The Embodied Aesthetics Through Yoga Research Project

A Case for a Yoga as a Neuroaesthetics Topic and Tool by Jonna Kwiatkowski  

Jonna Kwiatkowski, PhD, and Associate Professor of Psychology and Art Therapy at Mars Hill University has researched and taught about the psychology of creativity and aesthetics for 22 years. She recently returned from a sabbatical on the island of Mallorca where she focused her research and developed The Embodied Aesthetics Through Yoga Research Project. Here are Jonna's thoughts on the project and how you can participate. 

 “There is just this for consolation: an hour here or there, when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning, we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so.”
– Michael Cunningham, “The Hours”

In “The Hours," author Michael Cunningham famously assigns Clarissa Vaughn the lament that one must endure a mundane existence between brief moments of elation, creation, and joy.  The work of everyday life is to make it through with little inspiration in hope of a future day or even moment where sparks fly and life dances. While it is possible to find a melancholy beauty in this perspective, it might also lead to despair. What to do the morning after a beautiful experience? Settle into the knowledge that it will likely be some time before the mind and body gets another opportunity to whirl in such perfect synchrony? Start searching for that next thing that might make the world hum? Bury yourself in social media feeds…


It is this version of elusive beautiful experiences that is most often studied in empirical aesthetics research. Classically, researchers have presented people with many variations of a (usually) visual object such as a strange squiggly figure that varies in symmetry, color, angularity, etc. (e.g., Berlyne, 1970) and then evaluated which combinations lead to the highest preference ratings. With improvements in neuroscience techniques, there has been a resurgence of interest in psychological aesthetics research. In this newer neuroscience-driven approach, similar stimuli are often used, but the goal is to evaluate patterns of brain response when preference is high and low, as well as how brain responses change with different types of stimuli (e.g., Chatterjee & Vartanian, 2016).

Notice that in the classic and updated neuroscience research paradigms, some external stimulus provokes the aesthetic response. Most often, researchers have used visual art-inspired stimuli, but there is also plenty of published work about the aesthetics of other arts forms - music (e.g., Brattico, Brattico, & Jacobsen, 2009), dance (e.g., Christensen & Calvo-Merino, 2013), fiction (Djikic & Oatley, 2014) – but note again that the aesthetic experiences are caused by something happening outside the person.  There is a strong assumption in much of the empirical aesthetics research that aesthetic experiences require being exposed to something beautiful. Like Clarissa, aesthetics researchers (including me) have had us seeking that exquisite something that bursts open our lives for a fleeting moment.

But experiencing beauty isn't merely witnessing something ephemeral. There is another area of psychological research that offers a different perspective on these experiences: yoga, meditation and mindfulness-based research. Within these research areas, there is also an interest in understanding which parts of the brain are activated through these practices, and how the worldview changes along with it. Most of the work has been conducted with meditators (e.g., Fox, et al., 2016) with some focus on yoga-based practices (e.g., Cahn & Polich, 2013) in order to understand the cognitive and neurophysiological responses to a largely internal process. Any changes that are observed are assumed to arise from an inward focus and quiet or silent internally-oriented cognitive processes. In other words, the most common stimulus for meditation or yoga-based research is inside the person, whereas the most common stimulus for aesthetic research is outside the person.


This matters for my research because I have found that despite the stimulus, the cognitive and neurophysiological response to outward aesthetic objects and internal yoga-based or meditative practices is very much the same in the research literature. There is almost complete overlap between the descriptions of a person having an aesthetic experience and a person having a meditative experience in published academic research. These similarities led me to the reflections of Clarissa, but from a researcher and yogi's perspective. I asked myself, "Do we need to wait for some external object to have a beautiful experience, or might we be able to learn internal contemplative practices such as yoga and meditation to cultivate them within ourselves? Might we have the potential to learn how to live more of our time feeling as if we were seeing a beautiful painting, listening to joyful music, or dancing in synchrony with the world around us?"

