My passion for life undoubtedly comes from my Cuban roots. My mother fled her home country of Cuba at the age of nine, with her parents, three siblings, grandmother, dog, and $35. They left behind family who still live in Cuba today. There’s a spark and creative fire that radiates in the Cuban culture. So it’s unfortunate that Cuba is a controversial country to visit as a traveler. The Cuban people have been, and continue to be, in my opinion, exploited and abused by their government—through injustices such as incarceration without a fair trial and lack of a free press. Because of this, there are mixed feelings about when and if it is appropriate to visit this both beautiful and bleeding country.
In October of 2015, I was approached by yoga photographer Robert Sturman to go to Cuba for what proved to be an epic and powerful photo shoot. I had to consider my highest ideal behind going. I didn’t want to go for selfish reasons, which included indulging my senses with dancing, eating, drinking, and relaxing on the beach; snapping instagrammable pictures; or going to “experience” Cuba as a tourist. As a practicing yogi, that wouldn’t be ideal for me . Instead, I wanted my visit to be for a greater purpose—to indirectly and directly serve Cuban people, instead of supporting a government that tore families apart. It’s important to consider that serving is different than “helping,” because helping implies some kind of superiority on the part of the helper. The last thing Cubans need is outsiders coming in to tell them what they need or how to do things.
Instead, I chose to practice Karma Yoga, or the path of selfless service, and Bhakti Yoga–the path of devotion—during my trip with Robert. This meant I brought supplies and resources for my relatives and for the yoga community. I arrived with cash, my wedding dress, Havaianas flip flops, toys, and more clothes. It was my way of serving a community that had given me so much.
This is where practicing Bhakti Yoga became imperative. Bhakti Yoga is a higher form of love—one in which you identify with another person and hold them in the highest reverence and admiration. There’s a sense of duty to them and their plight. Feeling this devotion for Cuban people was vital in keeping my highest ideal in focus. As a yoga traveler, it’s your duty to practice Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga as you step into places, like Cuba, that have endured deep suffering.
In Spanish, there’s a phrase for when a Cuban uses his or her ingenuity and creativity to solve any problem. We say “Hacerlo a lo Cubano,” which loosely translates to “Do it the Cuban way.” If yogis all over the world traveled this way, we could start our own popular Spanish phrase about serving a greatest purpose: “Hacerlo a lo yogi,” or “Do it like a yogi.”
I was so grateful for this unforgettable trip with Robert. I redefined my Cuban roots, connected with family, and made art with a new friend. Walking the streets of Havana made me proud to be a Cuban and a yoga teacher. Combining both tradition and new perspective, I can now say “Lo hice a lo Cubano y a lo yogi,” or “I did it the Cuban and yogi way!”
Stay with friends, or at an AirBnB, or Casa Particular—someone’s house rented out to visitors. All hotels are government-owned. And eat at non-state-owned restaurants, called Paladeras.
About our author
Rina Jakubowicz is an international bilingual yoga teacher, Reiki practitioner, motivational speaker, and author. Her new best-selling book is The Yoga Mind: 52 Essential Principles of Yoga Philosophy. Learn more at rinayoga.com.