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Uptight expats unwind at yoga

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Joel Altman stretches out with a guest in front of Bakong temple. PHOTO SUPPLIED

A new yoga and meditation retreat in Siem Reap’s countryside is quickly gaining a reputation as the weekend destination of choice for expats wanting to enjoy some personal time.

And the retreat owner, Joel Altman, said that’s just the beginning of what he has planned for stressed-out Siem Reapers.

The Hariharalaya Retreat Centre is named after the ancient capital of Cambodia, which originally encompassed the land around the Roluos group of temples.

Checking in at the retreat involves a twenty minute drive out of Siem Reap, and a 1,200 year journey into the past, according to Altman, who claims that guests meditating at the retreat can tap into the “mystical energies” of the nearby Bakong and Preah Ko temples.

“The temples here particularly are powerful temples,” he said. “The Bakong temple in particular is built like Mount Meru which is the mystical mountain of the Hindus, so the energy of the temple with its sacred geometry is a great aid to meditation.”

The retreat has seven bedrooms, priced from $13 to $23 dollars a night including meals, and bookings have been solid among tourists and expats alike since it opened in January.

Housed in an airy two-storey mansion on the outskirts of Roluos Village, and within walking distance of Bakong and Preah Ko, the retreat provides guests with the choice of structured yoga and meditation classes, or the option of doing their own thing and enjoying the sauna, music room, creative arts space and volleyball court.

Kundalini yoga classes and Tai-Chi classes are also available.

Altman, who trained as a linguist and translator in Quebec, said he ditched his studies in lexicography, (the science of compiling dictionaries), for thirteen years on the road as a travelling yoga teacher and student, with several stints in Indian ashrams.

And he says the thousand-year-old meditation techniques he learnt there can be applied to any frazzled denizens of modern Siem Reap.

“What we basically practice here is the traditional Hatha yoga set in the morning, the traditional methods that have been taught in India. It works through different breathing, standing, and sitting postures, and it’s about going inside, feeling the energy circulate, and working not only with the physical body but with what they call the body’s magnetic field.

“The idea is that our bodies are emanating electric energy, and by strengthening this field of energy we become more healthy, and we’re protected from disease.”

For those more interested in caring for their stomachs than their souls, Hariharalaya also has a range of $20 weekend cooking courses, which include yoga beforehand to prepare students for the six hour culinary marathon ahead.

“It’s about healthy cooking options,” Altman said.  “We focus on Cambodian cooking, what’s available, where can you find it in season, where you can find it in the market, how you say it in Khmer.

“So far we’ve had an Indian cooking class on dips and dressings, and the next class is healthy deserts.” 

With an upcoming calendar of classes by guest yogis and meditation teachers, as well as the release of a brand of Hariharalaya health snacks, Altman says he hopes the retreat will continue to develop.

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