Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person's story.

When I’m asked to tell my story, I often start with Manhattan, the city where I used to live. The city where I used to thrive and strive for success and happiness. The city where I felt what it means to slowly die inside, by the overbearing shadow of domestic violence.

I moved there when I was young, healthy, fit, passionate, and full of life. I was working as a personal trainer and I was dating the perfect guy.

“The perfect guy.”

My abuser.

Trapped in a toxic relationship, I could not admit that it was happening to me, and I kept pretending that everything was fine. My partner at the time convinced me that it was all my fault — that I was too sick and too vulnerable. That I was not good enough, not intelligent enough, and that there was no place for weak people in a city like New York.

For so long, I had thought that all I wanted was to be a “New Yorker.” That I really wanted to be with him. But at night, alone in that small apartment, all I could do was cry.

I could not live this way anymore. NYC, him, and the life I worked so hard to create — they were all nothing more than a trap that I couldn’t escape. In a city of millions, I felt completely alone.

Then I discovered yoga and everything changed. One day, after a fight with my ex, I walked past a yoga studio and wandered in to take a hot yoga class, just for something to do. I had never even heard of hot yoga — but what the heat combined with the postures did to me that day was incredible. By the time the class was over, my mind and body were both totally drained. But I felt like I created a space inside of myself that I didn’t even know existed.

I had spent years running, jumping, pushing, and doing everything I could to get in shape. But yoga transformed my body in a way that all of those extremes never had. I started practicing like crazy, and just two months later, I had started my training to become an instructor.

A new way to approach my body and my self-worth

I used to be obsessed with my body. I wanted to have the body of a ballet dancer — not an inch of fat, ethereal, and skinny, with lots of bones showing. I starved myself and did everything I could to lose weight.

Yoga taught me to rethink how I approach what healthiness means, by helping me understand what true strength really means. Indeed, there is an intricate and sublime connection between strength and vulnerability — one that yoga helped to unlock.

Because yoga isn’t about physical strength. Being able to do a handstand isn’t just about working on your body strength, but also about being more open and vulnerable when it comes to your flexibility. It’s not about pushing or forcing your body, but learning how to create space with your body. I learned that, in order to be stronger, I needed to be flexible. Vulnerable. And I realized that I was already at that point emotionally.

Yoga taught me to forgive myself. It made me realize that I didn’t have to suffer anymore. And after five years, it finally helped me understand that it was okay to leave NYC. And to leave my ex. So, even though it was terrifying to leave the only place I could call home, with no money and support, I did it. I moved to New Jersey, and slowly, my soul began to heal.

Though the end was painful, it was also the beginning of something beautiful.

Because the same pain that back then seemed unbearable was nothing more than an opportunity to change, transform, and discover and embrace my full potential.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, help is available. Call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE for confidential support. 

Eleonora is a native of Milan, Italy. She’s an international body movement specialist, yoga teacher, author, fitness model, and founder of the Ode to the Moon project, which uses yoga, art, and music to bring awareness to the topic of domestic violence and empowers victims of abuse.