Elena Kokkala: Creating Community Through Yoga

Words by Nichole Starkman; Photos by Elena Kokkala
PEOPLE OF TKU

Turku is a vibrant city with many attractive venues to visit and places to see. But it is people that drive this city’s special cultural life. CC:TKU gets to know some of the people who live and work here.

GOOD TO KNOW

Keep up to date with Elena’s travels and practice at:
yogaele.com/
instagram.com/ellekokkala/
facebook.com/travelingyogaele/
Or email elena@yogaele.com to join her newsletter

Elena “Traveling Ele” Kokkala is a born and raised Turkulainen who began her yoga practice in Turku and now travels the world teaching yoga to others. Although she’s a globetrotter now, she always finds her way back to her special hometown of Turku.

How did you find yourself in this job?

The truth is, I found myself in this (yoga) practice and that’s how I found myself in this job.

I started practicing yoga when I was going through the darkest period of my life. My yoga practice helped me to get through this period by teaching me how to breathe when I felt like I couldn’t, how to love myself when I felt I was worth nothing, how to connect with others when I wanted to hide my pain from the world. Not only this, but the practice and the amazing teachers I found also made me realise that I had been living quite a ‘small’ life, and that I could do all the things I’d ever dreamed of and even more if I just committed to creating it for myself!

Quite early on in the practice I knew that one day I would want to share what I’ve learned and help others in finding themselves, as well. So through many coincidences (or guidance maybe, if one chooses to believe) I ended up taking a yoga teacher training course and started teaching in Turku immediately after the training ended. A few months later, I was already opening my own studio in collaboration with two friends. I never intended to open one, but when the opportunity arose I saw it as a platform for growth and creating an even stronger community. The studio, Joogakerttuli, still exists and I guest teach there whenever I visit Turku. And now I’m truly living my dream teaching yoga globally.

What do you enjoy about your workplace?

I’ve always loved teaching. It took me a decade or two to realise it, but it’s something that has brought me the deepest sense of fulfillment- that I can show someone else a path or a trick I learned myself. Especially if it’s someone who doesn’t believe that they have it in them. It’s all about empowering people, and seeing growth and creation. This is what I really miss when I’m not teaching the same people regularly- not having the opportunity to see the planted seeds blossom into the most beautiful flowers.

I also love using creativity while planning classes, always bringing something new to my teaching. My teaching is ever-evolving, just like my own practice. Practicing yoga means you are always a student, even- and especially- when you are a teacher.

Let’s not tell anyone, but I also really enjoy singing and playing my guitar in my classes. It’s the perfect setting with everyone just laying there in their final resting pose- a very reassuring audience. Though I have to admit it was still quite scary at first.

What makes Turku your place to live and work?

I was born in Turku, and my parents and sisters still live here, so there’s a strong connection. But even without that, I’ve always loved Turku for its beauty. The Aurajoki, the sea, islands, forests…
It’s also the perfect size, I find. Big enough to have pretty much everything one needs, yet small enough to be able to walk and bike everywhere.

And of course I love all my friends and my students that I’ve got in Turku! Many of them feel like family, and I always want to come back to the community that I’ve been part of creating. Seeing the familiar, smiling faces walking through the doors to join the class with me, knowing what to expect (anything), being 100% ‘in’. Everyone greeting each other as well as greeting me, sharing the practice together, and hanging out with people who share some of the same core values.

For me, personally, the Turku yoga community has also been a great way to connect with the international people living in Turku. It’s almost like traveling without leaving the country, especially when I organised yoga & potluck lunch / dinner events in collaboration with Turku Expat Network. Everyone would bring some of their favourite dishes to share with others after the practice. The yoga community in Turku is very diverse in general. There are people from all walks of life with different ways of living and seeing the world. The beauty is in the connection- you can find people you might otherwise never meet anywhere.

All of this just makes Turku feel like home. It is home. Maybe one day I’ll stay for a bit longer again.

Do you have any advice for people looking to get into the yoga community in Turku?

For people who’ve never tried yoga? I’d say go and try different classes. Find a practice that serves you, a teacher whose classes you enjoy, and then it’s most likely the other people in the room will vibe with you, too. Then it’s easier to connect with people. You may even want to connect with some yogis through Instagram, like I have! Go and take a class together and chat over a coffee after the class. Talk with the teacher before the class if it’s a Finnish-only class. Most teachers can teach in English too, although in some faster-paced classes it might be difficult to teach in two languages.

I always teach in English, so if you want to join the most welcoming community, make sure to connect with me and you’ll know when I’m in Turku again!

What yoga pose best describes you?

It’s so hard to decide! Definitely a standing pose, as my element is air, so there needs to be air in the pose. It can’t be something too simple either, as I am a somewhat complex creature, but still something where inner peace and steadiness can be found when the work has been done and the balance is right. The gaze would be set on one point to help in creating the pose. So I choose dancers pose with mermaid arm variation. The trick is patience!

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