Finding My AHA in Baja: The Bold Transformational School for the “Modern Elder”

by Leslie Barrett on January 4, 2023 in Travels,

Baja California embodies the magical mountain-meets-desert-meets-ocean vibe and is one of my new favorite places in Mexico. I’m not talking about the golf and party scene that attracts the typical Cabo crowd, nor the sleepy retirement and beachfront condo area of the north between Tijuana and Ensenada. Tucked between these two well-known expat and vacation destinations are the towns of El Pescadero, El Cerritos, Todos Santos—a sleepy farming community and an area steeped in mysticism, deep thinking, creativity, artistry, and renewal.


I recently traveled to this breathtakingly beautiful thin slice of Mexico (it’s only 25 miles across at its narrowest and 199 miles at its widest) to attend a “Body Wisdom” workshop offered by  Modern Elder Academy, a bold enclave of enlightened CEOs, athletes, celebrities, thinkers and some surprisingly regular folks like me who routinely get together for workshops centered around reframing aging, social wellness and long-life learning.

 Created as the answer to the ever-perplexing midlife era, Modern Elder Academy (MEA) seeks to guide and support adults through periods of transition in life, with a particular lens on those aged 40 and above. Dubbed a “midlife wisdom school,” Modern Elder Academy takes teachings from modern science and centuries of philosophers, writers, poets, and yogis and melds it into lessons and insights for individuals looking for growth and guidance as they navigate this next vital period of their life. Cofounded by author, hotelier and entrepreneur, Chip Conley, Modern Elder Academy has built a dedicated alumni group of over 3,000 past participants from over 40 countries. 

What is a Modern Elder? MEA is on a mission to reclaim the word elder. Elders are people who have been around the block and have deep wells of wisdom to share with the world. What is more, the word “elder” is a relative term. A 45-year-old surrounded by 25-year-olds would be considered an elder in that group. While “elderly” refers to years lived on the planet, “elder” refers to what we do with those years. “Modern elders” reflect on what they’ve learned and incorporate it into their relationships with younger generations. Modern elders are also curious, with a desire to learn, connect, and act as both mentor and intern, sage and student, teacher and learner, all at the same time, just as Chip Conley did during his seven and a half years mentoring the young founders and leadership team of Airbnb.

I decided to check out this workshop with the hope of learning how to embrace and strengthen my body as I entered the second stage of adulthood (midlife +). I was especially excited to build and take home a new movement practice (yoga and pilates) taught by the amazing Tom McCook, an internationally-respected fitness master.

Body Wisdom movement class with Tom McCook. Photo: Cookie Kinkead

 The MEA compound is accessible by flying into San Jose del Cabo (SJD) airport and driving an hour and a half north to the small, but growing fishing village, El Pescadero, nestled in between the Sierra de la Laguna mountains and the glistening Pacific Ocean. The MEA staff is impeccable and very quickly they learned the names of all the guests and very lovingly attended to all of our needs. There were approximately 20 people attending this particular workshop.

As guests arrived and evening approached (insert picturesque sunset photo opp here), we gathered on the front porch of the main building and enjoyed greetings and small talk over cocktails and a lovely dinner at two long, family-style dining tables. Every meal was delicious, but not fancy, and satisfied carnivores, pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans (they have a garden onsite and work with local farmers – check out the MEA website to learn about their regenerative community programs). We lingered awhile, getting to know each other and then drifted off to our well-appointed guest rooms in different areas around the spacious 26-guest room MEA campus.


Dinner and conversation. Photo courtesy MEA

The overall experience was nothing like I expected it to be. It far surpassed the website description and my own preconceived idea of yet another yoga/pilates workshop. In addition to the body and mind work, I enjoyed a massage, learned how to surf, had a mountaintop session with a shaman, and learned how to make bread from scratch! Beyond all that, what really made this thoughtfully-curated workshop special, was how 20 strangers from all over the world were able to connect on such a deep level and create a sense of community in a very short time. I can’t wait to go back.

As I boarded my plane back to Austin seven days later, I left Mexico with not only a transformed, more open and aligned body with fluid joints and a “sexy” spine (thanks Tom!), but also a transformed mindset about my body, my brain, my soul, and with 20+ new friends, several who I’ve already made plans to reconnect with in the near future. 

Modern Elder Academy Playa Casitas. Photo courtesy MEA

MEA hosts in-person workshops in Baja California Sur, Mexico, offers online programs year-round and a regular lineup of free live virtual events, and has two properties in the Santa Fe, New Mexico, area for future campuses which will open in 2023-2024.  

For more information, visit Modern Elder Academy.

Follow MEA on social media: Instagram, Facebook.

For a daily dose of wisdom, subscribe to Wisdom Well, MEA’s daily blog and newsletter.


Cover Photo courtesy MEA

Leslie Barrett is a native Texan and avid traveler and reader, living her best life in the Hill Country.