I have created this website and am doing this research to explore the possibility that yoga-based practices can facilitate aesthetic-like experiences both during and after practicing yoga. In future posts, I will add more detail about how aesthetics and yoga-based practices share common philosophies, theories, and empirically-driven research results. If you are interested, sign up for our mailing list to receive updates and consider participating in the Spring 2018 research project.

Thanks for your interest in The Embodied Aesthetics Through Yoga research project!



The Gourmet Highway

The 2018 season of the Gourmet Highway with Doc Lawrence is on the air, live and delicious each week on Speaking of Travel! This season Doc visits top restaurants, bars, galleries, theatre and museums in Nashville and New Orleans, a prelude to a culinary and arts tour of Savannah, Key West, Louisville, Memphis and many other exciting destinations. 


Doc Lawrence is a travel writer, author, veteran journalist, producer and broadcaster. He knows wine, cocktails, tailgating, books and music better than most anyone you would meet! If you look up Southern Gentleman in the dictionary, you would see Doc's photo! 


The Gourmet Highway is a state of mind. Those who are steeped in culture form the bedrock of appreciating all things worthy, whether food, fine wines, historic cocktails, legendary hotels, restaurants and clubs or museums, art galleries, theatrical performance venues, architectural wonders and many things in between.

An unforgettable dinner at Antoine’s in the French Quarter takes on more romantic memories when its preceded with a visit to the Faulkner Bookstore and afternoon cocktails at The Napoleon House. In Louisville, before dinning in the Seelbach’s Oak Room and imagining an evening there with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, a tour of the Muhammad Ali Museum and Heaven Hill Distillery adds great fascination.


Nashville is an emerging culinary center. Great restaurants are short distances from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Studio B on Music Row where Elvis had over 200 recording sessions. Post dinner drinks at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is almost mandated.

Grab a margarita and join the winter fun in Key West. Doc begins at Mile Zero Post, then walks to historic Duval Street with its array of restaurants, legendary bars and boutiques, then enjoys another margarita at the sunset celebration on Mallory Square, spends the day at "Papa" Hemingway's beautiful home and discovers why both Harry Truman and Tennessee Williams loved the Conch Republic.

Listen to Doc as he travels along The Gourmet Highway!


Listen to Speaking of Travel and Be Carried Away!


Travel is one of the most direct and intuitive ways of feeding your soul. Experiencing places you’ve never been impacts your worldview and the way you establish and maintain that view. It changes how you view the human race, not only among those around you, but yourself and those you love.

 Every single person I’ve spoken with on Speaking of Travel over the past five years has told me how travel changed their life in some way or another. Meeting new people of all cultures, eating new foods, stepping out of their comfort zone and placing themselves into the unknown turns out is quite powerful and empowering!

There are so many great travel stories, travel tips and inspiring life-changing moments all here on Speaking of Travel! Take a few minutes and let yourself be taken away to lands far and near… No Passport Required. 

Click Here to Hear Past Podcasts and be Carried Away!



Wine With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doc Lawrence of Down South Today


The nation remembers and honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month with a national holiday. His words will be repeated on the air, in classrooms and in forums. Peace, justice, understanding and non-violent social change are associated with Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement that he led to the end of his life his life.

King and wine? It happened long ago on a rainy night in Atlanta. My friend and mentor Jim Sanders gave me the story, a typed manuscript he prepared shortly after the historic event. Sanders, who died in 1999, was one of the pioneers of fine wine in the South.

Sanders, a bear of a man, taught thousands in his wine classes, a course equal to anything I experienced in graduate school, and poured wines for tasting, introducing students to the greatest wines on earth. The pours were never stingy.

The meeting with Dr. King was impromptu. It was Dr. King’s anniversary and he was shopping at Sanders fine wine store for a bottle of wine for a special dinner. There were others there that included King’s friend, a Pulitzer Prize winning editor/publisher and his arch enemy, a segregationist governor.

The story is one of the most interesting of my career. It is Jim Sanders’ account of a wine tasting for the ages and to my knowledge, remains the only first-hand account of Dr. King enjoying wine.

