"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." – Marianne Williamson
Hero’s pose (supta verasana): this pose is about vulnerability. Anyone in this pose is exposed, opening themselves up onto the world above. It is very hard to remain relaxed in this pose, yet the woman in this picture has melted her body onto the ground. Her feet are rooted in the sand, much like a lotus flower roots into the mud. Mud is the common ground that we all share. Life’s obstacles keep us rooted in the mud. The lotus needs water, the sun and the moon to grow into a beautiful blossom. In Eastern religions, the lotus flower represents wisdom and the progress from the lowest to highest states of enlightenment.
Note to the readers: I am aware and sensitive to the appearance of the ribcage in the above photo. This is a distortion created by both the pose and the lighting. Eleonora is at a healthy weight and eats a balanced and robust diet to care for her body. This picture is a dramatic and artistic representation of Eleonora's story.
I first met Eleonora two years ago at a lululemon community yoga class. There was this intensely striking woman with tumbling locks of long hair, pieces of art scattered across her skin and a thick Italian accent leading the class through a Vinyasa flow yoga class. I remember her being both very focused and lighthearted. Calm, but bursting with creative energy. Her presence was instantly attractive. Little did I know I was meeting this woman as she was emerging from one of the darkest periods of her life.
At the time, Eleonora was in a major transition. She was escaping a broken life and relationship in Brooklyn to build an entirely new one on the Jersey shore. In her daily Facebook posts, she often photographed her bicycle on a desolate train. This was her morning commute on NJ transit or the ferry at 4:30am to teach yoga class in Brooklyn. Once in Manhattan, she biked for miles between yoga studios regardless of harsh weather conditions like rain and snow. She would commute back to NJ to teach full a schedule of evening classes in the same day. She always infused gratitude and happiness into these posts, as if she there was nothing else she would rather be doing. Through these long days, she carried a deep passion for yoga, love for the Jersey shore and for her two Sphinx cats, Melinda and Benito.
Eleonora’s parents introduced her to skiing and synchronized swimming at a young age, believing in the importance of a sports education. Through synchronized swimming, she learned how to move her body lyrically and with fluidity. This is also where she developed an essential connection with music, water and breath.
A tumultuous youth began with the onset of womanhood at the tender age of nine, well before her peers. Womanhood came too soon and brought her hormonal chaos. Only a few years later, she underwent surgery at age 11 to remove one ovary as a result of developing health issues. Doctors prescribed her birth control for her body to function. Hormonal imbalances lead to weight gain and in turn, a loss of control over her body. Without a feeling of harmony with her femininity, she soon developed an unhealthy relationship with her body during these young formative years. Over-exercising gave her a sense of control over her body. Severe restriction and discipline in diet followed.
By sixteen, Eleonora was teaching aerobics classes in Milan and earning every type of certification she could, but she never felt understood and “at home” in Italy. She attended the University of Milan for philosophy and design and started a career as an art teacher. Believing in the “American dream,” she soon left Italy for NYC to attend a dance academy.
One abusive relationship usually fosters another. If you don’t love and respect yourself and your body, you give others permission to do the same. Eleonora spent her first four years in Manhattan entangled in an emotionally abusive relationship. It wasn’t the first abusive relationship she had experienced, but it is one that inspired her to create art (more about that later). The man in her life wanted to be a crutch that Eleonora couldn’t do without. He created her dependence on him in a country she did not know and then took away everything he had given her, including a place to live, and threatened to deport her. He convinced her to do things that would take away her individuality in an attempt to exercise his control over her. When she finally decided to leave the relationship and move to New Jersey, he convinced her that she had ruined her life.
Yoga is the transformative key in Eleonora’s story. Yoga helped her counterbalance her intense dance training. Yoga was her solace from an abusive relationship. Yoga brought her to New Jersey. Yoga brought her a feeling of peace with her body. She says, “Yoga offers the possibility of connecting with who you really are. You make it your own expression. Everyday you create a different story.”
When she finally shared her story with someone who was a near stranger, she wasn’t faced with judgment or shame, but instead with support and compassion. These were the building blocks for a healthy new relationship. That stranger turned into a wonderful man, Chris, who was the catalyst for change. He wanted to help her find the happiness she so deserved. A turning point had come and she set on the path to heal, find strength, and chase after her own happiness. She felt lifted by the possibility of a new life at the Jersey shore, living, practicing and teaching.
Eleonora has always been an artist. She both paints and writes expressively in English (her second language). She is disciplined, creative and lighthearted all at the same. Tapping into her vulnerability, she created something beautiful that honored her struggle and celebrated her journey. Through her artistry, she created Ode to the Moon (OTTM), a unique event that combines the healing powers of art, music and yoga to raise awareness and support for the survivors of domestic violence in conjunction with 180 Turning Lives Around and Renaissance Pilates Red Bank. The event, launched in 2013, is a rapidly expanding tour going on through the tri-state area, London and Milan. Support is spreading through an Instagram challenge called “Breaking Open” in partnership with photographer Claire Sheprow of Find Orion Photography. Follow Breaking Open at #breakingopen.
