Hariharalaya – Yoga retreat centre in Siem Reap

Apr 19, 2020

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For an official description of the Yoga Retreat center, please visit: https://www.hariharalaya.com/

I was invited to shoot some images for the resort, as a few rooms were particularly challenging in terms of light and shape in Winter 2016. Probably many things have changed since them. The following words are not a review – just some random thoughts on my personal experience.

At that time, I was in Cambodia, during a SouthEast Asia trip. Had a bit of interest on Buddhism and Hinduism from the philosophical standpoint, but wasn’t at all interested in Yoga, the way it is marketed to Western youngsters: a series of body contortions aiming to provide some degree of freedom to their fears and tabus, and justify weed smoking, mushrooms ingesting and liberal sex.

My stay in Hariharalaya happened exclusively for professional reasons. The one week retreat I covered included silence (which was not a problem to me), but also vegan food, which was abundant, tasty and of good quality. However, not being used to it, and not really foreseeing any advantage, soon became a bit boring (specially considering the richness of the country on exotic foods).

Smoking was not allowed, and I did my best to cope with it, despite making me anxious. The bar didn’t serve beer and, despite the cocoa shake being outstanding, at night there was, surely, something missing. Yoga (the asanas) were an excessively painful experience, and the meditation too noisy, meaning, the teachers talked too much while conducting it.

After the retreat was finished (luckily I survived it, heading straight to Siem Reap nightlife and booze), I had a chat with Joel, the mentor of the centre, and asked: what’s the point of enduring that sufferance. Are you going to Heaven or something?

All therapists were extremely competent. This one, was blind and didn’t speak English, so there wasn’t much way to communicate.

His answer was something like: your body is like a musical instrument. You can play it in tune or out of tune. I understood those simple words, but they didn’t make much sense to me. As far as I knew, I was enough in tune, and that physical and emotional pain would lead to nowhere but ego boosting and self-justification.

Today, four years later, I neither drink nor smoke, avoid meat and mostly eat vegetarian food. Some asanas became part of my daily life; same with meditation, and his words (not only the quoted ones but the remaining conversation) acquired a different meaning.

I don’t owe it to him, neither to Hariharalaya but, indeed, it was a way to show me, and many others, that there are alternatives to the way we live our lives.

Looking back in time, I see the resort as a potential intro to yoga / Hindu spirituality; a way to grab the backpackers attention and plant some seeds who can, eventually, grow. To be dead honest, there was no lie, no fake promise, no greed – just an opportunity, on which everyone receives what he’s willing to put into. I didn’t put much and hadn’t receive much either. Today I wish I had gone there with a bit more interest and commitment. Anyway, here are the best images from that week.

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