Here is Doc's broadcast of this momentous gathering!

Travel Outside Your Comfort Zone into the Mysterious Frontier!

In Paulo Coelho’s allegorical novel, The Alchemist, an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. The absorbing story follows the journey of a boy in search of a hidden fortune, only to discover the richness inside himself. The story is simple and inspires wisdom.

There are many paths to spiritual awakening. For Santiago, traveling outside of his comfort zone into the mysterious frontier lying ahead is a testament to the importance of listening to our hearts and taking action moving forward.

For me, like Santiago, travel introduces new realities and provides a broader worldview for enriching my soul and enhancing my own landscape for further inner growth and development.

So when I was invited to join a group of 15 on an adventure to Southern Spain and Portugal, I accepted. I knew I would be entering unknown territory.  New challenges lay ahead and I would escape my own comfort zone and take a huge leap of faith with hopes of realizing a spiritual awakening in this region so rich in history and mystery. I viewed the opportunity as my own pilgrimage of self-discovery and renewal.

I traveled alone to Lisbon, Portugal and then flew to Seville, Spain, to meet the group. We traveled by cars to a rural area of Andalusia, the same region where Santigo begins his journey, to spend our first week in a 19th century farmhouse, traveling each day to areas in and around the region before moving on to Portugal.  

Aside from the few people I knew from Asheville, the rest of the group were unfamiliar to me. Believing that people equal possibilities, I traveled with the intention of making new friends and creating new social ties.

The first night at the farmhouse, everybody agreed to the agenda for the week ahead. Each day, anybody could go anywhere, with anyone, for as long as they wanted. Dinner for the entire group was served sometime in the evening, with everyone pitching in to cook and clean. There were no expectations, and a nice flow soon permeated the farmhouse. 


This area, where Santigo lived and worked as a shepherd, is a melting pot of ethnicities. Given that the origin of humanity was almost certainly in Africa, several theories suggest that the first real humans in Europe were in Andalusia, having passed across the Strait of Gibraltar.

As we traveled this magical region filled with narrow medieval streets and whitewashed homes nestled into the hillsides, I found the common image of Andalucía to be one of bright colors, romance, and passion. The figure of the matador in the bullring, cape and sword in hand, and the gypsy art of flamenco, all combined into a symbolic life in this mystical part of Southern Spain.

At the end of each day, the group came together for our evening meal, always consisting of a medley of tapas, fresh fish, olive oil and saffron, Manchego cheese, olives and some of the sweetest wines I’ve ever tasted.  We shared our stories of explorations and discoveries and I was beginning to understand how we were all somehow connected.

As the days went on, I discovered how each of us, in our own way, was searching for his or her own hidden treasure. By sharing our experiences we were richer somehow than when we first arrived. Everything around us became brighter, and each day was better than the day before.

While exploring the many ethnic influences of the region, I gained a broader understanding of how the terrain of earth and soul are perfect reflections of each other and how the connection to the spiritual essences within all of us ushers in deeper levels of acceptance, feelings of peace and releasing of fears.

On this journey, I fell in love with the people, the language, the food and the essence of all those who had traveled here from the beginning of time. I realized how destiny was waiting for me in this land I would never have discovered on my own.

Somehow fate was on my side as I had traveled across lands and water, determined to tackle my fears of the unknown in the pursuit of my own personal legacy.

By taking this forward leap, I met people who would forever be a part of my life and explored a part of the world no longer just held in my imagination. For life to be fully experienced, you must make peace with your fears and step out of your comfort zone.



The connection soon became more apparent between my inner-self and the Earth I walk upon. Like Santigo, I came away with the knowledge that when you leave behind the familiar, you can’t help but be changed by the unknown. 

Why South Africa Should Be On Your Bucket List! 

