Standing Against Domestic Violence Through Yoga | Eleonora Zampatti
Eleonora Zampatti first entered the world of yoga to make peace within herself, but quickly learned that her contagious passion could also help heal those around her. Growing up, Eleonora was always active but her struggle with eating disorders and unhealthily obsessing over fitness threatened her wellbeing. After moving to New York from Italy - and while in an abusive relationship - Eleonora found herself in a dark place, and knew that she needed a change.
She found yoga and it immediately changed her life, giving her the courage to leave the relationship and start anew. In making light of a dark situation, Eleonora eventually started a nonprofit organization, Ode to the Moon, to share her story and open up the discussion about domestic violence - all through yoga, art, and music at its core. Eleonora knows that healing is a process, and encourages us all to embrace the phases of life just like the phases of the moon. Check out our interview with her below to learn about her thoughts on abuse, philosophies on life, and more.
What first got you into yoga?
I moved to NYC from Italy, was far away from my family, and life wasn’t going as planned. I was also in a horrible, abusive, and toxic relationship. My ex and I had a terrible fight, and he told me something like, “You need to do yoga because you’re f*cking crazy!” I left the house that day and was so overwhelmed because I couldn’t admit that it was an abusive relationship. I felt sad, I felt ugly, I felt stupid. I was walking past the front of a Bikram yoga school and I thought, “Oh, he told me that I should do yoga, this is a good opportunity.” So I walked in to enrol in a class.
The class was awful, I hated every second of it. But I realized at the end that for an hour and a half I had completely shut my mind off, and I didn’t think about all of the pain that I was going through. In that hour and a half, there was no “I need to get skinny,” there was no “He hates me,” there was no “I’m ugly.” It was just “I need to get through this,” because it was so hard physically. There was also a lot of breathing, which I wasn’t used to because my entire life I felt like I needed to hold my breath. I didn't want to say something wrong or do something wrong. Even though I absolutely hated the class, as soon as I finished I wanted to go back.
Having grown up physically active, what was so special about yoga to you compared to other activities you've tried?
Yoga is a very good medicine, but it is a very slow one. The results come over time. It went from, "I hate this," to "I can do this," to "I’m getting better at this." So I thought that if I can do anything physically, why can’t I walk out of this relationship? That’s what hooked me into yoga, the awareness that it gave me. For the first time in my life, it wasn’t about pushing, it was about listening.
I moved from Bikram to Vinyasa and within a year of switching, I got my certification and started teaching yoga. I think that had I not found yoga, I would have died in one way or another. I’m so lucky that I walked in front of that door. It changed my life. That’s what gave me the strength to leave him and discover what I've found today, which is a beautiful life.
You’re super open about your personal story, which must be a little bit scary as it’s such a personal thing to share with the world. Have you always been so open about your struggles?
When I left that relationship, I left everything that I knew. I moved from NYC to New Jersey, and people looked at me like I was crazy. I ended up in this small community and when people live in suburbia, they have a little more time for themselves. Here is where I had time to have real conversations, and over time people would share their stories. You eventually realize that there’s nothing wrong with talking.
For years, I didn’t talk and I pretended to be someone I wasn’t. I was ashamed to be perceived as weak, but as I started talking more and opening up about what had happened to me, I realized that people were not judging me. Instead, they were there to help me. I never thought that I was abused enough to admit that I was being abused. But the more I talked about it, the more I could let go and detach myself from it. It was a healing process.
What sparked the decision to use what you went through to start helping other people?
I decided to hold a little yoga event and donate the proceeds to help victims of abuse. Then, step by step, I would tell more of my story until I told my story completely, and talked about things I never thought I could. In the beginning, it was hard, I would cry for a week after every event but it was really therapeutic. I wanted to help other people, and fill the gap of understanding that you’re being abused and then doing something about it. I decided to use yoga, art, and music - which are the things that resonate with my soul the most - and use them to bring awareness. My mission is to talk about violence because if we don’t talk about it, then we give the abusers power. I want to start a conversation, because when I started that conversation with myself and with others, I started to heal.
You have a project, Ode to the Moon, that stands against domestic violence. How did that come about?
So, I am moody. I am a woman 100%. The most feminine creature that you can get? Here she is. Like the moon, I go up and I go down, I am full and I am empty. Because of that, I think that naturally, I was always very connected to the moon. When I started yoga I really began to recognize the relationship between the moon cycle and me.
One day I was on the train and I was reading a poem that said, “The moon understands what it means to be human, uncertain, alone, created by imperfections.” The whole poem is beautiful but that one phrase always stuck with me. It’s only when you’re in your darkest place that you realize how much light there can be, and that’s the moon. The moon is always there and she can be strong and full of life only because once a month she dies. So that was my inspiration, I was like, whatever I’m doing I’m going to call it "Ode to the Moon," because being vulnerable never means that you’re being a failure, it means you're giving yourself the chance to understand your real strength.
Can you tell us about your goals with Ode to the Moon?
Our mission is to bring awareness. To remind people what abuse is and what love is, and to remind people that there are other options for help out there. To remind people that abuse isn’t just about women, it’s about men, children, and animals as well.
My goal for 2017 is to create an online platform for free yoga. It’s hard for me to reach different communities and there are a lot of people out there that can’t really leave their house. So I want to create a platform, not only for taking classes with different teachers but to create a community where we can share our experiences and help each other.
“...being vulnerable never means that you’re being a failure, it means you're giving yourself the chance to understand your real strength."
You make yoga look so easy, but what has been the most difficult part about it physically?
Every time I can’t do something in yoga, I get inspired instead of frustrated. When I’m on the mat, I know that it takes time. I’ve never experienced frustration personally but I see my students experience it all of the time.
Just because you’re in a yoga room doesn’t mean that you need to do crazy positions, that’s not the point. The point is how you react to the challenge that the practice puts you through. You have to listen and use the ego when it’s needed, and let it go when it’s not needed. All of the time people say "I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible or healthy enough." And I say, "Well because you’re not flexible or healthy enough, you need to do yoga." People think that you need to be enlightened to do yoga but that’s not the case. I go to my mat to fall apart because that’s where I can.
What are three hidden gems in New Jersey?
1. Hartshorne Park: It’s a nature park where you can hike, mountain bike, and walk your dog. It’s really beautiful; for me, it’s paradise on Earth.
2. Synergy Hot Yoga: Sorry for the self-promotion - all of the studios that I work at really are amazing, but this studio is where I found a community of people that care so much about each other. The owner is a very special person, she’s a mom to all of us. It offers a very peaceful environment that is hard to find in other places, especially in the city.
3. Francesco’s Italian Pizzeria: The owner, who is 100% Italian, treated me like family from the first day I met him. He’s done things for me that no one else has and does so for the entire town. He’s such a good person. He’s funny and the food is amazing too.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
MISSBISH is a place where you can read and understand that we all have a story that can inspire. At the end of the day, we all should be our own inspirations; it’s a place of sharing and connection. It's a constant reminder of how beautiful we all are and how precious our stories can be for somebody else. Plus it’s beautiful, and when something is beautiful visually, it makes you feel happy, and that is important.
Photographer: Aaron Santoro