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Dive into downward dogs at new yoga retreat

A ‘Free Your Spine’ workshop at Navutu Dreams Resort and Spa is the latest to join the plethora of yoga sessions available in Siem Reap.

With the Peace Café, Hariharalaya Meditation Retreat Centre, Siem Reap Hostel and Angkor Bodhi Tree Retreat and Meditation Centre all providing yoga, Reapers have been spoilt for choice as to where to salute the sun and dive into downward dogs.

Now there’s a new, high-end yoga studio in town. Chic retreat Navutu Dreams started running private classes for hotel guests in autumn 2012, and last month ran its very first yoga workshop, led by acclaimed Australian teacher Paddy McGrath.

The workshop promised to ‘unbutton’ the spine using backbends, playful poses and lighthearted language and imagery.

“We held three classes in three days and it was really nice because Paddy was teaching the way to do the poses, rather than new poses. So she gave a new approach to yoga,” says Navutu co-owner and new-found yoga convert Giovanna Morandi.

Unlike the private classes, the workshop was open to non-guests and attracted many of Temple Town’s practitioners. In fact Giovanna, plus her sister and Navutu co-owner Maddalena were the only non-yoga teachers there.

“It was quite nice because we had teachers coming to the class – as students we were very much outnumbered.  It was really nice also to see the teacher being very open about things and the other teachers saying, ‘well it’s wrong the way you are doing it’, but they were not taking it personally,” laughs Morandi.

“They were all very open in terms of let’s learn a different way. The thing about yoga is that it’s not a technique you can learn so rigidly – there are so many ways to reach it.”

Attendees included New Yorker David Seth Fink, a former dancer and long-time Pilates practitioner who teaches ‘yogilates’ (a practice combining yoga and Pilates) and hatha yoga at the Peace Café. He described McGrath’s workshop as “challenging and fascinating.”

Also there were Jennifer O’Sullivan, one of the original Peace Café teachers, Natalie Kay who teaches vinyasa flow at Siem Reap Hostel and Fionuala Power, fellow Peace Café and sometime Navutu teacher.  

“Fionuala has done two classes here already. She is very good and I think we will work more together,” says Morandi. “We’ve also had Prasad who is an Indian teacher who has been teaching a lot of meditation as well, as we’ve had guests requesting that.”

Following the success of the workshop, Morandi hopes to hold more in the future alongside Navutu’s private classes.

The classes are similarly priced to the workshops, $25, and are tailored to the guest’s requirements, so if ashtanga is your thing but you only like to practice in the morning, the resort can arrange it accordingly.  

“It is more expensive than if you go to the Peace Café but then you are in a resort, and it’s a private class – we call the teacher at the time you request. There is a service there,” Morandi says. “The type of yoga varies according to the needs of the guest.”

Morandi thinks yoga is becoming increasingly popular in Siem Reap because the very feel of the place lends itself to the practice, and for many people it is part of the “Southeast Asian experience.”

“When foreigners – especially westerners – think about Southeast Asia, they think about spirituality: the mind and soul, healing together, in a communion,” she says. “So yes, it’s part of the Southeast Asian experience. And part of the Siem Reap experience because there is a lot of yoga here.”

Fink feels yoga provides “a kind of sanctuary for people to slow down, reconsider their lives, learn, process, heal and change.” Many, he says, discover yoga for the first time in Siem Reap.

“I have a fairly high percentage of students who have never practiced yoga before,” he says, “And are using their time traveling to start the practice as a way of developing long term habits of skillful self-care.”

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