Updated on July 3rd, 2020
“In April 2018, I attended a one week yoga retreat in Cuba. Here is the story of how I spent 7 days of life changing self-discovery at Mhai Yoga Retreat in Havana. But it was not just yoga & included salsa, inspirational women & having my fortune told. This is not your average fitness retreat & I loved it so much, I returned again the following year! “
Mhai Yoga Retreat, Playa Del Este, Havana, Cuba
My friend Kathy at Retreat Insider was running a yoga trip to Cuba in April 2018 & with nothing else in the plan, I decided to join her. You can read the first instalment of why this had such a profound effect on me in Part 1. At Mhai Yoga Cuba they have a word that sums up each day which I have chosen as the structure for these posts. So far in the week, our yoga workshops had taken us on a journey through:
ACCEPT, the unique, frustrating & inspiring beauty of Cuba – read my First Timer’s Guide for more.
CONNECT, with each other, myself & my body
DISCOVER, the interesting combination of power & vulnerability that we all carry &…
BALANCE, which had significantly improved for me having lived on a yacht for the last 3 weeks.
The 2nd part of the Cuba retreat was constantly enhancing all these elements. However in addition, we learnt a lot more about Cuban culture & Cuban people through interacting with some amazing, inspirational & empowering women. The week culminated with a visit from a Fortune Teller. Read on to learn more….
What do you need to know?
Each day at Mhai Yoga Retreat started with an (optional) morning meditation on the beach as the sun rose. This was followed by a class of either yoga or Pop Physique at 7.30am (which you can read more about in Part 1). The rest of the day consisted of activities or free time, before the other class in the late afternoon. Finally, there was the occasional evening activity. This was “interrupted” in the best way possible with meals consisting of very healthy, mainly vegetarian & always delicious food.
Day 5 – GROW
Each session, our amazing yoga teacher Kathy linked to one of the chakras. This morning it was the 5th, Communication:
“May I be able to express my feelings with ease and be balanced between heart and mind.”
Kathy interpreted this as I SPEAK MY TRUTH. She asked us to focus on the truth that we wanted to reinforce. I had spent a few challenging weeks with an individual, living on the boat in US Virgin Islands which had made me start to doubt myself & question my beliefs. With I SPEAK MY TRUTH I decided to go for broke & give myself a mantra for the practice which I needed to try & believe. I chose “I am beautiful”.
From the Yoga & Pop classes so far that week I was feeling stronger by the day & through repeating my mantra for the class, it gave me positivity, confidence & really made me feel I was starting to GROW in so many ways, both physically & spiritually. Not a bad way to start the morning!
That morning we visited a local Organic Farm where much of the food used by the retreat is produced (I won’t dwell too much on how this relates to GROW!). Our guide for the morning was fantastic with a wicked sense of humour. She had told all the men working with her that we were a group of supermodels, so they were not allowed to talk to us! We felt very special as they looked on in awe while we walked around the farm with plastic bags on our feet to keep our shoes clean. Very glamorous!
It was an enlightening experience, helping us to further understand the complexities of life in Cuba. The ingenuity used by the farmers here to work within the constraints they have & create a business which produces a diverse range of products was inspiring. My favourite story was when the Chinese had donated a load of mushrooms (oyster & shitake) to grow, & supply the local restaurants. Once they had produced the first batch they found that nobody wanted them as they didn’t understand how to prepare them.
“The issue was solved by our guide who applied to go on the Cuban version of ‘Masterchef’. She cooked with the mushrooms & in so doing automatically increased the demand for these exotic delicacies. Now they sell their full supply!”
After our Pop session in the afternoon, a local group of guys joined us to teach salsa. If you have read more about my time in Latin America you will know that this isn’t the first time I had tried my hand at dancing. As with every time, I chose to keep my experience to myself & limit the expectations my partner had! It was another fun evening & a way to get a further understanding of what makes yoga in Havana Cuba so magical!
Day 6 – TRUTH
My yoga practice continued to improve through the focus on the 6thchakra, Perception
“May I see and perceive clearly on every level and seek only the truth.”
The TRUTH was I was getting stronger, realising the power of yoga, understanding why & even using the term ‘practice’.
So Much More Than Making Soap!
This morning we were joined by 2 amazing & inspirational ladies who run D’Brujas making organic, handmade soap. In principle, they were there to demonstrate how they made the products & for us to create our own version under their guidance. However again, the experience was so much more than that. Spending time with these beautiful ladies, we learnt about their inspiration, the challenge of creating a business in Cuba (especially as a woman) & how they have faced & overcome the frustrations which were placed in their way. All done with a wicked sense of humour & pride in the fantastic products they produced.
