Insider Secrets: Become Strong & Flexible like a Cambodian Circus Gymnast [Interview]
A trip to Siem Reap Cambodia will not be complete until you have visited the Phare Cambodian Circus show. As one of the city’s top attractions, the brave and outstanding skills of the extraordinary Cambodian circus performers will leave you in awe.
From balancing on one hand to throwing co-stars into the air for summersaults, the show is simply stunning. I am honored to have been able to catch up with one of the male gymnast stars of the shows to learn insider secrets of how he got to where he is today and what he does to keep in such superb physical shape.
- To view the full list of interviews with fitness and yoga enthusiasts click here.
Cambodian Circus: humble beginnings
Vibrant Yogini values social responsibility and trying to make the world a better place. Therefore, I was delighted to learn about the social mission of the Cambodian Circus. Social responsibility is an integral part of who they are. Founded in 2013, the show runs every night at 8 pm for 365 days a year and has had more than one hundred thousand visitors. Phare, The Cambodian Circus is part of Phare Performing Social Enterprise (PPSE). With all the profits that are made from the shows, a whopping 75% is donated directly to Phare Ponleu Selpack Association (PPSA).
The PPSA is an art school located in Battambang Cambodia. It was founded in 1994 by nine male Cambodian refugees returning home from a camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. During their time at the camps, they experienced art as a powerful and profound tool for emotional and mental healing. They originally offered free drawing classes to street children. This then developed into what it is today; offering free education to more than 1,200 Cambodian students and free professional arts training programmes to 500 students.
What really captured my heart was learning how the PPSE platform creates meaningful employment opportunities for disadvantaged Cambodian children from some of the most difficult social and economic backgrounds imaginable. It was eye-opening and stunning to witness the energy, passion, talent, and dedication the performers radiated in the show enabling each artist to transform their lives through art.
I feel privileged to have been able to interview one of the male gymnasts from the show. He truly astonished me with his strength, agility, and flexibility and I couldn’t wait to ask him all the what’s, why’s and how’s behind the scenes…
Insider secrets of a Cambodian Circus performer
- Name: Chea Sophea
- Age: 29
- From: Battambong Province, Cambodia
- Role in Cambodian Circus: Performer specialising in acrobatics and Banquine
Before joining the Cambodian Circus, Chea Sophea used to play football to keep fit. At age 17, in 2005, he joined the professional arts training programme run by the PPSE at Phare Ponleu Selpak and has since been studying and training in circus performing for 12 years.
“When I was a child I didn’t know what the circus was and I always just watched it on TV. One day my friend asked me to go to study circus arts with him, but I wasn’t interested. However, when the students from Phare Ponleu Selpak performed at my school, I was really amazed to see the performers and I fell in love with it. I asked myself why these students can do the things that most people can’t. Then I made up my mind and decided to study circus arts with my friend.”
PC: Dean Bennett Photography
Chea’s simple determination to fulfill his passion is so admirable. Quite often we watch others succeed around us but lack the confidence and drive to simply believe in ourselves and to really just go for it! In order to achieve great results and to get ahead of the game, the mind needs to be disciplined and the body trained. If it wasn’t for a disciplined and regular routine, then continuous growth and productivity are sacrificed.
The importance of a routine
The human body craves consistency. With regular daily events or activities, our lives become more anchored into underlying rhythms. Have you ever noticed that when you are in the midst of a routine, we become naturally alert closer to our usual wake-up time and more sleepy prior to bedtimes? Even our digestive systems start grumbling as it activates in advance of regular meal times. This is because our various body systems are able to prepare for and anticipate events. We must be disciplined enough to train the body into these natural consistent rhythms.
“Every morning I wake up at 8 am because I finish my work late at night and I spend one hour at the gym to train my muscles and do some fitness. After the gym, I eat breakfast.”
Working out with consistency is important for achieving fitness results. A commitment to a morning routine with a regular workout regimen will increase your fitness level, improve your health and generate a greater sense of mental well being. Working out vigorously one day only to then avoid exercise for the following two weeks will leave you feeling sore. It will also begin to slow down the potential to have built your strength and flexibility slightly more than before you started those two weeks. It is too straining for the body to experience sporadic spurts of strenuous exercise. For optimal results, stick to a morning workout with a gradual increase in intensity over time. This will allow your muscles, ligaments, and tendons a chance to adjust to the challenges and strains of a new fitness regimen.
The diet of a Cambodian circus performer
The body is our most precious vehicle and must be fuelled properly. A balanced diet provides our bodies with the energy, protein, essential fats, vitamins, and minerals to live, grow and function.
“Everyday I need green vegetables. I drink more water and milk for better energy and a strong body.”
Chea’s favourite meal is grilled fish and fried vegetables. The Cambodian diet is rich in nutrients, check out some of Cambodia’s national dishes.
“A healthy diet is really important for everyone, not just only for artists like us. If we don’t eat healthy foods, it impacts our training and performance and it takes longer to recover from injuries.”