Toby OA Ellies July 2017.JPG

Southern Africa offers not only amazing game viewing (the Big 5 can definitely be seen in South Africa), but breathtaking landscapes, vibrant culture, unbeatable cuisine, stunning beaches, numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, fabulous wines and wineries, and a deep and ancient archaeological history of humankind.

It is also the singular home to one of the six floral kingdoms on Earth – the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Recommendations When Visiting South Africa:

• Visit Kruger National Park, a flagship park of South Africa and among the largest in all of Africa.

• Visit the many smaller and more intimate game reserves in the coastal province of South Africa, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

• Visit Table Mountain, one of the new Natural Wonders of the World.

• Visit Cape Town and it's vibrant city life and breathtaking natural beauty.

• Visit a local village or school, and see life from a different perspective.

• Visit the cradle of humankind, the world's richest hominin site and home to around 40% of the world's human ancestor fossils.

Toby OA Leopard Kruger Aug 2017.JPG

Recommendations When Visiting Other Parts of South Africa:

• Visit the Okavanga Delta in Botswana

• Visit Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

• Visit the Etosha National Park in Namibia

Thanks to Toby Brown at Outdoor Africa for these great tips and suggestions!

Find out more:

A Love Affair With Martha's Vineyard!

 Gingerbread House photo by Del Holston

Gingerbread House photo by Del Holston

There is so much to see and do, one trip will just not be enough! This is truly a place where memories are made from the moment you begin
your journey! 

 Lighthouse by Del Holston

Lighthouse by Del Holston

If you're looking for a magical and fun destination, Martha's Vineyard is a the place to go! I had the opportunity to travel from Boston to this tiny island off the coast of Cape Cod towards the end of September. This  trip was so enchanting and fun, I am looking forward to returning again (and again)! Martha's Vineyard is accessible all year long by air or sea. We took the ferry and loved the journey across the water.

 On the Ferry! 

On the Ferry! 

 Lobster roll by del holston

Lobster roll by del holston

You can explore the island on 30 miles of paved bike trails, take a tour of one of many historic lighthouses, and find some of the most amazing original artwork! The food scene is to die for, especially if you love chowder and lobster rolls (both of which we ate every day!).


 Nancy Gardella, Executive Director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce & Tourism

Nancy Gardella, Executive Director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce & Tourism

To listen to my conversation with Nancy Gardella, Executive Director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, and find out why so many fall in love with this magical and special island and why it remains one of the most popular and picturesque destinations in New England, click here. 

The Asheville Regional Airport – When You Fly Home – You’re HOME!


The Asheville Regional Airport is home to 50 flights every day to and from cities like Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago so you can fly to hundreds of world-wide destinations with one easy connection.

There are also many airlines to choose from, like Allegiant, American, Delta, Elite or United.  So when you fly home – you’re HOME! So why start your trip with a road trip? The Asheville Regional Airport really IS your easy way out!

To find out more, visit

Tailgating Down South with Doc Lawrence

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Doc Lawrence of Down South Today is the king of tailgating and he shares with us how tailgating is evolving and growing into a phenomenon of epic proportions! Beginning in the Civil War... (yes... that's correct... the CIVIL WAR!), tailgating found its way from the battlefield to the college football field... well, more like the college football parking lot and beyond! Food, beverages, fabulous hospitality and entire communities come together to create an atmosphere of fun and fellowship. We're talking about true Americana here. A celebration where fans gather peacefully, wearing colors associated with their favorite teams and welcome everyone to the table (tailgate)! Today, it's just as much a part of a game day Saturday in Athens, Georgia as Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Tailgate crowd.jpg

This fall, Tailgating Down South will visit the great campus stadiums of the ACC and SEC with a few surprises. Doc and his team welcome recipes and favorite wine and cocktail suggestions. Down South Today will give you full credit as they choose the best submissions. Contact Doc at

Check Doc out and learn more about Tailgating Down South by visiting

Click here to listen to Doc Lawrence tell us all about Tailgating Down South! 


Dayna Reggero Travels the World to Help Our World!

