If you spend a day watching 24-hour news channels and scrolling your social media feeds, you may notice that there is an incredible amount of attention spent on highlighting the differences among people. Differences of political ideologies, religious beliefs, income levels, family values, geography, haves and have nots... It's exhausting. But, as human beings, our similarities far outweigh our differences.
It may sound overly simplistic, but we all have a beating heart, a brain that governs our thoughts and actions, and a level of consciousness. We all experience feelings of love and anger, laughter and sadness, joy and grief. The practice of yoga doesn't discriminate. When a person steps onto their mat, they are joining their fellow yogis with breath and movement.
Yoga is not a religion, it is a beautiful philosophy in which the physical movements are only one part. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the faster and more materialist our collective societies become, the more people seek yoga and meditation practices.
I just returned from a beautiful week co-hosting a yoga retreat with Cuban teacher Eduardo Pimentel at the authentically charming Mhai Yoga Retreat Centre outside of Havana, Cuba.
Five countries were represented, ages from 25-71, men and women, couples and solo travelers, beginners to advanced level yogis... These differences did not set any boundaries. Laughter and experiences were shared, connections were made, and we all grew as a result. What a beautiful thing!
Having been to over twenty retreats around the world, I can confidently say that this retreat is unique in its feeling of authentic diversity. Thank you, Cuba!
Mhai Yoga co-founder and yoga teacher, Eduardo (also known as the Godfather of Yoga in Cuba), started his yoga journey in the 1970’s with a couple of yoga books and a deep yearning to learn, grow and practice. Soon, he had a following of others wanting to share in this new discipline. There were no yoga mats (sometimes cardboard boxes were used on the ground), there were certainly no yoga pants, whatever you were wearing was fine. There were no commercial trappings of today’s multi-billion dollar yoga industry. They did yoga just for yoga’s sake. I can’t overemphasize the beauty in this simplicity. You can still feel it today in the retreat experience that Mhai Yoga has created.
Today, Eduardo’s dream of spreading yoga throughout Cuba has become a reality. Not only is yoga part of the Cuban healthcare system, but it is practiced throughout this beautiful island, led by the hundreds of teachers that Eduardo has trained. Did I mention his training program lasts two years? He shares his passion with Mhai Yoga co-founder Christine Dahdouh, who has been responsible for making this retreat experience available for teachers around the globe to bring their students to Cuba.
When I first came to this place, I was a guest and I was in super stress mode – firing on all cylinders. “How can the water not be working for an hour?” “How come there are no hooks in the rooms for large bath towels?” I remember Eduardo approaching this attitude with curiosity, perhaps a little amusement, but never judgment. For a man who had gone through his life without many common luxuries or items, they just didn’t hold power or significance. After a few days, I came back home to myself. I was hooked!
Years later, I returned as a yoga teacher to lead a retreat, and in November 2018, I will return for my sixth time. Every time I am in Eduardo's company, I am in fact in the company of the entire Mhai Yoga team, and I learn and grow as a teacher, student, and perhaps more importantly, as a human being.
When you spend a week without a steady stream of social media messages and news in a place that is not immersed (yet…) in the throes of commercialism, it is easier to relax, be yourself and focus on the good stuff. There are reminders with every conversation, smile, and shared sunrise and sun salutation.
In celebration of all the goodness that unites us, Namaste!
Yoga can help us overcome the social barriers, differences and conflicts that might occur on a daily basis. Go to BookYogaRetreats.com, choose among thousands of yoga retreats worldwide and see for yourself how it unite all practitioners on the mat.