A classroom of international kindergarten pupils are full of giggles as the little boys and girls practice yoga poses following the lead of their teacher Joanne Felsman.
Felsman, an Australian yoga teacher who teaches children, helped the kids do their basic yoga poses by calling out animal names like “dog” and “snake”.
“The start of introducing yoga to children is the beginning of a fundamental lifelong practice,” says Felsman, who is on the board of directors and a teacher at NGO Krama Yoga Cambodia.
Krama Yoga has started to provide yoga classes to private schools in Phnom Penh as part of their extracurricular programmes and physical education, as more and more schools see the importance of yoga in their young students’ physical and psychological development.
According to programme manager at Krama Yoga Lun Piseth, children can be introduced to yoga by using games, songs, fun poses and laughter to plant the seed for a lifelong love of health and well-being.
“Yoga helps people understand how important life is. Every class includes lessons on healthy living, empathy, confidence, self-respect and compassion,” says Piseth, who started Yoga 11 years ago and is a certified yoga teacher himself.
He began practicing yoga in 2008 and was then invited to join a two-year yoga teaching programme with Isabelle Skaburskis, the founder of Nataraj Yoga Studio in Phnom Penh – the revenue generating arm of Krama Yoga.
Piseth believes the value of yoga transcends the fact it is a good form of exercise.
“It helps personal development. It encourages people to reflect on their life, from their behaviour, emotions, actions and relationships. When you understand the practices well you gain self-confidence in challenges and other responsibilities in life,” he says.
Canadian Skaburskis founded Nataraj Yoga Studio in 2004 at the time when there were very few people teaching yoga in the Kingdom.
After successfully building a strong yoga community for people from all backgrounds, the organisation’s charitable arm, Krama Yoga, was then legally registered in Cambodia in 2010 as NGO.
It remains the only yoga NGO in Cambodia and is also the Kingdom’s longest running public yoga studio.
Nataraj Yoga Studio’s daily classes generate revenue to help sustain NGO Krama Yoga, which this year provided 1,100 classes to kids, teens and underprivileged youth free of charge.
“Krama Yoga has worked with 11 NGO partners to provide weekly and monthly Yoga classes. Currently there are about 400 children in this programme,” says Piseth, who travels between Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Hanoi to teach and support different Yoga projects.
A critical component of Krama Yoga’s outreach classes is their yoga therapy programme, which targets survivors of human trafficking,especially women.
“We help our students manage their emotions through gentle physical practice. Having gone though some trauma, they need a safe environment. They need people to help them get back their sense of control and empowerment,” says Piseth.
To achieve this, Krama Yoga is continuously training teachers, both local and foreign, to teach yoga.
“Since 2008, we have trained 30 Khmer teachers in our Body Smart Life Skill Programme. Eight of them have gone on to international yoga training in Australia and Thailand. Some of the teachers are running their own yoga schools or running free classes for Cambodian people at the riverside,” Piseth says.