Cambodia’s Capital sees Yoga Flow from Studios to Streets

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New York City's AZAHAR Foundation teams up with French photographer to present Phnom Penh in a fresh light and promote wellness in time of accelerating global stress.

Residents of Cambodia’s capital have been captivated by sunrise and sunset photo shoots of bright-eyed yoga teachers posing in front of iconic sites, on riverboats and busy streets as part of a volunteer project to promote the ancient practice in one of Asia’s most visually dramatic cities.

“Traffic stops and passersby are startled and intrigued during our photo shoots,” explains yoga teacher Vun Em. “But once we explain what we are doing they respond with the true generosity of Khmer hospitality, asking how they can watch without interrupting and how they can help.”

French photographer Stephane Combre agrees, explaining: “We shoot just after dawn or at dusk because that’s when the light in Phnom Penh has such unique clarity. It’s also the time when people are on the way to work or home. It’s quite amazing to get such encouragement from people in a rush.”

The photography project was launched to benefit New York-based AZAHAR Foundation, which promotes peace-building through yoga and the arts. Its Cambodian staff say it is part of their mission to expand yoga beyond their studios. They also offer up to nine Vinyasa flow classes per day via Zoom in both English and Khmer.

They plan to select photos from the project for a calendar that will be released later this year and sell prints. All funds raised by the online classes and photo sales are being used to support the foundation’s programs, which include yoga teacher training, peace camps and free meals for hungry families.

Mr. Combre said the project was inspired by New York-based photographer Kevin Richardson’s celebrated “Dance As Art” series of photographs.

Mr. Richardson praised the Cambodian initiative. “The brilliant juxtaposition of yoga in the streets of Phnom Penh creates a striking contrast that delights the eye and fills you with a true sense of joy and wonder,” he explained.

Ms. Vun, also a manager of the foundation in Cambodia, believes that yoga’s focus on wellness and inner peace is invaluable to people facing threats to their health or security due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. “We are living in a time of incredible anxiety. Yoga is a positive way of dealing with this … it promotes health and puts people into a flexible space for dealing with unexpected events and stress.”

Previously, she led advocacy for The Messenger Band, a group of former garment workers who fused social justice lyrics with Cambodian folk music. “I haven’t stopped being an activist,” said Ms. Vun who teaches yoga to members of the United Sisterhood Alliance in Phnom Penh. “Yoga gives us greater focus and purpose, more inner strength,” she explained.

Mr. Combre summed up his goals: “We want people to see Phnom Penh through a fresh lens and to show yoga being practiced in places where it is least expected.”

Ms. Vun said: “Now is as good a time as ever to move yoga to the streets.”

View the photos: https://www.yogaasart.com/
Support: https://www.gofundme.com/f/azaharyogathon

Contacts:

Khmer and English:
AZAHAR Foundation Executive Director (Cambodia) Thyda Sek
+855 (0) 855 78 30 31 42
thyda.sek@azaharfoundation.org
AZAHAR Foundation Manager (Cambodia) Vun Em
+ 855 (0) 96 933 21 69
em.vun@azaharfoundation.org

French and English:
Stephane Combre
info@yogaasart.com
+855 (0) 92 96 35 32

About the AZAHAR Foundation: The foundation began in Cambodia in 2007 with classes for children at an orphanage. It now operates its own centers in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and has expanded to Rwanda. It co-sponsors yoga teachers from Cambodia, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Colombia, Syria and Lebanon to become certified as internationally recognized Jivamukti Yoga teachers.

Website: https://azaharfoundation.org/

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Stephane Combre
Yoga As Art
+855 9 296 3532
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Thyda Sek
AZAHAR Foundation
+855 (0) 855 78 30 31 42
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