Phnom Penh's yoga studios reaching out to youth
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 17 Dec 2008 06:41:23 -0800 (PST)
Phnom Penh's yoga studios reaching out to youth
Written by Nora Lindstrom
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
Yoga studios in the capital are increasingly reaching out to
disadvantaged communities to share the health benefits of the this
WITH very few yoga studios in the country, some Cambodian youths, as
well as a large number of young people involved with NGOs, are
nevertheless feeling the benefits of the practice so popular abroad.
Having arrived in Cambodia in the early 1990s, Tonie Nooyens and
partner Hanneke Meijers of Kundalini Yoga Cambodia started their
training initiative in January 2007. Their objective is to train
Cambodians in the meditation techniques and exercises of Kundalini
yoga, enabling them in turn to teach others, particularly through
outreach activities to vulnerable communities who might not otherwise
have access to yoga and meditation-based support.
The training is part of an internationally recognised Kundalini
training program, and there are currently nine students at different
stages of the course.
Yan Vannac, 27, is one of the most advanced yoga students. Yan Vannac
met Isabelle Skaburskis, a yoga teacher, some four years ago while
working at Raffles Le Royal hotel. A newcomer in town, Skaburskis had
taken over the yoga classes at the hotel.
It is beyond fitness...yoga can play an important part in relieving
stress caused by social problems ...
"When I saw the classes, I thought, ‘Wow, what kind of exercise is
this?' The students say they feel good, fresh afterwards," Yan Vannac
said. He approached Skaburskis, and his path was set.
"I'm not sure if I asked him," Skaburskis said in reference to
applying for the scholarship that took Yan Vannac to Australia earlier
this year to gain his teaching certificate with her own yoga teacher.
"I may just have organised it for him," she admitted.
Be that as it may, Yan Vannac, with his teaching certificate, is
clearly pleased and will shortly be en route to Thailand to seek his
first teaching certificate in Kundalini yoga. "I love yoga. I want to
improve myself and share [yoga] with other Khmer people," Yan Vannac
said. "Although some of my friends don't understand, they confuse
[yoga] with religion."
Both Nooyens and Skaburskis reject the notion that yoga has to be
religious. "Yoga is not necessarily related to Hinduism or Buddhism,"
Nooyens said. Skaburskis is more direct. "I have an aversion to any
religious aspects [being attributed to yoga]. To me, the value and
power of yoga is in discovering one's own values and the ability to
manifest them in the world."
Channeling inner energy
For trainee Eung Kimhong, 20, yoga is about experiencing and
channelling his inner energy.
"I learned about yoga from [fellow trainees] Sorita and Kanika," he
said. "At first, I thought it was only for women. However, since I
started practising my health is better - now I can even walk in the
According to Sao Kanika, 19, yoga "is about developing myself, about
using my breath to help me in daily life. Now, I can also eat more
vegetables," she said.
Yan Vannac is a prime example of yoga not being only for women. "He
really has worked for it and shown commitment," Skaburskis said,
further suggesting she might not always have been the easiest mentor.
"Many other Cambodians came to me and said, ‘I want to be a teacher',
but [I knew] they had no intention of practising yoga first. They just
wanted to be instructors to get money," she said. "Vannac stuck with
That dedication has made the 27-year-old the most qualified Cambodian
yogi in recent memory - not a small feat, though the man himself has
remained modest. "I find the spiritual aspect difficult, but I do
think yoga has helped me have a better relationship with the community
around me," Yan Vannac said.
Skaburskis is currently designing a holistic yoga-based training
program for disadvantaged youth in Phnom Penh. "It has two parts. One
is about studying the body, starting from its biology. The other is
[about how] to work with NGOs".
"I am learning as I go. I have four youths involved in this pilot
project who already take part in our outreach activities," she said,
while admitting that the trainees initially perceived the project as
abstract and thought the concept of studying the body foreign. "Where
is the material gain?" was a common question, Skaburskis said.
Nooyens also hopes to get more locals involved in his program, "We
have to create a strong foundation first. What we do is not a transfer
of skills only. It is an exchange of energies," he said. The Kundalini
Yoga House is, indeed, the home of a community, not simply a place of
Yan Vannac is the key to it all. "I would have been unable to reach
out to the local communities without Vannac," Skaburskis said. "The
transition was only possible with him."
Nooyens further emphasises the importance of intense involvement of
local trainees in teaching both at the studio and during outreach
activities. "It is beyond fitness. In a country like Cambodia, yoga
can play an important part in relieving stress caused by social
problems such as the country's traumatic history, current poverty, HIV/
Aids and resettlement issues," he said.
For further information on yoga centers in Phnom Penh, please visit:
Kundalini Yoga Cambodia, www.kundaliniyogacambodia.org, or NataRaj
Yoga Centre for Healing Arts, www.yogacambodia.com.
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