Yoga in Cambodia
By Isabelle Skaburskis, Founder of Krama Yoga Cambodia NGO
Before he begins his day as a yoga teacher, Lun Piseth finishes his night as a guard at an electrical company located near his Phnom Penh yoga studio, unlocking the gate, checking inventory, waiting for his relief to come in at 7 am so he can make his way past the dogs and the mango trees to Krama Yoga for his morning Ashtanga practice.
Every morning, Ly Srey Nich finishes up some housekeeping before putting on her blue and white uniform, getting her bag ready for school, and pausing to wrinkle her nose at her own reflection when she sees her uniform’s incongruous girlishness in the mirror with its plaid skirt and floppy bow tie. She and her housemate, another yoga teacher, Lita, have both earned sponsorships to attend a leading private school in Phnom Penh to resume an education that was disrupted by hardship. When school finishes at 11 am, they quickly come home to change into yoga clothes, find their lesson books and then head to the studio.
Piseth and Nich are two of seven Cambodian yoga teachers at Krama Yoga, a not-for-profit that provides outreach yoga classes to 350 children and teenagers affiliated with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. Nich and two other Krama Yoga teachers have recently been granted an opportunity to pursue formal education, and are attending morning high school classes even though they are already in their twenties. Piseth and two others practice together in the screened-in studio under whirring fans, or go in pairs to teach outreach classes to young people who are learning from them the art of mindful movement through yoga. In the late morning, the entire team comes together for ongoing professional development with senior teacher Oskar Nery, in philosophy, anatomy, and teaching methodology, and weekly reviews of the issues and questions that arose during the week. In the afternoons, they disperse again to teach or to practice.
Piseth grew up in a small city in a nearby province, and for the last four years has been living at a company managed by his uncle in exchange for working as a night guard. Naturally inquisitive and intelligent, Piseth was frustrated as a teenager by the lack of opportunities he perceived for himself as a Cambodian growing up in the provinces, and so after finishing high school he moved to Siem Reap, a larger city full of tourists, to find a job.
In Siem Reap, Piseth learned that people in his country work hard but cannot move forward. He learned that people will hurt other people to make a dollar, and this cynicism compounded his frustration. He finally moved to Phnom Penh and found his way to the yoga studio as a daytime guard and gardener, where it was obvious to the yoga teachers that his potential was not being realized and he was invited to join an innovate teacher training program for young Cambodians. Through his subsequent yoga journey, Piseth has learned to confront this anger and disappointment he feels when he sees how profoundly his country suffers. Piseth has discovered that creating a harmonious relationship with his body has taught him how to compassionately control his mind and emotions, and this skill helps him channel his energy into helping others and cultivating relationships of kindness. Piseth knows first-hand the transformative power of yoga and he has excelled in his teaching, motivated by a belief that yoga can help others in his country. Piseth now holds a management position in the NGO, and is stepping into a leadership role relative to the other Krama Yoga team members as they continue to navigate their own challenges.
Nich is also a natural leader and has proven herself an inspiration to the young women she teaches. Nich grew up in a village in a northern province of Cambodia, to a family of rice farmers. When she was 12 years old, they were forced to move to Thailand as they were too poor to stay on the land, and when her parents had to travel to a distant Thai province to work, Nich was left alone with her baby brother to fend for themselves. When she was 14, she returned to Cambodia and lived under the care of different NGOs.
Nich is a uniquely astute and sensitive young woman and has continually expressed her desire to help other marginalized young women come to terms with their traumatic experiences. Her dream was to become a social worker, and when she began yoga with the Krama Yoga outreach classes, she realized based on her on experience that teaching yoga would allow her to communicate the values of openness, self-awareness and peace of mind that she believes in. Now that she is enrolled in high school, she has the option available to her to enter university one day and pursue a formal degree in social work or psychology that will complement her yoga teaching.
Earlier this year, Paul Dallaghan and Centered Yoga generously awarded Nich and Piseth scholarships to attend the teacher training program in Koh Samui, as an investment in the growing movement of yoga in Cambodia. Piseth and Nich deeply appreciate the value of this gift, and look forward to meeting other yoga teachers and students from around the world, learning what yoga means to people in different countries. Nich and Piseth are also excited to share their experiences of how yoga is taking Cambodia by storm, and how a brave group of seven entrepreneurial Cambodian teachers is transforming the lives of children and young adults by holding a great vision for the future of their country.