The Embassy of India in Cambodia celebrated the 6th International Day of Yoga this June 21 with a much smaller group of participants than usual, no thanks to Covid-19.

And ambassador Manika Jain encouraged yoga enthusiasts to perform the exercise routines at home under the slogan “My Life, My Yoga”.

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the 2020 celebration shifted from its typical mega gatherings involving hundreds of Cambodians – mainly young students and professionals – to a limited number to decrease the risk of spreading the virus.

Jain, a yoga practitioner herself says: “This year we didn’t have mega celebrations because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. We have been encouraging people to do yoga from home under the slogan, My Life, My Yoga.”

She emphasised that regular practice of yoga helps maintain holistic health, reduces stress levels and improves one’s overall mental and physical well-being.

“Yoga can be done while maintaining social distancing. It can be done very comfortably at home too. Maintaining one’s health is necessary and that is why we didn’t have a big celebration where everybody does yoga together,” Jain says.

Jain says one reason for yoga’s global popularity is that it is proven to improve all aspects of one’s health, apart from being a distinctly different experience than exercising at the gym or performing more typical workouts.

As part of the 6th International Day of Yoga celebrations, the embassy invited yoga professionals and practitioners to compete in a photography competition by sending two photos of themselves performing Asana yoga postures.

So Phalla, who has practised yoga for over a year with instructor Pratibha Jhore, won a certificate for one of her poses.

In the winning picture, Phalla poses upside-down, her body straight as a pencil, as she balances on her head and elbows with her legs raised high.

So Phalla, an avid yogi who says yoga helped relieve her of back pain, won an award for this picture of herself performing a difficult pose. Photo supplied

Phalla says: “I was a random sports practitioner in various activities and would jog, walk and work out at the gym. My friend introduced me to yoga through the instructor Pratibha Jhore, who taught yoga at Olympic Stadium’s campus.

“I was suddenly interested in it because it is a modest activity exercise, not like the gym. Older people cannot do gym workouts as young people can.”

Phalla says yoga sessions are not as difficult as gym workouts since they require slow stretching movements of the body.

It’s helped her relieve stress because she’s learned how to breathe and meditate according to yoga techniques. She says it’s also benefited her internal organs and made her feel more relaxed.

“As a result, I found that it helped a lot and it differed from what I did in the gym, which mostly required strength. Most importantly, I feel so much more flexible and healthier too,” she says.

Jain says to build the body’s immune system, people have to release stress. During the days of Covid-19, people are increasingly worried about stress levels. Some have become depressed while others struggle with anxiety, she says.

Jain, who regularly practises yoga, says that as someone over 50, yoga’s benefits are undeniable. She says her immunity has improved and she feels healthier and is able to relax despite work pressure.

The pandemic has stoked fears and anxiety across the globe, but Jain says in her case, yoga has helped to reduce all those.

People confined at home because of the virus suffer negative health effects, she says. It can be depressing to not be allowed to go out or travel on holiday.

“Even here, some of my other ambassador friends and international colleagues say they can’t travel and or visit other countries,” she says.

Jain says that yoga can be practised anywhere and once a yoga mat is purchased, it can be done for free, in contrast to gyms which typically require memberships and take monthly fees.

Phalla, 34, who attends free yoga classes at the Indian embassy from Monday to Friday, says the ancient practice can even help cure diseases.

Before she was winning competitions by executing difficult poses, she was going through health issues and yoga helped put her on the road to recovery.

Phalla said she was told by a Vietnamese doctor that her lower back pain was due to sciatica, an issue with the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back down each leg.

“I was very worried when I heard this. But after practising yoga for a year, the pain I used to experience while sitting, laying down and walking mostly subsided without the need for medication.

“Of course, I felt some pain when doing yoga for the first time as I stretched for particular postures. But in time, it became better and now I can say that yoga relieves 90 per cent of my pain,” she says.

Yoga’s popularity is rising in the Kingdom as its health benefits become more widely known.

Ambassador of India to Cambodia Manika Jain (fourth from left). Hean Rangsey

Jain says that regular yoga classes were being held at the Olympic stadium and at several universities during pre-pandemic times.

“We found that each class had 90 or 100 Cambodians doing yoga. When I met various people, including senior-level secretaries of state and businessmen, all of them told me that they do yoga at least occasionally,” she says.

Jain says the typical International Day of Yoga celebrations attract 500 to 600 people and she expects around 1,000 yoga-lovers to participate next year, provided Covid-19 has been effectively contained worldwide.

Cambodians, she says, have been practising yoga for a long time as a form of meditation, and Buddhist monks use it to solidify their posture and perfect their breathing.

Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice which originated in India. The word “yoga” itself is derived from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, symbolising the union of body and consciousness, says a UN website.

On December 11, 2014, the UN proclaimed June 21 as the International Day of Yoga, aiming to raise global awareness of the many benefits of practising the ancient art of exercise.

Jhore, Phalla’s instructor, has been practising yoga at the embassy since 2018 and has taught free classes offered by the embassy at universities, NGOs and private institutes. The embassy also offers ongoing yoga sessions for government officials.

“Yoga strengthens the respiratory system, which the novel coronavirus targets. Regular yoga practice enhances immunity, thereby making oneself less vulnerable to the coronavirus,” she says.

Jhore also recommends several yoga postures for the home, such as Asana’s triangle pose, the side angle pose, forward bend pose, upward plank pose, bridge pose and fish pose.

“It is a way of living that aims towards ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’. Humans are physical, mental and spiritual beings and yoga helps promote a balanced development of all three,” she says.