Much is written about Eleonora’s yoga practice and her OTTM event, but not much is shared about some of the most personal and intimate details of Eleonora’s tattoo work. In a way, Eleonora began illustrating her story long before she began speaking about it. As I said before, she is an artist at heart. Her expression on her skin is a cathartic process. Some pieces have provocative messages, but they all speak to very real issues of her past. Of her body she says “I love my scars and tattoos. I think of my body as pure art because it is the instrument I use to express my soul.”
Her very first piece is a black- and gray-tone woman on the right side of her abdomen. The woman appears emaciated and fragile. Directly opposite is another black and gray-tone woman. This one has angel wings and holds a sword. Both of these women represent Eleonora. They are a counterbalance of strength and weakness, light and darkness. A woman once broken is now a warrior. Dan Marshall at Last Rites completed both pieces.
Dio conta le lacrime delle donne … “God counts the tears of women,” a Cabala reference, is faintly visible in the middle of her chest. Is it written in white ink. Eleonora’s Italian heritage emphasizes the role of the woman as the caretaker of the family and the home. While this is what she wants for herself she firmly believes that a man should never, ever make a woman cry. Women should be honored and cherished. Female tattoo artist Genziana created this piece.
A seductive woman in a red dress smolders on Eleonora’s shoulder. She is Italian film actress Silvana Mangano. This piece is dedicated to Eleonora’s grandmother. The work was inspired by the movie poster painting for “Bitter Rice” and was completed by Long Beach, CA based tattoo artist Kari Barba.
Finally, two guns, one on each forearm, facing each other, are among the most provocative pieces on her body. On her right arm: ”Free to Kill” written below a gun with red hearts. On her left arm: “Myself” written below a gun with a skull and drops of blood. This was a bold statement of free will, added to her body the night before she left Italy behind in search of a new life in New York City. With one tattoo artist on either arm, Eleonora was on the brink of leaving behind a place she never truly felt understood in search for a place she could feel “at home.” Female artists Vale Lovette and Jessica Farone simultaneously completed these works.
It is also little known that Eleonora was among the very early “Suicide Girls”- a sort of alternative model that poses for online pin-up photography. When she became part of this community in 2002, it was about celebrating the art and sexuality of tattoos. It gave her the opportunity to “be expressive through her own standard of beauty” and taught her to embrace nudity and expressions of sexuality after years of repression and self-loathing. The SuicideGirl community has since evolved in another direction and Eleonora is no longer a part of it.
Elegance beyond measure. To watch her gracefully flow between poses is like watching the waves of the ocean roll in and then recede on the shoreline. She is rhythmic and lyrical. Watching her on this photo shoot, she was part ballerina and part mermaid.
The long locks that sweep across Eleonora’s low back are part of her identity. This is a feature she likes most about herself and deeply mourned the loss of twice in her life: once in her teenage years when she shaved her head, and once during her relationship with her abusive ex-partner.
The lines of her body are long and slender. When she is practicing, she is always dressed simply and without restriction. She dresses to create space and openness in her body. A simple bra top and leggings are at the core of her daily wardrobe. Frequent photo shoots have given her the opportunity to try every athletic brand available, from high- to low-end, but she claims lululemon makes the best quality garments for yoga practice.
She is thoughtful and deliberate about her jewelry choices. She sticks to bracelets and rings only. Most pieces have a special connection to her work or family. On her pinky finger she always wears a gold ring with two tigers and diamonds that was given to her by her grandmother. The vintage cameo ring also comes from her grandmother.
Eleonora’s goal is always to uplift other women, and to be healthy and connected to her body.
The woman that teaches and inspires so many women every day credits many others as her sources of inspiration. On her list is “Fit Queen” Irene Pappas for “her strength and ability to slowly lead me into asanas. I love the way she owns her body and connects with her soul through physical movements. She is a young, strong and humble soul that is not afraid to share her knowledge with others. That is beautiful and rare in a teacher.” Also inspiring is choreographer Martha Graham for “her way to see the world and the movements of the human body,” Ronda Rousey for her determination, and her mother for “her sense of humor.”
She makes special mention of vocalist and songwriter Allison Anna LaRochelle. Anna wrote song “Lay Your Hand on Me” especially for OTTM. She performs at every event. Of Allison she says, “she inspires me because she is so young and so grounded. She works very hard to honor her gift (singing) by pursuing her dreams. She doesn’t take anything for granted and that’s not something you see very often in someone so young. She is stronger than I ever was.”
In her own words, “Yoga is the tool I used to heal myself, and that made me believe I was strong enough to make it. I have achieved so much . . . every backbend, every inversion that I never thought I could do. Everything I do with my body is, to me, a miracle.”
Indeed, it takes a strong woman to have confidence to bare all in front of the camera, as she has done before. Through her work she also lay bare her soul and her story to help women with similar struggles.
Eleonora teaches at Renaissance Pilates Red Bank, Synergy Hot Yoga, Jersey Shore Hot Yoga, Coba Yoga and The Academy of Dance Arts. She is also available for one-on-one training. For more information please visit www.embraceandbloom.com.
Photo Credit: Brian Motzenbecker at Simply Photography simplyphotographynj.com
Written By: Elizabeth F. Murphy
Clothing: Golden Point
Jewelry: bracelets by Alex & Ani, OTTM bracelets designed by Krista Lynn Pomellato, rings model's own