ELEONORA ZAMPATTI NEARY
This month’s cover star is Eleonora Zampatti Neary, an Italian native now thriving in New York City. Here she tells OM about her yoga journey and what the practice means to her. Words and photos: Wanda Bogacka-Plucinski
Originally from Milan, Italy, Eleonora Zampatti Neary is a yoga teacher, currently living in Asbury Park, New Jersey, USA. Her story, although unique, is very relatable and resonates with many women.
Having lived through domestic violence, an eating disorder, suffering from anxiety and depression, her teaching and her own yoga practice are deeply rooted in her life experiences. She encourages all of her students to embrace their vulnerabilities and draw strength from accepting themselves as they are.
Despite having gone through a great deal of pain in the past, and still battling with recurring depression she never gives up. She has the courage to live her life fully, with purpose, setting out to accomplish everything she sets her mind to. More importantly, she’s able to attract and cultivate meaningful relationships in her life, from her loving husband to a close group of friends who, “are more like sisters”, she says.
When I first met her about a year ago, what instantly drew me to her was her fun, light, sense of humour and her ability to be unapologetically herself. It was very magnetic. She’s a woman whose presence is undeniable, vibrant, strong, yet very soft and loving, especially when she’s surrounded by her kitties and the people she loves. There is so much more to Eleonora Zampatti Neary than meets the eye.
How did you first get into yoga and why?
I do not have one specific moment that I can point to where I can say I found yoga. It was more like I stumbled into it. In my earlier days, while living in Italy, I was always interested and involved in fitness, from dance, Pilates, aerobics, spinning, to strength training. During my time studying fashion design at university, I decided to get a personal trainer and aerobics instructor certification.
Little did I know, fitness would become a very important part of my life. In 2003, after graduating from IED in Milan, I started to teach fashion design at the Art Academy of Milan. In the meantime, I kept teaching fitness on the side and eventually adding pilates and spinning certifications to my offerings.
What made you move from Italy to the USA?
Despite being busy and having a seemingly full life in Italy, I felt uninspired, tired, and even depressed. I felt trapped in a life that did not resemble who I really am. So, I took a break and went on holiday to New York City. Well, when I arrived, I instantly fell in love and decided to make a drastic change and move.
In 2007, I left everything behind and moved to the Big Apple! I had to obtain a student visa, so I enrolled in a dance academy. The requirement was I had to take 20 classes a week, mostly ballet and modern dance. But they also offered yoga so, just to fill my requirement I started to take yoga classes as well. Those classes were designed for dancers, and I remember thinking yoga seemed so slow. But what I also noticed was, every time I took a yoga class, I noticeably felt better.
But the real realisation and transformation happened on a day when I had a terrible fight with my boyfriend at the time. During the fight he yelled: “You are crazy! You need yoga!” So, I did. I stumbled into a Bikram Yoga class and that one class literally changed me.
The class was 90 minutes, hot as hell, no music, 26 postures, each held for one minute, some even longer. Every minute felt like a huge struggle and at times I thought I was not going to make it through the class. But once it was over, it was incredible; my body was exhausted, but my mind was free! It was humbling and freeing at the same time. I went back every day for a month, and eventually enrolled in yoga teacher training to become a yoga teacher.
Looking back, yoga helped me through a very dark period in my life by allowing me to find the courage to change the course of my own life. It was the beginning of a long journey of self-discovery, acceptance and the beginning of the realisation that I am stronger than I realise.
Now, I live in Asbury Park, New Jersey, just one block from the ocean, with my incredible husband and three adorable cats. I teach in-person at local yoga studios, as well as in the city and on my online platform.
How does the yoga community in Italy differ to that of the USA?
When I left Italy there was no yoga community at all. All I know about the Italian yoga community now is it looks vibrant and on a positive trajectory of growth. For them, yoga is still relatively new and they don’t have access to all the styles and teachers that we have in the USA. I have a lot of online students from Italy that are eager to learn and practice with me and to be honest, I can’t wait to go back to meet all of them in person. If all goes well, I will be able to host a retreat and do some live workshops in Italy in 2024.
Where is your favourite wellness destination for yoga, a holiday, or just fun?
Without any doubt, Sedona in Arizona. I went there last year, for the first time, for my bachelorette party and was instantly drawn to it. The best way to describe it is that Sedona awakened my soul. There, I felt my own power and a sense of peace. This was a place I knew I had to come back to again and again.
