Photographer Robert Sturman enlisted half-Cuban, Miami- and LA-based yoga teacher Rina Jakubowicz as his partner and subject in shooting what he calls the “Cuba Libre Yoga Project.” The artistic photo series is dedicated to celebrating the country’s rich culture and inspiring yogis to visit, while mindfully supporting the growing Cuban yoga community. Here, they share what they saw, created, and learned on this exploratory expedition.
Visiting Cuba was an eye- and heart-opening experience for many reasons. Seeing the unparalleled beauty juxtaposed with the poverty and oppression of the people left me with mixed emotions.
Walking the streets of Havana, I immediately felt at home—and saddened by the present state of the people there. The magic of Cuba eagerly tries to outshine the poverty, but it can’t unless you are blind. As someone who cares deeply about people’s freedom, including my own, I had to learn the truth of what was happening in this beautiful country and its Communist government. I wanted to be able to make conscious decisions to help, instead of making the situation worse. I met some family members on this trip, who I had never known existed. They told me the truth of what has been happening for over 50 years.
As a consumer and a yogi, it is imperative to choose consciously what you do and how you do it in Cuba.
Here, I will share my suggestions for how to travel to this beautiful country and help those in need as well, based on what I learned. As a consumer and a yogi, it is imperative to choose consciously what you do and how you do it in Cuba. You can either give your money to the government that has oppressed and weakened its people or now you can give it to the Cuban people to help them become stronger and more independent. Our presence and integrity can give them more hope for a brighter future. My uncle and cousin, both named Enrique, explained that hope was the only thing that kept them going all these years, and now they are merely living off the fumes. So here are ways to support the beautiful Cuban people and practice yoga at the same time.
4 Ways to Practice Karma Yoga in Cuba
If you stay at a hotel, you are giving money to and supporting the Communist government. Instead choose “Casa Particulares,” which translates into “Particular Homes” instead of hotels. These government-approved family homes are similar to a shared Airbnb, where locals can host tourists and earn money and independence doing it. Find them on airbnb.com.
Choose restaurants that are run by locals and are not government-owned. When you see locals eating at a restaurant you know it’s local, because they aren’t allowed to eat at the government-owned restaurants. You’ll know it’s government-owned if you only see American and European tourists. We found one call “El Trofeo” near the Plaza Hotel in Havana, where we finally found white rice, black beans and plaintains.
Go with the intention to be generous. Plan to bring gifts or leave some of your own belongings behind, giving what you can to locals in need. Maybe the family who hosted you in their Casa Particular could use something you have. I left my wedding gown for my family and dresses, headbands, and yoga clothes with several locals.
Connect with beautiful people like these yogis at Mhai Yoga (mhaiyoga.com) with great teachers such as the Godfather of Yoga in Cuba, Eduardo Pimentel and Maykel, plus the owner Christine Dahdouh. Although Christine isn’t Cuban, she genuinely wants to help the economy and tourism of Cuba in a healthy way.
As tourists we can sometimes forget that any place we go has a whole history and culture of its own. Instead of feeling like an outsider to it, this time aim to travel consciously. Go to Cuba prepared to practice Karma Yoga in the service of others in need. Viva Cuba!
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The Cuba Libre Yoga Project in Photos
"The only thing prettier to me than this world is the world with the expressive figurative poetry of yoga dancing within it."