This is Part 2 and also the last part of my Cambodia trip. You can check out Part 1 here:
Why yoga retreat and what to expect at a yoga retreat?
As a dedicated yoga practitioner, the idea of taking a yoga retreat was very appealing to me and it was also something that I always wanted to do. So when the opportunity came, I immediately planned the date and signed up for the course. I am especially grateful for getting to know my yoga teacher, Rachel, at the time. She was the person who recommended this retreat to me and she’s one of the most amazing genuine human beings I have ever met. If you want to learn more about Meditation and Mindfulness, check out her page here.
And this is the retreat timetable which shows the typical activities that participants do during the retreat:
We practiced yoga twice a day. Meditation was incorporated into the yoga sessions. There are areas for reading, drawing, playing music, rock climbing, and other types of recreation.
9 Highlights during my stay
Before going further into details, I would like to make it clear that these highlights are purely the result of my internalization process. Your experiences might be different from mine when you do the retreat here.
1. Leave your shoes and ego at the door
Once we entered the center, shoes were no longer necessary. We were instructed to leave our shoes neatly on the rack at the front door and just use them when we need to go out. I walked barefoot for 1 week except for 1 morning when we went out to explore the neighborhood.
The stone walkways were brilliantly built across the place and the staff somehow managed to keep the place surprisingly clean with colorful rugs placed at room entrances.
There are several benefits of walking barefoot: strengthen our leg muscles, improve our balance & postures, releasing stress and anxiety, and most importantly, helping us stay grounded and be connected with nature.
“Ego” is a concept that was discussed frequently during my yoga teacher training in India. In the world of yoga, Ego (ahamkara) is defined as the individual’s sense of who they are – their thoughts, desires, and personality, as shaped by the mind. For example, when we practice advanced yoga postures (asana) with a desire to feel more superior to others or just to impress people, we come from the place of Ego. Yoga itself is not a competitive sport or gymnastics and should rather be used as a tool for us to reconnect with our bodies and minds. As a yoga instructor, I always tell my clients to listen to their bodies and resist the urge to compare themselves with others. Possessing the bendiest or the most flexible body doesn’t make you a true yogi. According to yoga philosophy, the ultimate goal of yoga is to increase our consciousness and decrease our egos to achieve a true state of happiness.
This article is quite useful if you’re new to this concept: https://www.doyouyoga.com/how-to-leave-your-ego-at-the-door-of-yoga-class-97586/
2. Digital detox policy
Digital devices such as phones, computers, tablets, iPods, cameras…and even Kindles will be collected on Day 1 and will be returned to us on Day 6. The photos you see in this post are the result of my quick snaps when I got my camera back on the last day.
It would probably be a bit extreme for some people to completely stop communicating with the outside world and I can understand why. “What if someone in the family gets sick or some urgent problems come up??”. If such things happen, your trusted family members or friends can email the staff and they will inform you accordingly.
I have to admit I did feel anxious on the first few days with tons of negative scenarios drawn to my head. “What if I have some good job offers and let them slide away…”, “What if somebody needs my help and they might think I don’t care…”. But at the end of the day, nothing happened. I was a bit nervous yet excited to re-activate my phone on Day 6 and though I received a few messages, nothing was serious or urgent. A small tip to feel more comfortable without checking your phones/emails is to inform your family & close friends about the trip and set vacation auto-replies for your email.
So what’s great about this digital detox?
After this digital detox experience, I realized that it’s not necessary to worry about everything all the time. We, or at least for me, tend to live in our heads a lot and we forget to enjoy the present moments when we constantly think about the past or future. “What could have happened if I stayed……?” or “What if something comes up….”. Once the moment has passed, it will never come back (or at least until we invent the time machine).
I learned to be more present. I spent a lot of time journaling and contemplating. I no longer had to decide whether I wanted to take a photo of the food I was eating or the activity that I was doing. Whatever I did, I gave it 100 percent of my attention. It could be either reading a book, talking to someone, or enjoying a really tasty vegan dessert.
If you need more reasons to give up your phone, check out this article:
3. Meditation – I found that sacred space
A magical thing happened to me during my meditation session on Day 2. After practicing some yogic breathing (Breath of Fire & Alternative Nostril Breathing), I finally entered that sacred dark space where I felt completely calm and relaxed. Focusing on my breaths only, I saw myself shifting to another space – a space of pure calmness and silence. It is hard to explain with words. I found myself at peace, all worries seemed to be flushed away.
Besides helping us feel more centered and relaxed, mediation also helps us concentrate better. I like how meditation is explained in this article: https://mindworks.org/blog/what-does-meditation-feel-like/
Although I am still a beginner at meditating, I am glad that I have made some progress.
4. Top-notch vegan food
Though I have always been into vegetarian/vegan food, I did not realize that the vegan food at Hariharalaya could be so delicious and that it makes it much easier for me to convert to a vegetarian. I have to admit, toward the end of my yoga teacher training in India in 2018, I grew a crave for meat after having only vegetarian food for a month. Strangely enough, it was not the case at Hariharalaya. I was like a child eagerly looking forward to mealtimes and as a result, I put on some weight because of the excessive amount of food that I ate (Damm yummy vegan food!). And based on my ingenious observation, their secret of creating these amazing vegan foods is the freshness and the diversity of the veggies. Since I love this experience so much, one of the items on my bucket list this year is to cook a tasty vegetarian meal for my family.
5. Silence Day
What comes to your mind when you first heard the term “Silence Day”? So we are not allowed to speak at certain times (activities & meals) or we are required to keep our mouths shut the whole day? Isn’t it weird? How can we stand being silent for the entire day? Those were my concerns when I thought about Silence Day.
