I’ve always struggled to put into words what Hariharalaya has meant to me. Perhaps it’s because the founder, Joel Altman is so passionate about living in the present moment that writing about a past experience there almost seems counterintuitive. What I can tell you without question is that Hariharalaya Yoga Retreat in Cambodia changed my life. It set me on the path of genuine fulfilment, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Mary Tilson | Cover image by Tania Araujo
With an emphasis on simplicity and building community, Hariharalaya offers one of the richest yet most affordable yoga programs starting as low as about $US260 for an all-inclusive 6-day retreat. As a result, the centre attracts a diverse group of soul seekers varying in cultural background, age, gender, occupation, income level and all of the other labels we generally use to separate ourselves. But on retreat, there is no time for such stories – no Facebook, no Instagram feeds, just raw face to face human interaction and present moment experiences.
Living Yoga at the Hariharalaya Meditation Retreat Centre
Expect to rise to the sound of the wakeup gong at 6:30am if the roosters and Cambodian music from the surrounding villages haven’t gotten you out of bed already. From there, the real practice of awakening begins. As the centre’s founder, Joel Altman shared in one of his Dharma talks, “we do not wake up by simply opening our eyes. To truly awaken is to open our bodies, hearts and minds”.
Each morning begins with a two-hour practice including chanting, yoga postures made accessible to all levels, pranayama (breathing) and meditation. The daily schedule has a perfect balance of learning, time to play, explore, and just be. I recommend signing up for a Blind Shiatsu massage with the all-star Cambodian masseuse Liab, who has the hands of a god. Other free time activities include a rock-climbing gym, waterfall pool, cycling to the surrounding village and ancient temple ruins, a beautiful library, music and arts studio, and hammocks at every turn to slow down and just be. You may also time your stay to catch special additions such as a palm-reader, acupuncturist, or an evening magic show by Sean Borland, a Hariharalaya legend.
What I admire most about Joel’s approach to training others in “living yoga” is the way he isn’t afraid to push people just enough out of their comfort zone to discover something new. After all, this is a centre for learning and conscious living, not to be mistaken with a resort. Some of the ways this process unfolds is with a strict vegan diet, digital-detox policy, silent mornings, karma yoga duties, and traditional yoga technique and philosophy.
Stay in a Bamboo Hut
Accommodation is simple and yet incredibly rich. If you’re truly looking to be one with nature, try staying in the open air bungalows. The centre also offers closed bamboo huts, a few indoor rooms on the second level of the main house, and dorm accommodation. Aside from sleeping, very little time is spent in the guest rooms.
A Nourishing Vegan Menu
Although the vegan diet instills quite a bit of fear in non-vegetarian guests prior to booking, it is also what tends to leave people the most pleasantly surprised. Joel has developed an incredible selection of meals including a few Hariharalaya favourites – the sticky rice porridge with palm sugar, fruit and nut toppings, the hummus and falafel bar, and my personal favourite, a hearty pumpkin soup with fresh spring rolls. All dishes are made with love by the Cambodian staff with ingredients from the local village and there is always enough for seconds and thirds. Hari also has a juice bar with tropical fruit smoothies and vegan desserts if you still have room for more.
Learning to Reconnect at Hariharalaya
One of the women that joined my last retreat shared with the group that her intention for the week was to reconnect with her “life force”. Hearing this was the first time I felt like I could begin to describe in words what my time there has done for me. Hariharalaya is about experiencing a feeling of being alive moment to moment, whether you’re dancing wildly or simply sitting in stillness feeling your breath and the beat of your heart. No matter who you are or where you come from, Hariharalaya will take you home.
Yoga Retreat Cambodia
Prasat Bakong (Temple), NR6, Krong Siem Reap 17000, Cambodia