Yoga, Meditation & Giving Back in Cambodia

Yoga, Meditation & Giving Back in Cambodia Feature Photo

Yoga, Meditation & Giving Back in Cambodia

Cambodia still finds itself a hotspot for backpackers, and those seeking out a history-rich, temple-hopping, tranquil beach destination.

Yet it can be difficult to go beyond the temple exteriors to witness a deeper glimpse into Buddhist spirituality and the beautiful Cambodian spirit.  

A yoga and meditation retreat is a great opportunity (and inspiration!) to break away from the intensity of traveling, connect with your body and mind, and discover local culture. 

Discover Yourself through Yoga

Travel is about stepping outside of your comfort zone – including the people we interact with, the food we eat, and the new experiences we have – to expand our minds and grow. Incorporating yoga into exploration and travel can deepen self-discovery and personal development. 

While the yoga that we typically think of is about fitness and moving the body into challenging positions, the yoga practiced at Vagabond Temple goes deeper. Classes delve into yoga’s vast philosophy and offer practical exercises that we can apply to change our mindset and behavior.

As described in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga postures are merely a tool for developing a stronger mind-body connection and increasing self-awareness. Greater self-awareness allows us to recognize personal limitations that might have been ingrained over time and aggravated by fear and external influence. These limitations are not a finite part of our identity, but rather a natural occurrence that can be overcome both mentally and physically.

Yoga Class Cambodia

Restorative Yin Yoga Class at Vagabond Temple (Photo Credit: @searching4conrad)

A wonderful exercise from yoga is called a tapas, which means the “creation of heat” in Sanskrit. Much like fueling an engine or cooking a meal, the heat signifies the effort of energy to fulfill a goal or produce something new.

To try out a tapas yourself, choose one clear goal such as “exercising for 30 minutes each day” or “waking up at 6:00 AM each morning”. Channel your energy into completing this task daily over 40 days. If there are days where the task becomes harder, take note of why it is challenging to maintain and where there is resistance. This exercise is an opportunity to learn even more about restrictive thought patterns.

If you’re someone who has left their unfulfilling job, recently finished a difficult semester at school, or is looking for inspiration, healing and positive transformation, yoga is still an undiscovered path towards self-development. Combined with travel, it can be a powerful tool for change!  

Take a Vacation from your Vacation

If we weren’t stressed enough from our 24/7 culture, today’s backpackers and international travelers have made globe-trotting a full-time hobby. Whether it’s a well-mapped jet-set or spontaneous hitch-hike, travel is about maximizing time to explore the best sights, discover the tastiest bites, and soak up as much natural beauty and authentic local culture as possible.

“I need a vacation from my vacation” has become the expression of the decade. With an average of 3 weeks vacation per year in most countries, this can make us desperate for some downtime, to switch off and recharge our batteries.

Drawing on Buddhism and the Yoga Sutra, Vagabond Temple’s core teaching is how to incorporate a meditation practice into everyday life. The benefits? Clearing the mind of lists, goals, stress, or any thoughts that take us out of the present moment.


A Guest Practices Meditation in the Vagabond Temple Yoga Hall (Photo Credit: @searching4conrad)

While watching one of Southeast Asia’s glorious sunsets or lying on the pristine white beaches, instead of entertaining thoughts of “where to next?” we might understand how to simply relax and enjoy.

Sunset Cambodia

Sunset at Independence Beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia (Photo Credit: @searching4conrad)

You may think meditation and spirituality is just for Monks, but it really is adaptable and accessible to all. When we take a step back from our busy schedules, we can use these practical tools to explore our inner world, harmonize body and mind, and live in the now.

Volunteer to Give Back and Experience Authentic Local Culture

Cambodia’s history remains shrouded in mystery. Some may know about the horrific genocide that killed over a quarter of the country’s population, but few have an understanding of what life is like now, 40 years later.

Much of the backpacking experience is focused on cheap hostels, street food and tourist attractions, which can create disconnect between tourist and Khmer. While eating at a local food spot or paying an entrance fee to the temples certainly helps the local community, there is a missed opportunity for learning from one another or giving back in other meaningful ways.

At Vagabond Temple, the concept of Karma Yoga – the act of performing a task without thought of reward or gain – is a daily practice. During this practice, guests are encouraged to apply the yogic philosophy of self-less service off the yoga mat. Aside from small tasks around the center, the concept has expanded to include full-on service projects that aim to benefit the local community.

Neighboring Khmer business owners have been invited to set up shop and are now a cornerstone of community life. A lovely lady named Sina sells the world’s best sugar-cane juice, after a construction project shut her stand down. Sina has also trained as a Swedish Massage practitioner and she’s a star student in English classes offered to the center’s Khmer staff by long-term guests and volunteers.


Sina Sells her Delicious Homemade Sugar Cane Juice (Photo Credit: @searching4conrad)

Vagabond Temple has also partnered with Via de Campo Children’s House, a local NGO for disadvantaged children, to offer guests the opportunity to volunteer by giving educational workshops, serving meals, playing games, and fixing up the school.

In November, the center organized Sihanoukville’s first ever boat race competition, a Khmer tradition typically celebrated in the capital Phnom Penh for Cambodia’s annual Water Festival. The friendly competition was a wonderful opportunity to experience the playful spirit of Khmer people first-hand. The celebration continued at a local school where families gathered to dance, throw rice, and feed each other “ombok”, a hilarious tradition that involves putting palms of sweet rice and oats into festival-goers mouths!

Cambodia Water Festival

Boat-race winners receive prizes, as festival-goers crowd around (Photo Credit: Nele Winkelmann)

Why not find opportunities during your next vacation to relax, recharge and dig deep through yoga and meditation, while volunteering to give back in a meaningful way?


Learn More

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Mary Page Terlizzi

Page has been a staff writer, community projects organizer and retreat leader at Vagabond Temple since May, 2016. She worked in international development in Washington, DC before moving to Morocco and Cambodia to pursue her love for travel, and a lifestyle involving yoga and spirituality.