We were not allowed to speak from the beginning of the day until dinner time when the silence rule is lifted.
I woke up that morning remembering nothing about the rule. Seeing Rachel, my favorite yoga teacher, approaching, I habitually said “Hi Rachel” and received a genuine lovely smile from her. There were absolutely no words. Strangely the incidence happened again…Then I blushed with embarrassment realizing it’s Silent Day!
Much to my surprise, it turned out to be one of my favorite days here. No small talks or forced, awkward conversations, only genuine smiles, and sincere gestures. If heaven exists, it could only be this good. I would never forget that afternoon when I sat at the Jungle Juice bar jotting down my thoughts and making plans for 2020. This is what I wrote in my journal:
“I’m at Hariharalaya, eating my favorite vegan chocolate cake with coconut ice-cream, sipping some Japanese green tea served with shredded ginger and a slice of lime. Wow, this is surreal! Today is Silence Day and yes, the name speaks for itself. We haven’t talked to each other since the sunrise. I was a bit skeptical about the idea of it at first. How could it be possible for us to go through a day without exchanging words? It didn’t make sense to me.
But now I’m here, being surrounded by other 3 individuals in what can be called “almost complete silence”. The only sounds I can hear are the sounds of a leaf falling off from a tree and touching the ground. The sunlight is dancing on the dewy grass and Terressa, my new good friend, is reading her book on a hammock. I wish this sacred peaceful moment would never end. Time seems to pass so fast. I feel like I just arrived at this place yesterday. And it’s Day 4 already.
6. The Art Room – where you learn to reconnect with your inner child
As someone who is extremely into creativity and art, needless to say, The Art Room is my favorite place besides the reading areas. I learned to draw my first Mandala here. Creation is a fun rewarding process and I believe that we are all creators. You may say you don’t have any talents or you are not creative. But it’s not true. As long as you give yourself a chance to just play and enjoy playing, you will be surprised by what you can create. To be able to do that, you should only create the things you truly enjoy and believe in, without external influences or forces. Creating a piece of artwork is a way to come back to ourselves or in other words, to reconnect with our long-lost inner child.
The Art Room inspired me so much that I chose “Creativity” as one of my main themes for 2020. I have learned several types of creative and intuitive activities this year such as sketchnoting, photography, playing music, and Tarot reading. Quarantine time was not bad at all for me. I feel like I found myself again doing these fun activities.
7. I learned to open my heart and be vulnerable
Group activities are incorporated into the schedule and one of my favorite games is called “The Active Listener” (I made up this name cuz I can’t remember the original name!). We were paired with other members randomly. One person would be the listener and the other would be the speaker. The speaker shared his or her thoughts about the listener and the listener can only listen without verbal responses. And I like the way the meaning of this game was explained: When having a conversation with someone, we tend to think a lot about our responses. We may have already processed all the things we want to say when the other person is still talking so we might lose the chance to listen intentionally to that person. The situation usually gets worse when one of us (or usually both) is not in a good mood. We become defensive and constantly think of ways to justify our words and actions. And defensiveness kills relationships. By putting ourselves in the listener’s role, we give ourselves a chance to practice listening intentionally and develop our empathy with the person we are talking to.
I did not expect to be so emotional but I got tears in my eyes hearing the beautiful honest words from my new friend Terressa.
Funnily enough, “The Active Listener” was still an “easy” game compared to “The Tunnel of Love”. Everyone got on an emotional rollercoaster and started crying when we played that game. To avoid spoiling your experience, I will not explain that game here.
My point is opening up your heart and being vulnerable are not signs of weakness. Conversely, we should be proud of ourselves when we overcome our ego and fears to open up to people, act, and live more authentically.
8. Celebrate our loved ones’ lives and memories
Meeting Ms. K is one of the moments of synchronicity on this trip. Ms. K was in her fifties (my mom’s age). She has a cheerful personality that can light up the room with her radiation of joy and infectious laughter. If we hadn’t had that special talk, I would have never imagined the trauma she had experienced in life.
Ms. K lost her son when he was only a 10-year-old little boy in an accident. It’s hard to imagine the pain she had been through. To my surprise and admiration, Ms. K said “I would never really move on but I feel lucky to have him and will always treasure the 10-year period I had with him.” Her words indeed saved me since I was still deeply hurt by the sudden passing of my good friend. And when I think about it, it can’t be truer. Instead of grieving over a loved one for years and thinking of losing that person forever, why don’t we try thinking about it the other way around: at least we got the chance to know and spend time with her.
This is another version of the “Glass half full or half empty” analogy. My friend’s death is also a reminder that how uncertain life can be and why we should always treat people (especially the ones important to us) nicely. Thank you, K for your wisdom.
9. Life is a dream
“Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream”
This simple nursery rhyme was chanted in one of our last evening practices and got stuck in my brain for days. It may be interpreted differently but I think it has a very deep meaning about life. My interpretation: We were born to be merry (happy) and we always have a choice with our willpower. Don’t forget who we are and try to live someone’s life, then wake up one day regretting how we spend our whole life. Life is indeed “a dream” because time flies so fast. I feel like I was just hanging out and having fun with my friends in my twenties yesterday and…bam…Now I am in my early thirties. I guess when I reach 50 or 60 (if I’m lucky), I will still feel the same.
And that’s the end of this post. I hope to do a similar retreat in the future to calm my busy mind and purify my soul. How about you? Have you been to a place like this and what’s your experience? Please let me know in the comment section below. You can also send me an email to email@example.com. I am longing for meeting and connecting with my soul tribes 🙂
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