I Was in an Abusive Relationship—But Yoga Gave Me the Strength to Leave
Yoga showed Eleonora Zampatti how to love and care for herself.
At 27, Eleonora Zampatti fled from her home in Italy to New York to escape an abusive relationship—and fell into the arms of a man who seemed like he’d be her savior. “I was this tattooed aerobics instructor from a middle-class family and he was wealthy and aristocratic who said he wanted to take care of me,” recalls Eleonora, now 36. “He gave me presents and took me traveling throughout Italy and the U.S. and made me feel like a queen.”
But within a few months, cracks started to appear. In public one day he demanded that she cover the “horrible” tattoo on her back. “Then, when we would fight, he would break things he knew I cared about to punish me for not being ‘good enough’—my iPhone, my computer, nice vases,” she says. “He told me I was weak and mentally ill—and I started to believe him.”
One day in 2010, when they’d been together about two years, her boyfriend said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you. You’re crazy. You need to do some yoga.” Eleonora, who had taught spin and aerobics in Italy, was an avid exerciser, so when she walked past a Bikram yoga studio later that day, she went in and took a class.
“I hated it,” she recalls. “It was very regimented and there was no music and I was sweating like crazy—but by the end I was so exhausted my mind was empty and quiet and at peace, and my worry was gone. And that was enough to make me keep going back.”
Learning to love herself
As Eleonora added more yoga sessions to her usual fitness routine, she gradually, over the ensuing months, began to feel a change in herself. “I realized that my years of pushing myself physically were all about self-criticism and trying to make myself skinny, but my yoga practice felt more about loving myself and taking care of myself. It was eye-opening. It felt good to be kind to myself.”
After a year or so she went through yoga teacher training, and eventually, that nurturing mindset seeped into her life off the mat. “Yoga is slow medicine,” she says. “It doesn’t change your life overnight. But slowly I started to see my relationship more clearly and realize I didn’t have to suffer anymore. Yoga helped me be strong.”
By the time she and her boyfriend had been together more than four years, his emotional abuse had become physical. On a few occasions, he slapped or pushed her if she said something he didn’t like—and sometimes even did it in public.
“I had a friend who lived at the New Jersey shore, and I started going out to see her more often,” Eleonora recalls. “I told my boyfriend New Jersey was beautiful and I thought we should get a place there, and he went off. He said, ‘You’re not even allowed to dream about that.’ That ultimatum was one of several last straws. In 2013, after almost five years together, I found the strength to leave him and Manhattan and move to New Jersey.”
Eleonora began to teach yoga regularly—and started a class to raise money to benefit abused women, held each month on the new moon. The class has since evolved into her nonprofit, Ode to the Moon, which has the broader mission of using yoga, music, and art to raise funds and to bring awareness and discussion to the topic of domestic violence. “We practice on the new moon, when it’s invisible, because that’s symbolic of my journey and that of so many abused women,” she says. “We’ve all had to be empty and disappear in order to be strong and full of light.”