Healthy Living, Transformative Travel

Transformative Travel: Learning to let go in Central America

Alexander scattered flower petals Along Las Alfombras (Street of the Carpets) for Holy Week in San Pedro, Guatemala. — Photo via Alexander Hiffernan

My olive skin burned into a deep red soon after landing in Guatemala from a Midwest winter, as if I just left hot yoga. The thrill of arriving covered my body in goosebumps as a voice echoed in my head, “you did it.” The dream of letting go of control and being in a place of adventure was here. I was here.

Dancing on volcanic ash beaches with friends from across the world, celebrating with locals during Semana Santa (Holy Week) and throwing away the to-do list, I was unsure what the next two and a half months had in store for me. The challenging part of “letting go” into these experiences wasn’t the hard part; rather, it was disconnecting, observing and questioning overriding illusory thoughts of what I “should” be doing.

Through this letting go I started to find silence, which allowed me to explore self. I refer to self as the quietness that resides within us all. The place I felt most connected to self was in San Pedro, a lively village on Lake Atitlán surrounded by volcanos. Living with a Mayan family, I was exposed to a new pace of life. More rituals and fewer technological distractions reminded me of being a carefree child.

Map of Alexander’s travels through Central America.

Theodora, my beautiful host mother, would cook meals for us at the same time everyday. They would always consist of a variation of black beans, eggs and handmade tortillas. I can still hear her hands clap as she formed the tortilla dough.

When I wasn’t eating (on rare occasion) I was learning Spanish under a hut, kayaking on the lake and digesting a yoga anatomy course. This ritualistic living, full of play and freedom, created stillness within my mind and body. This freedom allowed me to wake with the sunrise and nod off with the sunset, explore the depths of yoga and stillness.

This experience of finding silence shed light on how ritual is crucial for slowing down. It creates fewer distractions and more time to flirt with finding self in the midst of a busy world. I’ve learned that taking space in the present moment is a way of showing yourself that you didn’t forget about the peace within. For me, travel was the key.

This practice of letting go and finding stillness started a healing process within my mental and physical body, which encouraged dreaming big and slaying distractions. Getting uncomfortable was the beginning of becoming comfortable.

Listening to the self saying, “It’s your time to go,” is the proudest accomplishment of my life. It required full presence of my mind, body and spirit. My sister Hunter gave me advice anyone can use to take the first leap, which was, “You just have to trust, trust that everything will unfold on your adventures and it will.”

My intention for writing this wasn’t to fluff up details about my travels, but to shed light on the lessons and healing that have the potential to happen through traveling, to simply inspire individuals to entertain the idea of travel. If you’ve ever dreamed of letting go or have been intrigued to explore the deeper self, become curious. Distractive thoughts of “you can’t leave here,” “what about your future?” or “you’re not a traveler” can rise. Ask yourself one question. What would happen if you listened to that voice saying “go”?

Alexander Hiffernan is an Council Bluffs-based yoga instructor. Off the mat, he finds fulfillment in creative and entrepreneurial projects, mastering different movement styles, studying anatomy and learning to question everything. Learn more at This article was originally published in YogaIowa’s Fall 2017 issue.


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