Yoga in Aruba: A Mission Trip with Yoga Girl (Rachel Brathen) and Sgt. Pepper's Friends

Today I'm honored to share a Q and A post featuring my friend and fellow yogini, Cassandra. 

Earlier this year, Cassandra's heart for service led her to sign up for a mission trip with Sgt. Pepper's Friends, a nonprofit organization created by yoga superstar Rachel Brathen of @yoga_girl.

1. What inspired you to take the trip to Aruba?

I have been following @yoga_girl for years and when she started up her non-profits, specifically 109 World I became interested.

109 World is a mission trip organization that offers trips around the globe.

Some of these trips have included: Nicaragua to bring water to a small town, Ecuador to help a town that was devastated by the earthquake and Latvia to work with the children. They focus on themes that 109 World is passionate about. These include children, environment, water, women, education and animals. I am very passionate about animals so I had been waiting to see what mission trip they would create around this theme. When they announced that they would be hosting an animal rescue mission trip on their home island, alongside their other non-profit Sgt. Pepper's Friends , I was hooked!

2. What were your biggest takeaways from the trip? 

There were so many takeaways from this trip! I think the biggest takeaway was the realization that everyone has the potential to be a change-maker. I think that it is easy to feel hopeless about situations and feel like we are just one person but this trip made me realize that all it takes sometimes is one person. I made it a mission to post on my social media about the trip, pictures and what I was experiencing. I had so many people reach out to me and want more information about what I was doing and so much interest that I realized I was making a difference. I urge everyone to take what they are passionate about and make a change. Throw a rock, you will be surprised how far the ripples will reach.

3. How is traveling alone for you? Do you enjoy it? What are the pros and cons to taking a trip on your own?

I enjoy traveling in all aspects, with people or alone.

One thing I do love about traveling alone is the reflection time that you get.

When you are with someone, family, husband, boyfriend or friends it is sometimes hard to find personal time to reflect on your travels. I went to Peru in November with my Fiancé and it was amazing but a lot of the reflection happened when I got home. In aruba I was able to find time on my own every night to reflect on the day and write in my journal. One of the cons in going to Aruba solo is that I missed Matt and wished I could have shared the incredible experience with him. 

4. How do you fit in yoga or other workouts when you're on the go?

This trip was very easy to fit yoga in because we had a scheduled yoga class every morning around 7 am. One of the values that 109 World holds is to fill your own cup before pouring into others. Essentially, taking care of yourself before you go out to take care of others. I have done a lot of travel with work in the past and fitting in yoga/ fitness can be challenging. I try to keep a routine similar to my at home routine when I travel but I also make sure to have no expectations as travel can be unpredictable and crazy at times!

Was the trip what you were expecting? How was it different from your expectations, and what did you learn from that?

I really had no idea what to expect. When I booked the trip in October, the reasons for booking and excitement I felt was slightly superficial. Puppies, yoga and getting to hang out with @yoga_girl, if I am being completely honest those were my main motivations at first. Well that changed about 180 degrees! 

On my blog, I talk about an event I experienced the first day of the mission trip. A group of us were walking back to our hotel to get ready for the opening circle and we witnessed a cat get hit by a car and it was killed right in front of us. At that point I realized this trip was not about puppies and yoga it was about the animals and we were there to donate our time to help with this problem. 

5. What was it like meeting Rachel Brathen, a yoga celebrity, and being immersed in her community? How did it feel spending time with people you'd been following before you got there? Will you keep in touch?

It was awesome to work so close to Rachel and the team at 109 World/ Sgt. Pepper's Friends. I had met Rachel previously in SF through a class she taught and in Mountain View for a book signing but this trip was much different and much more personal. Being immersed in the 109 World/ Sgt. Pepper's friends world was so surreal and amazing. I remember one day watching the Sgt. Pepper's Instagram story and seeing myself holding a puppy, it was like I was in a twilight zone. It did make me realize that these wonderful people are just regular people like you and me!

With social media it can be easy to start looking at people differently once they hit a certain amount of followers, or get so many likes but at the end of the day we are all one. On this trip we cried as one, we felt as one and we all shared the same wonderful experience as one. 

6. How did this trip allow you to take your yoga practice "off the mat?"

Yoga practice can be different for everyone. For some people the end goal is fitness related, for some it is a healing of the mind and for some it is to quiet their ego and feel. For me on this trip it was the latter. 

This trip allowed me to take a step back from my crazy life and focus on the things that truly matter. 

It allowed me to really feel which I think some of us tend to avoid at times and it allowed me to come back to the states with a different view on certain things. One of the activities on the island that we did was animal rescue. One of the rescues that took place was on the island's dump, the pictures are almost unreal. On one side you have the beautiful landscape of the Caribbean and on the other side you have mountains of trash and waste. Coming back I have tried to make a conscious effort of the waste I am producing. The lessons learned while traveling and being able to feel raw emotion is how I took my practice "off the mat."

What else did you do while in Aruba?

Aruba is amazing!! I definitely recommend going to visit if you have not. Also, if you do visit swing by Island Yoga to take class, check out the cafe, they have the best avocado toast and bring a puppy back with you! Some people don't realize that most of the dogs adopted out from Sgt. Pepper's Friends are flown out of Island by volunteers. Anyone who visits can contact to coordinate and help. I arrived to Aruba a few days before the mission trip started so I was able to experience some of the tourist attractions. Some recommendations: take a ride on a pirate ship with Jolly Pirates, they have a rope swing and it is amazing. Take a SUP yoga class taught by Island Yoga, I can't quite describe how amazing it is to sit on a paddle board in the middle of the Caribbean. Also in the near future (hopefully) they will have a Sgt. Pepper's Friends shelter! By paying for this 109 World trip we were able to fundraise over 50k that will go directly to Sgt. Pepper's Friends for the sole purpose of buying property for a new shelter. Once it is open you can go and volunteer for a day, a week or however long you would like. 

7. Tell us a little about your hopes and dreams for the future. Any plans for travel? Teaching yoga? Sharing in more community service projects?

More travel is always on my agenda! This year we have Alaska and some state trips to look forward to. I think I have officially become a 109 World junkie and I am hoping to save enough up for their December trip to Nicaragua. My love of travel will always be burning inside of me but this year we also have something very special to look forward to: a wedding! Matt and I got engaged last October so this year a lot of time will be dedicated to wedding planning. One of the goals I have this year that was influenced by my trip is to try to make my travel more eco-friends. Whether this means choosing more "Eco-friendly" places to stay or making an effort to volunteer in the place we visit, this will be one of our goals moving forward. I urge anyone interested in a mission trip to take a look at The trips are so meaningful and often in beautiful places that you can explore. There is no better feeling then leaving a "vacation" feeling like you made a positive impact in the community.

To read more about Cassandra's adventures to Aruba, see her full blog post.  

Thank you, Cassandra, for sharing your beautiful story, and for all you do!

Photos in this post courtesy of Cassandra Alexander.