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Mhai Yoga | © Elie Dahdouh
Mhai Yoga | © Elie Dahdouh
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Yogis Share Their Surprising Impressions of Cuba

Picture of Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor
Updated: 1 March 2018
Cuba is quite unlike anywhere else—an island apart from the rest of the world, where internet access is hard to come by, vintage cars spew dark plumes of exhaust, and you’re never far from a reggaeton dance party.

The very specific circumstances of communism have shaped the Cuban people in ways big and small, giving them philosophies and values that align, in unexpected ways, with the philosophies and values of yoga. Here, five yogis just back from a week at Havana retreat center, Mhai Yoga, explain the surprising and beautiful ways the country struck them.

Namita Kulkarni | © Elie Dahdouh
Namita Kulkarni | © Elie Dahdouh

For an incorrigible planner like me, Cuba has been a lesson in going with the flow. A few days into Havana I noticed that the type A side to me had no place in this culture. Sure, it’s necessary to plan things in advance, but anytime I was too keen on my plans I would somehow hit a wall. And when I went with what I felt in the moment, things would unfold better than I expected. Better than I could’ve mapped out. I suppose it’s a lot like dancing, which we all know Cubans are big on. Listening and responding to the flow of the music makes the dance come alive, rather than sticking to a pre-planned routine with no room for spontaneity. So know your steps, but let the music take you beyond the steps. The most unforgettable dances are the ones you couldn’t have planned.

Namita Kulkarni, yoga teacher and blogger at Radically Ever After

Shelley Lowther | © Elie Dahdouh
Shelley Lowther | © Elie Dahdouh

Want to know the secret to happiness? The Cuban people have it all figured out. Yoga is EVERYWHERE in Cuba, even if not in asana form. The Cuban people have perfected the practice of aparigraha, or non-attachment. While I have always intellectually understood this Yama (spiritual practice from the eight limbs of yoga), I finally understand it in my heart. The Cuban people know that material things can disappear at any time. With the embargo, material items like toilet paper could go missing for months. Food can be scarce. If something breaks and you can’t fix it, you can’t always replace it, even if you have the money to do so. Nothing is permanent. So how is that the secret to happiness? In Cuba, life is for LIVING. Music and dancing are rampant. Smiling is contagious. Life is happening NOW… not in the future, and certainly not in the past. The Cuban people live their passions. They have learned to separate their spirit from the material world, and in this practice of aparigraha, they have achieved one of the highest goals of yoga—bliss.

Julie Ann Dokowicz | © Elie Dahdouh
Julie Ann Dokowicz | © Elie Dahdouh

Part of what makes Cuba so enchanting is the people. They don’t let their tumultuous history dim their light or take away their never-ending smiles. Cubans have constantly had things taken away from them and as a result they’ve learned not to be attached to material possessions. However, what they do have are three important liberties: art, dance, and love. What stands out among the Cuban people is their strong sense of community and how willing they are to help one another despite all living the same struggle. I was immediately drawn in by their radiant energy, open hearts, and passion for life and love. They connect to one another through touch and dance. The salsa clubs are a wonderful display of how music moves through their bodies. They don’t “learn” how to salsa; they are born into the dance style. They celebrate art by decorating the Havana walls and setting up galleries while music is played on most corners. They even proclaim that they “live the passions differently.” My own passion was reignited by my travels through Cuba and I learned from a few Cubans that the best way to go through life is to love hard, almost blindly.

Julie Ann Dokowicz, blogger at Girl In Heels Travels

Sapna Dalal | © Elie Dahdouh
Sapna Dalal | © Elie Dahdouh

Prior to visiting Cuba, I was told the vegetarian food was not good. I was a little nervous about this, so I arrived with an arsenal of snacks, betting on the fact that I would be hungry and not able to find much to eat. Wow, was I proven wrong! Cuba has a plethora of great vegetarian options like black beans and rice, taro root with garlic sauce, tostones, plantain chips, and so many fresh, organic fruits and vegetables (chemical pesticides and fertilizers are illegal here). You made need to scope out the options, but you can always find something. Don’t let being vegetarian deter you from visiting Cuba; you will not go hungry, I promise.

Loren Lotus | © Elie Dahdouh
Loren Lotus | © Elie Dahdouh

No es fácil, pero tampoco es difícil. That was my favorite saying from Cuba. “It’s not easy, but it’s not that hard either.” Of course, every day will give us challenges that we must learn to accept. But look on the bright side of what is working and what is beautiful around us. This life is a gift, and usually always worth it.

Loren Lotus, yoga teacher and owner of Lotus Retreats