Therapeutic yoga empowering next generation of Cambodian youth

Cambodian youth doing yoga

Isabelle Skaburskis did not go to Cambodia with the intention of starting a yoga school.

More than a decade after her first visit, the Melbourne Law School third-year Juris Doctor student now chairs the non-governmental organisation Krama Yoga Cambodia, with its 70 outreach classes teaching almost 400 children each month and a sponsorship program sending disadvantaged children to private school.

"What drew me to Cambodia was really just curiosity; it had a certain appeal to me," she said.

"I was fascinated by the history and how a post-conflict country rebuilds itself so I went there to learn about the place, and started teaching yoga."

Skaburskis initially started Nataraj Yoga Studio as an income-generating business in response to a small group of expats wanting to join yoga classes in Phnom Penh.

After a year or so, her work began to focus on using yoga as a form of rehabilitation, working with disadvantaged local youths who had suffered various forms of trauma.

This developed into an intensive training program for a small group of dedicated students who became Cambodia's first Khmer yoga teachers and yoga-NGO managers.

"In the early days it was really about creating a space and creating a market for a product that didn't exist in the country yet," she said.

"Then the challenge became how to engage Cambodians in different sorts of ways, and adapting therapeutic yoga to particular circumstances- to people not just dealing with the effects of stress and violence themselves but those who live in an environment of repeated trauma and deprivation."

In 2010, Skaburskis and the group of Cambodians she trained established the not-for-profit Krama Yoga Cambodia, absorbing Nataraj Yoga Studio.

Its programs offer children and teenagers trauma-sensitive yoga classes and, in partnership with other organisations, provide education and social support to disadvantaged families and survivors of human trafficking.