Over-indulged on the turkey? Been chowing down on Christmas pud? Mind numb and body stiff from a stint of gorging on grub and TV? Fear not, as 2012 is upon us and the good folks at Peace Café are set with a new yoga program that will get you prepared mentally, physically and spiritually for the year ahead.
Long time Reaper and Peace Café instructor Jennifer O’Sullivan, and newbie in town and Hariharalaya teacher-in-residence David Fink are two yogis who lived just blocks apart in New York and never met – until now. And after a year which has seen the yoga scene in Siem Reap triple in size, they are giving the town’s original home of the practice a make-over.
Jennifer explains that the Peace Café (formerly The Singing Tree) was originally set up as a kind of community centre and a place to practice yoga, peaking at six classes a week several years ago. But the new 13-a-week, program is its most ambitious yet, with classes every day in hatha, yogilates and restorative yoga.
“When I met David, I really wanted to beef up the schedule, but I wanted to lose classes myself,” explains Jennifer. “I love teaching, but I’m a mom first. He so graciously said he was free on certain days and it just kind of came together. People love him, it’s been wonderful.”
Jennifer says the growth of yoga scene is a great step for the town, attracting a positive breed of tourist.
She says in this past year, yoga practitioners Joel Altman moved to Siem Reap to set up Hariharalaya, as did Carla Mardell who set up her Uber Oum studio above Blush Boutique.
“The more yoga you have in Siem Reap, the better,” Jennifer says. “It’s a positive thing, it’s a pleasant thing. There’s a good energy about it, and there can never be too much.”
David, fresh off the plane from the bustle of New York City and a successful business there, submerged himself in relative solitude at the retreat centre of Hariharalaya, and underwent a bit of an adjustment process.
“Flying 27 hours having never left North America before, I don’t think I would have survived the last four hours without yoga. I was just sitting there thinking ‘What have I done?’ I was doing all my breathing practices and my meditations. I had a mantra and I kept saying, ‘I can balance upside down on my forearms in a split, I can do this’.”
After an initial three month commitment in Siem Reap, David has decided he’s sticking around.
“This is a big experiment for me. Can I really pick up and move half way around the world, and find people to hang out with and find a nice place to live? And apparently the answer to all of that is, yes.”
David says while his teaching style has adapted to meet the needs of his international classes, he is swiftly realising that people the world over are fundamentally the same.
“I think I came out of New York with the illusion that once I left, everybody was going to be relaxed. But even here people have physical challenges and they work really hard. I think the biggest difference is the attitude people come in with.”
It’s this attitude which David says made him fall in love with Siem Reap.
“It is the sweetest place I’ve ever taught in, it’s just so lovely. The students are so appreciative, and they’re present and they’re really sweet. Somebody bought me juice and cookies after class yesterday.
“I started realising everybody in my class either works for an NGO to help people or works in some kind of tourist business to help people and it’s like, ‘This is great, I’ve found a town whose major industry is kindness’.”
While the classes are a mix of yoga traditions, David says he places important emphasis on alignment and awareness while keeping things flowing and playful.
But the New Yorker (whose background is in dance, movement and oddly, library science) says he always adjusts the class for the bodies in front of him.
“It’s been fascinating coming here and meeting all these people from all these different cultures, and looking at all these bodies that move differently yet in some ways the same,” he reflects. “The few Khmer students I’ve had tend to push themselves really physically in their yoga practice the same way some of the stockbrokers I used to teach do. I find that really entertaining.”
Don’t think you’re cut out for yoga? I asked David why yoga novices should make yoga their new year’s resolution. And after a little coercion, he let me print his answer, “Yoga is as much fun as sex but a lot less complicated.”
But for those who’ve been especially tough on their bodies and souls in 2011, David elaborates on why 2012 might be the year to break the cycle.
“I would say it’s possibly one of the greatest tools for self-care. For the 28 years I’ve been studying movement and body stuff, yoga is the most useful form of self care that I’ve encountered ever.”