As an example, one of the challenges is getting all the ingredients required for their soaps. What they need is readily available in the USA, but Cuba does not trade with the US or have anywhere to purchase them in their country. To overcome the issue, Sandra (who owns & founded the company) sends money (no doubt cash) to a family member in the USA, who then orders the products required online & has them transported to Cuba by a ‘courier’ who arrives in the country from Florida with suitcases full of products. It is all totally legal but I think highlights the complexities of running a business on this island. Nothing is straightforward or easy.
A Big Night Out
After our evening Pop session & dinner, we then headed for a fun night out in the city. The evening started in Fabrica De Arte Cubano. This is probably the hippest place in Havana, an amazing art gallery, come music venue, come nightclub. We followed it with some salsa at the open-air venue in the Vedado District, Club 1830.
“Finally, as we headed home we had our final treat of the night – being pulled over by the police for having too many people in a taxi! As usual an entertaining night in Havana!”
Day 7 – GRATITUDE
After a bleary-eyed morning watching the sunrise, I meditated on the life-changing experience so far. What would the last day of the retreat bring as we moved into our final Pop Physique session of the week? Pop is based on ballet & barre classes – focussing on small movements which are repeated… a lot. The moves look very minor, but you can feel the effect through the pain caused! I felt like my bum had gone through a lift after just 6 sessions. Unfortunately, it’s only available in a few places in the US & in Toronto, Canada. If you get a chance I would definitely recommend the class, especially if you’ve been thinking of having a bum lift!
The Fortune Teller
The rest of the morning was taken up by our fascinating fortune teller visit with a Santeria Priestess. Santeria (Way of the Saints) is an Afro Caribbean religion which grew out of the slave trade in Cuba. The religion focusses on building relationships between human beings & the spirits, called Orishas.
It turned out we all wanted to hear what life held for us & so with great excitement we started to troop in one by one to visit Maritza. She was the godmother of Alpi, our guide & chaperone at Mhai Yoga. He was there to translate for us all. Being a bit nosey, I sat outside while everyone went in to find out what had been said. It was fascinating!
We all embarked on our readings with a bit scepticism but Maritza didn’t go for an easy life or give us all some generic lines which we could interpret. One of the girls was told that she would have a significant change in her romantic life within the next 30 days. She had been living with her boyfriend for 6 years so, of course, we all jumped to very exciting conclusions on this one. Another was told that she would be having a baby, specifically a son, despite her not currently being in a relationship. I have to report that this hasn’t happened yet as we met up last year to climb Mount Kilimanjaro!
Needless to say, my interest had been piqued when my appointment came up. However, with everything that has happened to me over the last 4 years, I was also prepared for it to be emotional & challenging.
“You need to take care of your circulatory system as you have the potential for experiencing issues. You have a small problem with your health & sometimes difficulty breathing or allergies. The spirits have said that you need some medical assistance for these”
- I have to say I wasn’t expecting this. I do occasionally have problems with breathing, but it’s never been an issue, I don’t have asthma or really any allergies. Not the most encouraging start but it got better….
“You are about to have a change in your romantic life (she felt this very strongly). If you have a partner you will break up, if not, someone will be here for you soon.”
- So, this was interesting! As far as I was concerned I was not in a relationship although I had been seeing someone & we were still friends. I was feeling it was time to start to cut down communication & move on. Cuba & all its connection challenges had been a testbed for me. So I wondered – was this the break-up? Could I count it as a relationship? And if so, was the man still coming for me?
- Interestingly, a week later, on my first night in Antigua, I did meet someone at a party & we did start a relationship, it is still happening … spooky!
“When you go back to your country you need to find a religious person who can give you a spiritual cleanse which will help to improve your health. You have very good protection from the spirit world & she believes this will help you, but you need to tend to the spirits which protect you. Through the spirits you will receive victories.”
- I am not a religious person, so I was a bit disappointed with this one. Or I was until I spoke to the girls & they put a different perspective on things. Who says it needs to be an organised religion? Who says it needs to be a priest or a vicar? What about something like Reiki? This made me more interested, I clearly need to book in my spiritual cleanse…
“You need to find a way to work less. You work too hard & when you are not working you still have momentum which gives you problems settling down. The spirits do not want you to be enslaved by work.”
- I took redundancy from my job a couple of years ago to transform my life into what you see now. As a result of that, I nearly laughed in her face when I heard this! I took it with a pinch of salt until we were discussing it later.
