Hey, everyone! Curious about how yoga classes are like in Cambodia? Well, it involves dodging mosquitos and ants. Humid weather, riding tuk-tuks and motorscooters.
I was fortunate enough to be able to try a few classes during my month-long stay. I got to try a "flying yoga" session, which involved aerial silk hammocks. It was amazing to hang upside down in poses that normally required using body weight to keep ourselves up! My lower back and hips were so happy to be suspended in air. Plus, it's fun to feel like you're in Cirque du Soleil when you know you won't ever make the team (haha).
The Knoff Yoga class had a lot of Iyengar-influenced instruction. In between postures, we would "reset" our bodies to restart the pose. It was nice to do that, to keep the mind aware and the body re-engaged like it's the first time. The advanced Vinyasa flow session was great, because we were introduced to poses like "Flying Monkey" (and showed me just how weak my lower back is at the moment!).
Is Yoga accessible in Cambodia? Is it affordable by the majority of locals? Well, a yoga class in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is about $8/class. The studios are mainly owned by expats. To give you a sense of how much that costs relative to the economy, it costs $3 to feed a person. $3 to get a full meal. So, to pay for a yoga class, you could feed 3 people. So, yoga classes at many of the studios are not so accessible by the majority, but the minority who are middle- and upper-class. The average number of students I saw at each class was 4. The exception was the Flying Yoga which had 7 students. All the students were ex-pats. I didn't see any Khmer people at all.
Alison, the co-owner, was great and light-hearted with her instruction. She was from the UK with a punk rock hairdo and bright pink highlights. I was glad to have met her before she sold the studio to someone else. She said it was getting to be difficult to run a business in Phnom Penh. In May, she will have left the country to explore the world with her boyfriend.
In Sihanoukville, Cambodia I found an outdoor, yet covered studio with 2 hour classes for $11. That's $5.5/per hour to practice yoga. Much more affordable, but the only students taking the class with me were travelers and ex-pats. No locals.
What did these yoga studio owners have in common? They did come from a school in India where they studied for a long time. They were similar to classes in SF and LA.
In Sihanoukville, the owner was named Greg. He was a much older man from Italy. Dark-skinned with a really long beard and very bohemian clothing. His classes were much slower paced. There was a lot of breathwork. A lot of savasanas. Not just one at the end. He paid a lot of attention to detail, adjusted us when necessary, and gave advanced options when he could see our bodies wanted more of a stretch.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post about dodging ants. Yeah. There were tons of ants since this yoga shala was in the middle of a jungle setting. There was no avoiding them while in savasana, so that part was a bit distracting.
After taking the class, I realized there was a bit of Iyengar influence (with the alignment focus) and Ashtanga focus (taking 5 deep breaths). When I brought that up with Greg, he said "no, it's Greg style".
Greg studied the foundation of yoga for a long enough time that his personal style and preference shifted, which led him to create his own variation and style.
It made me realize that many of the great yoga teachers had studied foundational systems for a long time before they moved on to make a remix of these systems.
It was at this point that I realized how I myself am gravitating towards shifting my personal practice to encompass a lot more work on connective tissues and ligaments instead of just my muscles. I wouldn't call myself a "great yoga teacher", though. Just a student sharing with others what I'm doing on my mat.
I was able to do a guided jungle meditation outside Ta Prohm Temple in Siem Reap. This is the temple with tons of massive trees overtaking the structures. Goes to show that you cannot fuck with mother nature. She rules all.
Watch the meditation below. Listen to the cameos by all the cicadas and jungle wildlife around us!