Travel is one of the most intuitive ways of feeding your soul. Experiencing places you’ve never been impacts your worldview and the way you establish and maintain that view. It changes the ways you view the human race, and the environment, and really can become the catalyst for solving the world’s most pressing issues.

Dayna Reggero of The Climate Listening Project and The Story We Want, is a savvy, smart woman who is making an impact in helping us understand what climate change means to real people through real stories. 

She has traveled to work, study or explore all over the world as a filmmaker and storyteller for the environment for 20 years. 

Dayna has traveled to Australia, Ecuador, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, Fiji, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Virgin Islands, Canada, and 45 of the United States. She traveled to Belize to film The Wood Thrush Connection documentary as part of The Climate Listening Project and lived in Ecuador for three months when she was 17 years old, and she volunteered for three months in Italy in a newly preserved forest in the Italian Alps.

 The Climate Listening Project is a series of hopeful conversations on climate and community. The project began in Asheville, NC and she has traveled around the Southeast, across the US, and around the world.


Dayna's newest venture is The Story We Want - a new film series filmed in eight states across America, featuring women who are confronting pollution, climate change impacts, and a culture of extraction.

Learn how we can all participate in helping connect people globally and right in your own backyard to help our environment and make a difference for all future generations. 

Click here to listen to Dayna's conversation on Speaking of Travel!








How to Make Travel a Priority on a Budget with Jaime Byrd & Adam Cohen!

Sometimes our travel dreams are so strong, it’s about all we can think about.  Seeing yourself on a beach somewhere, or maybe walking through the streets of Paris, maybe visiting the Grand Canyon.

 Slower.... Travel...

Slower.... Travel...

 Jaime Byrd and Adam Cohen

Jaime Byrd and Adam Cohen

Unfortunately, there is this perception – especially among Americans – that travel is some huge undertaking and incredibly expensive. Well, it can be, if you choose to make it that way. But travel can be affordable, if you plan for it and prioritize it in your life.

My guests are Jaime Byrd and Adam Cohen, an awesome couple who have made travel a priority. They’re here to talk to us about how they saved money to travel and how it's actually been less expensive for them to travel as nomads then it is living in the states. 

Click here to listen to Jamie and Adam! 

Sebastian, FL... A Short Drive From Vero Beach!

 View From Captain Hiram's Sandbar Restaurant on the Riverfront

View From Captain Hiram's Sandbar Restaurant on the Riverfront

 Captain Hiram's Sandbar beach club 

Captain Hiram's Sandbar beach club 

When you’re visiting Vero Beach and looking for a Caribbeanesque escape, take a short drive from Vero Beach and visit Sebastian, a riverfront community where boating is big, surfing is king and fishing is all the rage. A walk-able boardwalk presents excellent places to shop, stroll and dine. Want to hang with a local, then hit Captain Hiram’s Sandbar Beach club surrounded by coconut palms, balmy river breezes and water views for miles. Live music and signature cocktails will have you coming back night-after-night. 

Beer connoisseurs will want to drop by Pareidolia Brewing Company to enjoy a pint in Sebastian. This unique brewpub and eatery invite guests to connect from the inside out as the brewery window is located behind the bar providing guests a window into the heart of the brewery. 

If seafood is calling you then you must try Crab -E- Bills, a fisherman who has been fishing the waterways of Indian River County for over twenty-five years! The stone crabs with homemade mustard and champagne sauce are over-the-top delicious.

 Crab-E-Bills RESTAURANT menu

Crab-E-Bills RESTAURANT menu

The restaurant is casual but make no mistake-- Crab-E-Bills is serious about delivering the best seafood –– fish, crab shrimp, oysters, lobsters and more!

Vero Beach, Florida – A Hidden Gem!