- Who says it needs to be corporate work? I have been working on my blog for 2 years now & when I’m not writing I am constantly thinking about what to write. I always feel like I’m behind & always seeming to do everything at the last minute. The irony of this is that I always do & always have got my best inspiration when I’m under pressure.
- Then there’s the emotional work I do every day to keep a smile on my face. It takes its toll. I have touched more on this & the impact the retreat had on me in Part 1.
“Life is flourishing for you but its only through sacrifice”
- This is probably a bit of an understatement! Having lost both parents & my wonderful husband Terry (not to mention the fact that Terry & my Dad left me within 9 months of each other), sacrifice & loss has been a huge part of my life for the last 4 years. Life is flourishing now but I have lost almost all the people I love to get here. For anyone who is jealous of the life I have created for myself, all I can say is, “Be careful what you wish for….”
- I can only relate thorns in my romantic life to the loss I have had & I have shed a lot of tears. If you would like to know more about my journey, please see About Me.
“You are a person who is always moving forward”
- I am. Relentlessly. Couldn’t agree more!
My Spirit Guides
My father Orisha, Obbatala, is the spirit of health & intelligence.
Maritza said she believes I am a very intelligent woman (of course!) & to represent this, she gave me (sold me!) a necklace made of white beads. I wore this with pride throughout the rest of my time in Cuba. I have a love affair with colour & was disappointed it wasn’t bolder, although I felt that by wearing it everyone would instantly know how intelligent I was & wouldn’t need to get into a conversation with me to find out!
My other spirit protector is Oshun.
She gave me a yellow beaded bracelet to wear which represented this. Oshun is the goddess of sensuality, honey & rivers (very diverse!), but in actual fact tells the world that you are available for romance (if my clear intelligence hadn’t put potential suitors off!)
The reading ended with Maritza saying:
“Positive things will come to you & stay with you as you don’t scare them away.”
I left the reading fascinated & happy. It wasn’t as challenging as I was expecting but there was a lot to think about & it struck more chords than I think I was expecting. She told some of the others to never wear black, to bathe in milk (or sunflowers!). Her advice to one of the girls was to rub themselves in sweets or cake every morning. I have to admit, I got away lightly! 😉
Final Yoga Practice
Our final session of the whole retreat was yoga with Kathy. Today’s chakra was Universal Connection:
“May I have a clear and open connection with source energy (spirit) and live in the present moment.”
With today’s focus being GRATITUDE, our practice was all about what we were grateful for. I felt the strongest & most powerful of the whole week in body, mind & spirit. Needless to say, as we entered Savasana (Corpse pose) that evening I found myself in tears again with the revelation that everything I have & the way I can live now is all down to Terry. He made sure I was protected & gave me the freedom to live my life how I choose. For that, I could not be more GRATEFUL.
We had also been asked to bring along the notebook we were given at the start of the week & finished the session writing out everything we were GRATEFUL for. Despite the cards I’ve been dealt over that last few years I found that once I started, I couldn’t stop writing & eventually ended up with 5 pages filled with GRATITUDE. We also drew a circle on one page. Inside was everything we want to keep in our lives, outside everything we wanted to lose.
I left the shala that evening feeling 2 inches taller as we went to get ourselves ready for our final nights’ party.
The Last Supper
Our ‘Last Supper’ was amazing. We had a live band playing for us who were fantastic & the night was peppered with a number of ceremonies to close up the spiritual journey we had been on.
There was a bonfire & when we felt ready we were encouraged to tear out the sheet written earlier, bearing what we wanted to lose from our lives, separate the things we wanted to keep & burn the rest.
We were given sunflowers which we took to the beach & threw into the sea as we asked it to answer our hopes for life in the future.
We danced, we talked & we gave thanks for the opportunity to be here & share this amazing journey with each other.
I started the retreat appreciating the benefits of yoga on the body but not really understanding the mind & spiritual side. In addition, I had a slightly dodgy control during the balance sequences. When I left Cuba, I felt strong & powerful, with much better balance. I also had a desire to learn more about the philosophy, the chakras & how they relate. I even got why they called it ‘Practice’! I found this a truly life-changing experience & I would recommend Mhai Yoga & especially Kathy from Retreat Insider for anyone looking for a women’s health retreat or even just a holiday in Havana. I hope
Many of my fellow yogis headed home. However, a group of us extended our trip for a few days in Vinales to continue our personal journey. You can read all about my adventures in the mountain of Cuba HERE. Why not also check out the amazing hike, to practice yoga for sunrise.
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