“The world’s biggest secret is that life is a dance” – Joel.
Before traveling in Asia, I had only experienced yoga as a fitness activity in urban studios. After a few months of practice, I started seeing the benefits on my body’s strength and flexibility but mostly I noticed the impact it had on my stress levels and confidence. Each class was a discovery about myself and my mental/physical capacities. I knew there was so much more to this activity than what I had experienced of it so I decided to book a yoga retreat when I arrived in Cambodia.
I was in Siem Reap, near the temples of Angkor, and looking at different options on the internet. I didn’t have any recommendations and chose Hariharalaya not only because it was te cheapest option – I admit the price did have impact on my decision – but mostly because the program seemed perfectly adapted to what I was after. From their home page, the words “digital detox”, “community” and “creativity” caught my attention. Plus, they put a lot of emphasis on meditation and spirituality which are things I always wanted to know more about.
Joel Altman founded Hariharalaya 6 years ago to promote a simple yet enlightening vision of what yoga should be: open to everyone; creative; spirituality-based rather than fitness-based; playful and connected. Meeting him for the first time as we all arrived at the retreat centre was a sort of revelation; one that was intriguing and strange at the same time. Joel speaks with his eyes closed and all the words coming out his mouth are meant and authentic. His voice is soft but powerful and his speeches resonate with everyone’s feelings. I had never met anyone like this before and his presence itself was soothing and refreshing.
From the beginning, Joel explained that yoga is often misconstrued as many people – included myself at the time – see it as a physical activity. However, yoga is (in his words) a “path to awakening” and includes asana (the physical work), pranayama (the breath work) and the meditation part. Therefore, each day included two complete yoga sessions – the morning one from 7am to 9am and the evening one from 6pm to 7pm. Also, all mornings until 9am were silent which was a little weird at the start but extremely informative on our speaking habits and on how much of what we say we actually mean or want to say.
On top of the yoga classes, Hariharalaya offers daily free and/or very reasonable-priced workshops such as an alignement class, a yoga massage workshop, a yoga class in a hidden temple and an acro-yoga session. Each night after dinner was another occasion to gather and have fun: movie night, ecstatic dance night, fire ceremony and traditional live music night. Everything was planned to encourage social interactions at a higher and deeper level and it is this community-driven approach to yoga that I loved the most at Hariharalaya.
Because the environment has a huge impact on the practice, everything there is made for the people (students, teachers, local staff members, intervenants and everyone around) to gather, share a moment and have fun. Their mantra is to be playful and they organise everything so that we can constantly laugh and smile together. Our yoga teachers were fully committed to the well-being of the group and always taking part in each activity either to guide us or simply play with us. The way they enabled us to interact with each other helped us overcome our fears and egos and be ourselves in the present moment. There was no barriers between us; we were honest, real and simply happy.
At the beginning of the retreat, we all sat in a circle and introduced ourselves: why were we there and what were we tying to achieve? People came from completely different horizons and for completely different reasons. But as we looked deeper into ourselves, we found out we all had one goal in common: discover and inhabit the change we wanted to see in ourselves. Everyday, we were writing down in our journals, reading about spirituality, talking openly about everything with everyone like we had rarely done before. We all left feeling lighter and thankful; we knew it was only up to ourselves to keep up with this infinite but oh so rewarding internal work that leads to happiness.
This place was not only a haven of peace, it was a magical place full of positive and healing energies. I have learnt so much from these people and I am incredibly grateful for all the life lessons I’ve taken in and the fun I’ve had. Ten thousand stars!
6 Day Integral Yoga & Conscious Living Retreat: all meals (delicious vegan food only), accomodation and retreat program included.
- Dormitory – $260.00
- Shared Twin – $270.00
- Open Air Bungalows – $290.00
- Private Room – $310.00
- Bamboo Hut – $330.00