If you would like to learn more about eating a balanced diet, feel free to contact me. I can help to coach you with a realistic and healthy meal plan and achievable fitness goals.
The longer you stick with a training routine, the easier it will feel. This is because of lower perceived exhaustion. When you exercise at the same time every day your body automatically starts to dilate your blood vessels. This allows for higher oxygen consumption and ensuring that your muscles are well supplied. The warm-up should gently prepare the body for exercises by gradually increasing the heart rate and circulation. This will loosen the joints and increase blood flow to the muscles. A good warm-up before a workout helps to raise your muscles’ temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. Stretching the muscles prepares them for physical activity and prevents injuries. Check out the simple stretching routine with a downloadable guide you can use for your next warm up!
For successful results, a gradual increase in intensity will allow your muscles, ligaments, and tendons a chance to adjust to the challenges and strains of a fitness regimen. Preparing the body for a strenuous physical activity will also lower the stress on the heart.
“Before we train or perform, we have to warm up to prevent injuries, joint pain, and soreness. Every morning we always do some jogging around for 30 minutes, Push-ups, and some Snatch-Grip rack for a total of around 1 hour. Our warm-ups vary but always incorporate a mixture of yoga-style stretches. And then in the afternoon before I have rehearsal I have to warm up for around 30 minutes more.“
After discussing the Cambodian Circus performers daily health and fitness habits, I really wanted to balance the interview and get into the nitty-gritty of their circus life. This allowed them to shed a little light on perhaps some of the struggles of training and performing.
“It is tough to study new skill with my team and to prepare for new performances. The most challenging for me is to juggle and do contortion acts. Some skills are just easier than others for me. The least challenging for me is acrobatics of course. It comes easy to me and I really perfected the skill.”
Like Chea does, it is important for us to recognise our strengths and weaknesses. When you focus on your natural talents, it will help you to build confidence in other areas of your life. Positivity is key when facing any of life’s challenges that come our way, such as in Chea’s case; learning a new skill. A positive outlook will help to overcome any fear of uncertainty and allow us to become curious instead. View a challenge as an opportunity to learn something new and to test your ability and patience. This may not always seem easy, especially with deadlines and pressure added to the mix. However, keeping a positive outlook will go a long way toward making each issue a little less daunting.
The performance of the Cambodian Circus team was so perfectly executed that I wondered if they ever even made any mistakes! With beaming smiles, strong movements and a constant powerful aura around them, I couldn’t imagine them having ‘one of those days’ where life just doesn’t seem to flow right. However, Chea’s response when asked if he had bad training days, enlightened me.
“We all do once in a while. When it’s not a good training day I can count on my team to lift me up so that I can push myself to do better. The team is always very supportive of one another. We care about each other and would never let anyone give up.”
His response made my heart feel so full. Not only is he a relatable human behind his super-human skills, it is also so nice to witness the compassion and encouragement amongst one another. The most profound learning from the interview was the performers’ team ethics. The Cambodian Circus made me realise how crucial it is to build strong, trusting relationships with the people around you such as your team or family/ friends. This is because you will gain an army of supporters, so even if you don’t fully believe in yourself, those people around you will. Having a team that wants you to succeed is empowering; With their motivation and votes of confidence, you’ll be encouraged to push forward. Accountability is very much the buzz word of late, but I can really see how well it helps a community of people grow and succeed together. If you are interested in joining an online health and fitness accountability group, send me a message on instagram.
PC: Dean Bennett Photography
Spreading the news
I loved meeting the Cambodian people during my travels. They were so grateful, charming and polite to see other nationalities visiting their country. It is so welcoming to be greeted with such friendliness, kindness, and happy energy. For this reason, and the admirable story of Phare Cambodian Circus, I really want to help spread the news about what they are doing around the world. Please share this interview with your online following via social media to applaud such an honest cause.
“The highlights for me are when I get to travel and perform. I feel like a true professional and I’m always excited to do my best and to let the whole world know about Cambodian culture and Cambodian performing artists.”
Thank you, Chea, for sparing time between your performances to answer all my questions!
Check out the video of the Cambodian Circus
Book your visit to the Cambodian Circus
- To get tickets to see the Cambodian Circus click here.
- There are 350 tiered seats at each show –book early to avoid disappointment.
- The shows run daily from 8 pm and last for one hour. It is best to get there at 7:30 pm. The door staff will not allow anyone to enter after 8 pm -so don’t be late!
- There are facilities to get a drink beforehand and these can be taken into the show.
- You are allowed to video and take photos of the show, but the flash must be off.
- Take some cash to use at the bar or in case you want to leave a grateful tip at the end.
Connect with Vibrant Yogini & the Cambodian Circus
Do you have a question for the Cambodian Circus? Feel free to get in touch and I will do my best to get them answered 🙂
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Wishing you success and progression in your training,
P.S. Interesting fact: the photographer of the images in this post grew up on a circus for most of his childhood life! Follow him on instagram to discover more!