Vero Beach Pier.JPG

A Different Kind of Florida
You’ll feel it as soon as you arrive. Laid back, small town vibe – brimming with unique experiences that will fill your days and nourish your soul. From the beach town of Vero to the river town of Sebastian to the rurals of Fellsmere, all offer a unique look at life in Indian River County, Florida

Visit Vero Beach
Twenty-six miles of sublime beaches, where welcoming sunrises advocate getting out of bed early, and high-rises don’t exist. Do expect to spot a sea turtle, a manatee or dolphin, or watch as brown pelicans dive for their dinner. Undeveloped is the magic of Vero Beach – as well as 130+ chef-owned restaurants and a handful of brewhouses that infuse local culture. And don’t forget to hang at the Waldo’s Beach Bar at the historic Driftwood Inn oceanfront – you never know... Emily Estefan, (daughter of famed Gloria Estefan) just may show up for a quick jam! 



Travel Solo--You Can Do It!

Traveling by yourself is one of the best ways to learn and challenge yourself. It's a great way to re-center, to escape from the details of daily life that can distract us from our own big picture and to come back with a new sense of self-sufficiency and purpose. 

How do you know if traveling solo is for you? In the larger scope of things, the thought of traveling to an unknown place, maybe where you don’t know the language, can be rather scary and unsettling. But you know deep down you really want to go there. 

Over the years I have had conversations with some amazing people who love to travel solo. 

Tune into these featured podcasts and get inspired, begin making some plans... And go for it! 


Sarah Benoit, co-founder at the JB Media Institute, recalls memories of happiness from her travels and how each journey contributes to her confidence, joy and contentment long after the trip is over.

Click here to listen to Sarah! 







Sarah Jane Wilson went off traveling in 2002 and never looked back! She talks about traveling solo as a woman, meeting so many special and kind people and the impact of traveling around the world. 

Click here to listen to Sarah Jane! 

Why Listening to Speaking of Travel is Good For You!

This is my fourth year hosting Speaking of Travel! The show is recorded each week (for two years the show was broadcast on Asheville Independent Radio and today celebrates two years on iHeart Radio), so when I recently did the math, I realized I’ve interviewed over 200 people!

Everyone I’ve spoken with on Speaking of Travel has told me how travel has changed their life in some way or another. Meeting new people of all cultures, eating new foods, stepping out of their familiar zone and placing themselves into the unknown turns out can be quite powerful and empowering!

And so inspiring to all of us!  

Check out the Speaking of Travel past podcasts and get inspired yourself!

Begin to make a plan like folksinger Chuck Brodsky to
someday travel the world playing your music. 





Travel to exotic places after you retire like former
high school principal David Wright.






Dream a dream of beginning your own company around what you’re passionate about like Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights.






Discover how to make the most of your
vacation time like Marla Tambellini.






Thinking of running away? You don’t have to run to the other side of the planet like Lucetta Zaytoun did. It could be just taking a weekend by yourself. 





Want to find out how to have the perfect Asheville, NC vacation?
Listen to my conversation with Mark File of



There are so many great travel stories, travel tips and inspiring life-changing moments all here on Speaking of Travel! Take a few minutes and let yourself be taken away to lands far and near… No Passport Required!

Toasting in the New Year on Oak Island, North Carolina

 Sunrise on Oak Island, December 2016

Sunrise on Oak Island, December 2016

When I was a young mom, I spent many summers with lots of friends and lots of kids down on the North Carolina coast. We’d rent a big house and immediately become beach bums…. Rising early to catch the sunrise, walking the long beach, laying out in the sun all day, surfing the waves on our big rafts, looking for turtle nests, eating seafood bought daily from the shrimp boat guys. Some summers we’d stay at Holden Beach, some on Oak Island. These beautiful beaches are part of the Brunswick Islands, two of six separate beach communities spread out on five barrier islands.

Once you’ve hung out on the North Carolina coast, you’ll want to go back again and again. And not just in the summer. The amazing thing about the NC coast is it’s beautiful anytime of the year. And what better way to begin a new year than walking the beach and watching the pelicans play? So we took off from the mountains and arrived on Oak Island just in time to watch the sunset.

 Flying into the New Year! 

Flying into the New Year! 

