BFLO V LINEUP
Where: Hotel Henry, 444 Forest Ave.
When: March 11
10 to 11 a.m.: November Project Buffalo will host an outdoor calisthenic-style workout.
11:15 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.: Candice Cinquino, an instructor with Power Yoga Buffalo, will teach a Power and Grace hot yoga class.
12:30 to 1:30 p.m.: A healthy lunch buffet that to accommodate all dietary needs will be available for an additional charge.
1:45 to 3:30 p.m.: Dan Nevins, a U.S. Army veteran who lost his lower legs during the Iraq War, will give a team-building, motivational talk, followed by a Root to Rise Baptiste Yoga class. A yoga journal and pen will be provided as part of the event and participants will be encouraged to find quiet spaces, including a lululemon sanctuary, to reflect and write.
3:30 to 4:30 p.m.: Sue Zinter, owner of Soma Cura Yoga Studio on Grand Island, will teach a Yin Yoga soft flow restorative class.
Music: "We have amazing musicians playing at each event," HEAL Bflo co-founder Cheryl Erbacher said, including Gabby Arthur of Gldn Girls; John and Molly Hastings acoustic duo; sitar player Naryan Padmanabha; and kirtan chanter and yoga instructor Megan Callahan.
Cost: $65; includes valet parking, all classes, and a swag bag from lululemon. All are welcome to visit a vendor area with more than 60 local businesses related to health, nutrition, fitness, wellness, arts and culture. Active and former military with ID are welcome free. "We want to support the concept of 'Bring a vet to yoga,' HEAL Bflo co-leader Jocelyn Kowalczyk said. Hotel Henry is offering a special overnight rate for those who attend, as well.
Sponsors: lululemon, Northtown Automotive, Explore What's Next
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon