Taming My Busy Mind at Hariharalaya: The Best Yoga Retreat in Cambodia

I make no secret of my mental health struggles with anxiety and have been very fortunate that the happiness I have found in travelling is helping me move further away from the cage of self-doubt and worry that I have often found myself trapped in. Despite externally appearing relatively confident and strong, it’s often a mask and inside my head I can be my own worst enemy.

Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, all the while comparing myself unfavourably to others. My brain really is very mean to me sometimes and over the last year I’ve been working really hard to tame it in an effort become my own best friend.

I’d been wanting to go to a yoga retreat for a long time and so made a promise to myself that whilst we were travelling in Cambodia I would treat myself. Learning to tame my busy mind in order to focus on living in the moment is a real priority for me and so my mental health was the main driver.

I love yoga and always feel great after a practice, but I’ve struggled to integrate it regularly into my life and always wondered if I was actually doing it correctly when I was on my own and not in a guided session.

Knowing J wouldn’t be so interested in attending himself, it was also a perfect opportunity to try out some solo travel after being together every day for the best part of a year. We’d made a pretty big decision recently about what we want for our lives going forward and I wanted the space to ensure that I was making the decision for myself as well as us as a couple.

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Why Hariharalaya Yoga Retreat?

Throughout our travels in South East Asia we’d met numerous backpackers who had raved about a yoga retreat in Siem Reap called Hariharalaya. So after checking the retreat out online and being impressed by their ethos and sense of community, I booked my place on their programme.

With it being the first yoga retreat I had been on and my first time travelling solo I was a little apprehensive, but I really had no need to be. The 6 days I spent at Hariharalaya yoga retreat turned out to be pure bliss and a very positive personal journey for me.

My favourite hammock

My favourite hammock

Arrival at Hariharalaya Yoga Retreat

I’d travelled up from Phnom Penh the day prior by bus, leaving J down south exploring Cambodia’s coastal islands and stayed in a cheap $2 hotel for the night. The programme is extremely well organised and all you really have to do is get yourself to Siem Reap as a free pick up service is arranged.

It was an early morning start as our group gathered outside the Lucky Mall pick up point and it reminded me of a school trip as we all eagerly awaited Hariharalaya’s friendly yoga teachers arriving to greet us. From there the Hariharalaya Yoga Retreat is around a 40 minute tuk tuk ride out through the beautiful lush green countryside to a small village.

Upon arrival we were warmly welcomed by the rest of the Hariharalaya team and Joel Altman, the founder of the retreat, who showed us around the gorgeous jungle grounds and explained the retreat programme.

A mix of men, women, couples and singles of all ages and nationalities there was a buzz of excitement in the air as our group of 30 started to chat and get to know each other whilst we all checked in. Some had been practicing yoga and meditation for years and some were complete beginners which was a huge relief for me, as although I’d been practicing more yoga since I’d set off travelling, I would very much consider myself a novice and had only tried meditation a handful of times.

The 6 bed dorm room I stayed in

The 6 bed dorm room I stayed in

Accommodation Options & Facilities

There are numerous accommodation options available at Hariharalaya Yoga Retreat. You can choose from dorm, twin and double rooms, either in traditional grass bungalows dotted around the grounds or in the main building which hosts the communal meals and meetings. There are plenty of facilities for everyone, with hot showers inside or cold showers outside and also a swimming pool.

There is a music room with numerous funky instruments, an extensive library with a huge variety of books for all tastes, a games room with pool and ping pong tables and an open air cinema.

There are tons of cosy hangout spots, more hammocks than there were people and even a treehouse!

Games room complete with pool table

Games room complete with pool table

Swimming pool

Swimming pool

Reading room for quiet time

Reading room for quiet time

What to Expect

At the start of your Hariharalaya experience you are encouraged to enter into in a digital detox and detach yourself from the pressures of the external online world. This isn’t enforced, of course if you have responsibilities where you need to be contactable you’re not going to have your phone confiscated! There is a communal computer for emergencies and booking onward travel.

As soon as I got there I turned my phone off and put it away. Because we work online for a living, the retreat was a chance to take welcome a break from the pressures of that. You are also prompted to leave your shoes at the door for your stay to enable you to connect with your new surroundings more fully which I really loved.

Private traditional bamboo bungalow

Private traditional bamboo bungalow

Because the days at Hariharalaya Yoga Retreat run on a schedule where meals and practices are the same time each day, you are also encouraged to also take your watch off and create a space where you are not constantly thinking or worrying about what time it is.

Six loud bashes of a huge gong wake you in the morning so there’s no need for an alarm and throughout the day 3 sounds of the gong alert you to practices and meal times. It takes some getting used to and for the first day I was constantly fretting about what time it was but after that I really relaxed into letting someone else take care of my time keeping. It surprised me just how often I was used to looking at the time!

THE gong

THE gong

Hariharalaya YOGA Retreat Programme

The morning wake-up call is 6:30am giving you 30minutes to get ready before morning practice of yoga and meditation 7am-9am.  During this time silence is observed, which was perfect for me because I’m not at all a morning person. Then it’s breakfast time – more detail about the yummy food later.

Throughout the day there are various optional talks and additional classes interspersed with periods of free time for you to do whatever you please, including exploring outside the grounds of the retreat with free bikes available. Lunch is served at 1pm and dinner is 7pm after a further 2 hours of yoga, breathing exercises and meditation practice from 5pm-7pm.

