Non-native contributions: Introducing Jonna & Taiga-Yoga

In this series, I want to highlight some expat entrepreneurs who are contributing to the wellbeing of people living in Belgium with their nature based offerings.

Because I am a Forest-Finn, it gives me such pleasure to start off the series with a fellow forest-Finn, Jonna Kokko (Jonna´s last name means a big bonfire that we traditionally burn near the lakeside in the midsummer or at Easter in some parts of Finland). I had the pleasure of joining one of Jonna´s Taiga-yoga sessions in the Liedermeers park on a Saturday morning. We started out with a meditative walk, and then went on to some forest inspired yoga poses. We finished with a chat and a lovely cup of tea, all corona-safe. #thistooisforestbathing

Hi there, please introduce yourself?

Jonna Kokko

“I’m Jonna. I’m a Finnish expat, yogi, yogateacher, musician, nature lover and a mother of two. I moved to Ghent Belgium in 2009. I’ve been teaching yoga since early 2020.

I’m currently hustling with a full time job, teaching yoga and being a mom. Sometimes it feels like a lot but mostly I’m loving my busy and chaotic life. I’m hoping to inspire others with regular jobs and busy family lives to make time to take care of themselves.

Where did you get the idea of taking yoga to the forest in Belgium?

I’ve been practicing yoga since the early millennium so it’s been an important part of my whole adult life. The idea of following a teacher training was there for several years before I finally decided to go for it in 2019. I’ve been very inspired by the Forest Yoga movement in Finland which was started by Mia Jokiniva with her book Metsäjooga (=Forest Yoga) in 2018. Finnish folklore and shaman culture are often at the heart of the Finnish Forest Yoga.

In Belgium, I cannot entirely copy paste the Finnish Forest Yoga so I am making it my own. Folklore is less present in my Forest Yoga for now but I’m  most definitely letting my imagination go wild.

Part of the Forest Yoga experience is bringing the attention away from the mind and becoming present with the forest and nature around us. In Forest Yoga I’m combining the benefits of noticing nature and yoga in imaginative ways and the result is something very healing and empowering.

What is the difference between the indoors and outdoors yoga except for the obvious?

In my indoor yoga classes we bring our full focus inwards and to our body. We are practicing the skills of yoga asana, meditation and breathing. Essentially we are learning tools for life.

In my Forest Yoga sessions we open our senses to experience the nature around us. It is more imaginative using symbols to find the right energy of the pose. During the sessions we use sticks, rocks, trees and other elements from nature to incorporate in our yoga practice which makes it very creative.

There is magic in Metsäjooga

Is there something in nature in Belgium that you have learned to especially appreciate?

Belgian nature is highly accessible for everyone. I used to dislike the straight paths and the park feeling of the forests but now I can appreciate the positive side of it. Everyone has the possibility to enjoy nature, the young, the old, people with disabilities.

What is our own relationship to nature like?

Nature means everything to me. I was brought up making day trips to nature, fishing, picking berries, swimming in the lakes. When I’m outdoors, I can fully relax and experience the nature around me with all my senses. Mother nature is a reminder that all the worries of our daily life are usually smaller than we think. Being outdoors puts things back into the perspective.

In this image, Laura, Jonna and Kirsi show the wild chicken, forest warrior and magical moose poses.