Oak Island runs east to west and faces south, so the waves are much gentler than other beaches, which is great for families. The climate is more temperate than the beaches north of it...more comparable to the climate at Myrtle Beach, SC, which is less than an hour south. Oak Island is also less than 45 minutes to Wilmington and a short drive to Southport, a charming picturesque and historical town.

Oak Island is cool because you have the ocean on one side, the Intracoastal Waterway on the other, and a canal and marsh running through 3/4 of the island. The beach is peaceful and beautiful! We love eating at some of the funkiest seafood joints on the coast, and there’s plenty of grocery stores to stock up our kitchens. Oak Island also houses the Sea Biscuit Wildlife Shelter where sick and injured birds are rehabilitated and released again into the wild once they are able to care of themselves.

We found the beach quiet and tranquil in December. The temperatures were in the 50s and we had the beaches to ourselves. Although some stores had closed following the summer season, several are open year round.

As the clock ticked down to midnight, we walked to the ocean to send out our New Year wishes to Mother Ocean, went back to the beach house and stood out on the porch lighting sparklers while singing 'Auld Lang Syne' at the top of our lungs and toasted in the New Year with a few glasses of champagne. 2017 is going to be a fabulous year and we're looking forward to coming back to this magic place in the summer! 

For more info on Oak Island, visit

 Sunset on Oak Island

Sunset on Oak Island

Chris Guillebeau

I met Chris Guillebeau, the writer, entrepreneur and world traveler at the 2013 World Domination Summit (WDS) held annually in Portland, Oregon. Chris is also the producer and host of the summit. Chris's passion and commitment to living life fully and living the life you were meant to live resonated with me, and I knew I had to be there.

Every summer, thousands of people travel to Portland for an immersive experience in life, work, adventure, and travel. I met amazing people who love to travel and are helping make the world a better place.

One of the events on the first day was setting out to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the "Longest Floating Human Chain." More than 700 of us met down at the Williamette River, grabbed our life jacket and inner tube, and prepared to form two straight lines while holding hands. As I waited my turn in line, I saw Chris. He was walking around, shaking hands, helping coordinate the flow of people. He was speaking to someone and I stood off to the side. When he looked over his shoulder and saw me, I put my hand out...and he looked right into my eyes, smiled and shook my hand. I introduced myself and thanked him for holding this amazing event and how excited I was to participate in the summit. He was casual and attentive and thanked me for coming.

When I returned home, I began Speaking of Travel as a way to incorporate my love of travel and adventure with a portal for great story telling from others who have unique travel stories. There is no doubt travel opens our minds and hearts.

Last month, Chris accepted my invitation to be a guest on my radio show and I spoke with him about travel and life and passion. He is truly a charming and friendly person and we talked as if we were friends, because we really are. No one can come away from WDS and not feel connected to this community.

Check out Make a plan to get yourself to Portland next summer!

Remember... Don't Postpone Joy !





The Beauty of Small Group Travel

Participating in a group travel experience was never on my list of "things to do" for a few reasons. For one, I wasn't sure I would like other people to dictate my itinerary. When I travel, I like to create my own experiences and I thought of having other people around would mean giving up things I want to do. And I thought I'd end up waiting around for other people to get organized. I like to just get up and go, or not,  if I feel like relaxing for the day. I guess I thought a group tour would feel constrained and inflexible, with a bunch of people gawking out of a bus window at the usual touristy attractions. But earlier this year I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba on a people-to-people program with Benjamin Porter, founder of Small Footprint Travels. I've known a few people who have traveled with Benjamin and they have all had wonderful experiences. And he's a friend so I figured the people who would gravitate to him as a travel guide would be people I would enjoy traveling with. And I really wanted to go to Cuba.

I have to admit this trip was really a lot of fun. While I love to travel alone or with friends, Benjamin arranged group activities and we still had plenty of time to explore on our own. His guide style catered to my travel style of going for a local experience and getting a closer feel for the culture. Sure, I was a little anxious about traveling with people I didn't know, but I found this was a perfect opportunity to get to know new people and take the leap of traveling with a small group.