This is why I led my very first yoga retreat, this past May, in Sedona. It was nothing short of magical. We hiked, danced, meditated, ate incredible food and practiced yoga, surrounded by the energy of what I consider one the most spiritual places on earth.
The retreat went so well, we decided to make it a yearly thing. This experience also inspired me to travel more in the USA and visit all the national parks. Next on the list is Zion National Park, Utah. I already put a retreat together for September of 2022 and it literally sold out in 24 hours!
What style of yoga do you practice and teach?
I teach vinyasa and practice both vinyasa and ashtanga. My wide range of teaching abilities also includes pilates, yoga, dance and strength training, and you can see all of these elements in my teaching.
Because yoga helps me to connect to my feminine power, accept, even embrace, my vulnerability, I encourage my students to recognise that as well. This is why I emphasise and teach my students that yoga is so much more than just asanas…and if you can see that, then you too can tap into your own light.
What inspired you in the early days?
Irene Pappas inspired me to embrace my femininity and use social media as a marketing tool to build my yoga community. She also inspired me to work hard and stay dedicated and committed to my own practice. She has been my biggest source of inspiration since I started this journey.
Also, my friend Phylicia Bonanno is one of my biggest inspirations. She taught me to set boundaries, be gentle with myself, believe in myself and be mindful of how I speak to myself. Every time I need a reminder of my own power, I call her. These two women are so much more than just friends, they are like sisters.
It allowed me to start collaborating more with the yoga community, artists, yoga magazines, and modeling for athletic clothing lines. In 2014, I became the founder of Ode to the Moon, a foundation that used yoga music and art to bring awareness on the topic of domestic violence. I also started to regularly post on Instagram and eventually built a large community. In 2018, I became one of the Alo Yogis and started not only working with their athletic brand but also teach at their stores and online platform called, Alo Moves.
What does yoga mean to you personally?
Yoga teaches me about self-awareness and to be less judgemental, especially towards myself. It also allows me to tap into my strengths and embrace my vulnerabilities, imperfections and all.
How has yoga helped you see yourself, your body and mind, on and off the mat?
It helps me make peace with my body as it is right now and pursue strength instead of the quest for ‘being skinny’. In a way, yoga helped me cope with my eating disorder, anxiety and depression. Sure, I go to therapy to manage these mental challenges but yoga gives me the strength to accept things as they are, have the courage to get help, and see that I am worthy of healing my own life. Through yoga, I know that I am enough, and even see my brokenness as a gift.
How do you stay motivated?
I just take things one day at a time.
What are you most grateful for?
My husband, my three cats, my home, health, my incredible friends and my students who inspire me every day.
What feeds your soul?
Movement feeds my soul.
What do you think is your purpose?
I feel my purpose is to share my knowledge and authentic self with my students. To help them discover and step into their own uniqueness and power.
Is there a person in your life that ‘truly sees you’ for who you are?
Yes, a few people: my loving husband and my closest friends, Cassandra, Noel, Irene and Phylicia. And my cats. Definitely my cats!
How would you describe your own teaching style?
My students call me Killer E. I don’t get it, haha…my classes aren’t that hard! I guess I will describe my teaching style as dynamic, fun, intelligent and challenging.
What do you believe is your true calling in life?
Being exactly who I am and doing more of what I love.
What are your plans going forward?
Keep working on my online platform, so that I can reach and teach yoga to people all over the world. My goal is to host three yoga retreats a year (for now, it’s two) and continue teaching at the local studios where I live.
What do you do when you’re not practicing or teaching yoga?
I cycle a lot! Aside from cycling, I also enjoy hiking.
What are some of your self-care practices?
Riding bikes; cycling is my form of self-care.
What gives you joy?
Spending time with my husband, cats, and watching horror movies.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
GO-TO HEALTHY DRINK?
Does coffee count? Because I love coffee!
“The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Created by imperfections.”
FAVOURITE YOGA POSE AND WHY?
King pigeon. Feels like home.
IF YOU COULD TAKE A CLASS AS A STUDENT WITH ANY TEACHER FROM ANYWHERE AND FROM ANY PERIOD OF TIME (NOW OR IN THE DISTANT PAST) WHO WOULD IT BE WITH AND WHY?
Irene Pappas and Kirra Michel.