The love that I have for this little island fulfills me in a way that I could have never have imagined. I remember coming to Havana for the first time on Valentine’s day, nearly 15 years ago, for a girls trip in an attempt to escape the Canadian winter. We were sitting at our table in a restaurant, laughing a little too loudly, and I remember so many people coming up to us and congratulating us. Some of the locals were so happy to hear our laughter that they were congratulating us for having happiness and love in our lives. It was such a beautiful thing to say to someone they had never met before. It is these kinds of values, these little moments, that make me not only truly understand, but sincerely respect the philosophy in Cuba; It is not about what happens to you but how you react to it.
Following my first class with Eduardo I started traveling to Cuba as often as I could. It did not matter who I came with – whether it was on my own, with new friends, or my family – each and every time I was received with the same warm welcome. I was connecting with myself on a level that I never could in Toronto. With Eduardo’s guidance I came to know Cuba in a such a beautiful way. As each group of students passes through Mhai, I want to share what Cuba has grounded in all of us: unconditional love and respect in exchange for openness and kindness.
Yoga was not exported to Cuba, it was born out of one person’s passion for the practice. Nearly 40 years later, Cuba is due to be recognized as place of community, practice, and connectivity for yogis from all over the world. Eduardo has spent the majority of his life on this little island. He grew up playing chess competitively until a longing for something more compassionate lead him to yoga. So, he picked up a book authored by Swami Sivananda and with little resources, taught himself the practice of yoga.
Against all odds, Eduardo grew his yoga with whatever he could. Friends and strangers would knock on his door, asking for him to teach them what he knew, until the number of people trained by him eventually exceeded 20,000. Eduardo spent nearly 15 years in correspondence with B.K.S. Iyengar before finally meeting in India. Since then, he has led successful yoga festivals in Havana, and has facilitated the visits to Havana for yogis such as Krishna Kaur and Deepak Chopra.
He now owns a yoga studio in Havana, Vidya Yoga, where he holds weekly classes that are frequented by locals and visitors. Eduardo has come an incredibly long way: self-learning the practice through a single book, and with no yoga community on the island, he has created a movement and carried it through churches, parks, theatres, and open spaces. Eduardo’s teacher training lasts two years, which means Cubans travel from across the country to be guided by him, only to return back to their homes to open up yoga studios, keeping the movement alive.
If you mention yoga in Cuba, it is most likely that Eduardo’s name is attached to it. Happiness, health, love, and compassion is a message Eduardo not only teaches, but lives every day.
When we started Mhai we knew it would be difficult to find an expert chef in vegetarian cuisine. Like most Caribbean countries, Cuba has a love affair with meat, rice and beans. Finding a chef who was well-versed in vegetarian cuisine was a big task, and when we stumbled upon Ernesto we knew there was something special about him. Although Ernesto had never prepared a vegetarian meal, he demonstrated that he was eager, curious and determined to be part of our project.
From the first dish, he demonstrated that he was not a chef, but rather, an artist. Pouring over cookbooks, recipes, visiting the local farms and markets, the journey began. Ernesto, like Eduardo, self-learned how to become an expert at what he does. Today, Ernesto is recognized as one of the most renown chefs in Cuba.
Ernesto has an unreal creativity that we are all so happy is edible. All of the organic deliciousness that is so easily found in Cuba is being whipped up in the kitchen at Mhai. Ernesto recently had his first baby, Samantha, who pops by a couple times a week to make sure the food is cooked to perfection. For our very first retreat back in 2011 Ernesto cooked everything by himself. Today, he not only supervises the menu and kitchen team, but makes sure to check every plate before it goes out.
What we eat
The most common thing said of Cuba is that the food is bad and we are more than happy to prove otherwise. We want to change the all too common misconception about Cuban food because it simply could not be further from the truth. Cuba is one of the world’s biggest cultivators of organic produce, and this is attributable to the lack of access to fertilisers and pesticides
When the Soviet Union fell, Cubans had to act quickly as they were lacking many food staples. Their untold creativity coupled with a fierce social awareness has created an organic food movement that not only promotes pesticide-free produce, but upholds it as the heart of a healthy people. Small, urban, organic gardens (huertos) kept springing up across the island until huge swathes of urban land (organoponicos) were officially dedicated to sustain entire cities. Today, there are over 35,000 urban gardens throughout Cuba that supply over 90% of its produce.
When you support these kinds of initiatives it goes much further than supporting a local farmer – you drastically reduce your carbon footprint. Even today, food is not easily accessible in some parts of Cuba. To uphold our commitment to reducing Mhai’s carbon footprint, we only work with local farmers to source all of our produce. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can pluck it right from our garden behind the kitchen.
A day at Mhai
Your days at Mhai always begin with yoga, but there is always a sunrise to catch at the beach. It is important to us that you not only enjoy the island lifestyle, but take part in activities and workshops lead by Cubans. At Mhai, we foster the perfect balance of culture and retreating. Over the past 10 years, we have cared for and nurtured an incredible network that supports local communities and enables local enterprise to flourish. Your digital detox will make it easier to connect with our staff and the local entrepreneurs who love striking up a conversation. At Mhai, we support a team of locals that are driven, passionate, and incredibly unique. Together we host yogis from all over the world. We share meals together, practice sea side together and engage with local entrepreneurs who have a stake in this community.
To meet the perfect balance between practice, culture and rest, all of our retreats are carefully crafted between each visiting teacher and Mhai Yoga. Some weeks are vibrant with music, salsa, and workshops, whereas others are more tranquil, focusing on meditation and silence. Take a look through our available retreats and let us know which retreat you’d love to join us for.
What is Mhai
Mhai, in Arabic, means water. At Mhai, we strongly believe in the importance and symbolism of water in our lives. Water makes up most of our bodies, and it covers most of this planet. Most importantly, we look to water as a reminder to let go of what can’t be controlled.
In life, we can’t really control much except for how we react to things. Going with the flow ties into expectations within Cuba: in a place where a lot of stuff is outside of our control, if we remember to be still like water and move with the current – and that doesn’t mean we accept everything with our hands behind our back – we can learn to embrace an attitude that is easy going. With this approach to life, you free yourself of the weight that comes with expectation. We hope that a week with us at Mhai will instill within you this kind of philosophy.