Daily Hariharalaya schedule

Daily Hariharalaya schedule

There are a number of massages and treatments on offer at the retreat also, including a blind shiatzu deep tissue massage (which I can highly endorse), traditional Khmer massage, cranio-sacral massage and lymphatic drainage.

You can have as many as you like but I would definitely recommend booking onto a massage later in the programme, because unless you are used to doing 4 plus hours of yoga and mediation per day, trust me your body is going to ache in places where you didn’t even realise you had muscles.

Throughout the week there were also guest visits from a reiki healer, an acupuncturist and a palm reader who offered treatments and readings.

The yoga hall

The yoga hall

Evening Entertainment

The teachers and Joel create a really inclusive and warm atmosphere and are on hand to answer any questions or concerns you may have, or just for a general chat. Every evening there are different activities organised, from a film night to ecstatic dance and traditional Khmer music performances and a games night. These activities lead by Joel and the amazing Hariharalaya team are all designed around communal living and sharing experiences, thus were really conducive to for us all developing friendships within the group.

The music room

The music room

Having thoroughly checked out the programme beforehand, I was honestly not so much looking forward to the ecstatic dance evening, but along with many others it turned out to be one of my favourite elements of the programme. As Joel described life as a dance and coached us into experimenting with the flow of our bodies, the evening transformed into a mini festival with us all dancing away to some seriously funky beats as disco lights peppered the yoga hall. It left us all feeling so alive and energised.

Communal dining room

Communal dining room

Nutrition & Detox

The 6 day programme at Hariharalaya Yoga Retreat really offers an opportunity to treat your mind and body to a full detox. There is no caffeine or alcohol, which was tough for me at first and although I know I couldn’t do it forever, that’s not the point, it was a great break for my body.

If you drink a lot of either I’d recommend cutting down before the retreat as a few people did have headaches the first couple of days. There is complimentary and unlimited water, decaffeinated green tea and fresh ginger and lime available at all times and a juice bar open during the day which makes delectable and nutritious smoothies.

Meal time at Hariharalaya

Meal time at Hariharalaya

The menu at Hariharalaya is completely vegan and whilst I’m not, I very much enjoyed the wholesome and healthy food served at the retreat. From super tasty tofu curries to mixed bean chilli’s and fresh salads with delicious sauces, the food was some of the best I had in all of Cambodia. Don’t worry about going hungry either. Meals are eaten communally with helpings taken from a large buffet table where, if ever a bowl or plate got emptied, it would be filled right back up and seconds and thirds were totally encouraged.

Just one of the many delicious vegan meals

Just one of the many delicious vegan meals

Making Friends

Because I can be in my own head so much worrying about anything and everything I can sometimes struggle to make connections with people. Luckily this has lessened since I’ve been travelling and been happier, but I was nevertheless nervous about being flung into a group of strangers. However, because we were on the same journey and being encouraged and supported by the excellent team at Hariharalaya to open and share our experiences, I think I can speak for many of our group in saying that we all made some deep connections and true friendships over the course of the 6 days we were together.

Our time together ended in us practising our ecstatic dancing at a huge spontaneous street dance party back in the centre of Siem Riep where many others passing by couldn’t help but succumb to the positive energy we were radiating and joined in. It was incredible and we were all really sad to part ways. But we’ll keep in touch and I’ll cherish the time we spent together dearly in my heart. And so if you are at all worried about going to Hariharalaya on your own, don’t be. In fact, I would encourage it.

Trip out into the village for sugar cane with new friends  

Trip out into the village for sugar cane with new friends  

My Personal Journey

Particularly in the beginning, I really struggled with the meditation aspect of the practices. Together with my mind jumping all over the place, I never realised just how much I fidget! Joel will teach you that the purpose of mediation isn’t ‘to do’ something, it is simply ‘to be’ and that takes years of patience and practice.

But he gives you all manner of tips that prepare you for being able to set up your own independent daily practice once you leave the retreat. The experienced yoga teachers also thoroughly instruct you about alignment of yoga poses and how to self-correct yourself which was a massive benefit for me personally.

Serous envy over Joel's library

Serous envy over Joel's library

I got so much out of the experience and have set up a daily yoga and meditation practice with all the knowledge and enthusiasm I gained from the retreat. By just allowing myself this time every day to focus on myself and my needs I am really benefitting from having more energy to focus and give for the rest of the day.

During mediation my mind does still behave like a naughty toddler throwing its toys around, but more and more I am getting a few minutes of stillness and I’ve managed to physically be still for a whole 10 minutes a few times now which is massive for me!

Getting in some serious me time

Getting in some serious me time

Allowing myself this time out at Hariharalaya yoga retreat has given me the sense of clarity that I had hoped for about what I want from life at present and has definitely helped me in my quest for establishing a stronger sense of self. So whether you have a mental health condition you are working on or are simply wanting to give yourself some breathing space and learn about healthier ways of being, I would very much recommend taking some time out and treating your body and mind to a stay at this yoga retreat in Siem Reap.

Love & light!

Sarah x

  • Depending on your choice of accommodation, the cost for attending the 6 day Hariharalaya Yoga Retreat Programme in Siem Reap for 6 days is very reasonable at $260-330.
  • This is inclusive of your accommodation, all meals and the core retreat program. Click here to visit their website for more details and book yourself a place at the best yoga retreat in Cambodia.