I became part of a new travel family and have lasting connections that will not be forgotten. I can certainly see myself wanting to have other opportunities to experience the world together. We all shared our photos and have "reunions" to relive the precious moments we had together.

I would recommend traveling with a small group and highly recommend Benjamin Porter as your tour guide. You can find out more at

My Return to Cuba

In the years since my first trip to Cuba, much has changed. In 2004, the only way for Americans to enter the country was to covertly fly in from another country and politely request no passport stamp. I had flown north to Toronto to then fly 90 miles south of the United States, joining a group of Canadians going on holiday. I made it through customs at the airport in a very timeless region in the southern part of the country where mules, donkeys, and horses are the primary source of transportation. Many of the villagers I met were descendants of slaves who hid in the mountains after escaping on foot from the slave encampment in Santiago de Cuba sometime in the late seventeenth century.

I vowed to return to Cuba again when restrictions were more relaxed and I could enter under easier, and legal circumstances. Cuba had swept me off my feet. Two weeks there felt like a month because of the sheer amount of experiences we had, but I felt like I had only scratched the surface of this country.  

This past March, I had the opportunity to legally travel to Cuba on a people-to-people program with Benjamin Porter, founder of Small Footprint Travels. The people-to-people trip was exactly how I like to travel — Benjamin arranged interactions with locals every day, we danced to Cuban music, ate Cuban food, and learned about the Cuban way of life… not to mention drinking ample mojitos along the way.

Our group of 14 traveled from Havana, Cuba’s dense capital with a population of 2.5 million people, to Cienfuegos, a city on the southern coast of Cuba, with a population of 150,000, to Viñales, a small town and UNESCO site in the north-central Pinar del Río Province of Cuba with a population of around 27,000. Vinales is most notable for its mogotes, a series of tall, rounded hills that rise abruptly from the flat plain of the valley.  

Within just a few hours after landing in Havana, we made our way to the Ciudad Deportiva stadium to become a part of Cuban history and attended the free, outdoor concert by the Rolling Stones, who played to an estimated 500,000+. This concert marked a huge moment for the Cuban people, and seemed more of an event than the Obama visit just a few days prior. And here we were, rocking out to The Rolling Stones in Cuba. When Mick shouted "Habana! Esta' en talla!", we knew this moment would be a part of our lives forever. To be sure, we were not certain anything from that point on would ever compare to this spectacular evening.  But as the days went on, our people-to-people trip provided us an entirely unique opportunity to witness the incredible winds of change and to feel the vibe of its people.

We stayed in casa particulares - small bed and breakfasts run by locals, spent time in the Fabrica de Arte Cuba, home to the most collaborative arts project in Havana and visited organic farms and a tobacco farm. Wherever we went, people would try and strike up a conversation. Most didn't care that we couldn't understand much Spanish, while there were many people eager to practice the English they learned in school.

Cuba is a country of shortages so we all brought little gifts that we could give away. Some brought crayons and street chalk for children and others brought hygiene items not really found on the island. One person brought some baseballs. When we visited a tobacco farmer in the hills of Vinales, we were told he has a 10- year old son. When my friend gifted the farmer the baseball for his son, the man silently began to weep. Our guide and interpreter explained how the farmer's son, as so many Cubans, loves baseball, and had never really owned a baseball.

I was encouraged by the kindness of the Cuban people I met everywhere I went. The raising of the American flag in Havana represents the hope of something just getting started.

But even more is the way I feel now, remembering how I experienced this visit totally unplugged. Cuba has very little WiFi and very little phone service. Without my phone and all the distractions of my day to day online presence, I was quiet in a way I hadn't been in a long time.

Cuba is an island that assaults the senses and just being in this culture is an exhilarating and uplifting experience. Spending time in Cuba reminds me the simple things in life, such as salsa dancing and eating 'moros y cristianos' are the best. Looking back on this second trip to Cuba, I'm already nostalgic for the people I met and the places I visited.