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Sustainability Spotlight: Julia Campanelli

Sustainability Spotlight: Julia Campanelli

Julia was a stressed out Technology Consultant living in D.C. One night, she had a dream that changed her life. She has since packed her life into a backpack, and moved to Indonesia, where she is doing yoga, scuba diving, and learning more about the earth around her in these beautiful places. Julia has seen first-hand the impacts of our consumption habits in the deep of the ocean in these remote places. Plunge into this week’s spotlight.

Can you tell us more about what your trip has been like and where you have been? What sparked your interest in this exotic travel in the first place?

A year and a half ago I found myself sitting on my bedroom floor having my first panic attack. For a lot of reasons I won’t detail, life was crushing me and the stress I had been accumulating was starting to physically manifest in my body. That night I had an extremely vivid dream that I was going to do my yoga teacher training. I woke up and felt around frantically for my phone. I didn’t know why or how. All I knew was that it was the most sure thing I had ever felt in my life. During that 2 AM Google search I found Zuna Yoga (my studio) and made the decision that I was going to do my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training in Indonesia. The next day I started doing yoga for the first time. Over the next year, I immersed myself in learning yoga, found incredible teacher mentors, and got approved to take a six-month sabbatical from my job as a Technology Consultant. I thought people would think I was out of my mind but my family, friends and coworkers were unbelievably supportive.

And that’s what kicked off this crazy journey. Since setting out on my trip I’ve traveled mostly in Indonesia (Bali, Lombok, Java, Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Flores) but also went to Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

Photo by:  Julia Campanelli

What has the Yoga Teacher Training Certification process been like? Do you have any recommendations for readers that are interested in becoming certified?

My program was incredible and transformative. Our days included a lot of self-work (reflection, mediation, silent hours), physical work (A LOT of yoga, posture workshops, adjustments teaching), and classroom work (anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, philosophy and history).

I’m a very skeptical person, so when I was looking for a program, I knew I wanted the program to include science. I wanted to learn how yoga physically affects and changes the body and the brain. I knew yoga and meditation made me feel amazing but I wanted to know why. Everything we learned in my program was backed by modern-day neuroscience and biology.

Photo By:  Julia Campanelli

A lot of people turn to yoga for healing whether that be physically or mentally. As a yoga teacher you could potentially have to work with students dealing with different injuries, mental health issues, women who are pregnant, anything. I think it’s imperative that teachers have a very comprehensive understanding of anatomy and physiology so that they can make recommendations that are safe and helpful for students.

The other big decision I had to make was whether I wanted to do an intensive program (200 hours over the course of a month) or an extended program (200 hours over weekends for a couple of months). There are pros and cons of each. Extended programs allow you to absorb all of the information over time and are good for people who want to continue working, raising a family etc. while doing their certification. With intensive programs, I think you reap the benefits of the self-work aspect a bit more. You are in a yoga bubble with other students and have the time and space to really transform. I don’t know that I’ll ever get six hours of daily silent time ever again.

Photo By:  Julia Campanelli

What is your favorite yoga practice and studio?

The type of yoga people tend to gravitate to is usually the exact opposite of what they need. Before I did my certification, I used to be a chug a venti Starbucks and go sweat it out in vinyasa flow kinda girl. I’m a very energetic and scrambled person. My brain and body are always running at 5000 mph. Now I do very meditative, slow-moving postures where the primary focus is breathing. Or I’ll just meditate without any movement. This style of yoga helps focus all of that scrambled energy that I have. Even though I’m less interested in using yoga as a workout tool now, don’t be fooled by slow moving yoga. It is HARD. Try holding chaturanga for four breaths and maintaining calm breathing--ouch!

My favorite studio is Yoga District in Washington D.C.

You moved into a backpack and have been adapting to a more minimalist lifestyle due to travel. How has this made you feel? Do you think that it is something you will bring back home with you to D.C. eventually? What are your necessities?

So to give you some backstory on my old consumption habits--I was the type of girl who purchased a new outfit for every occasion. Wedding next month? New dress. Going out with friends Saturday night? New outfit. And then my closet would grow and grow. I also had trouble parting with items that I would purchase for a single occasion, in the sense that I might wear them again--but I knew that was never the case.

When I first started the trip, I had one of those big backpacker backpacks which I got as a gift from my team at work. Packing was painful because I was so paranoid that I would leave something I really needed behind. I stuffed that thing until the seams were practically bursting.

I think it was two months into my trip, when I looked at my backpack and I had a feeling of heaviness come over me. All of the things I thought I needed suddenly became things that I was dying to get rid of. I wanted the ability to move around freely and to do part of my trip on motorbike. What I wore and what I looked like became very secondary to me. So I decided to move 80% of my luggage into a storage unit in Bali and spend the next four months traveling out of a Herschel backpack.

Over the course of my trip I had the opportunity to go to places where the locals really have nothing besides the basic necessities of life. They aren’t bothered by it. In fact, they are happier than most of the people I know who can afford a lot of possessions. This just reiterated the message that you don’t need much to be happy. It’s funny--I don’t even remember what I even have in any of these storage units. It just goes to show that it all is stuff that I don’t really need. When I return to D.C. I plan to resell a lot of my clothes to a local consignment shop to clear out and live more minimalistic of a lifestyle. It’s nice to not have so many things weighing me down.

[Editor’s note: Try Poshmark, an online re-selling app! It’s great for items that the consignment store may refuse.]

What has been the most eye-opening experience that you have had while in nature?

Before I started my trip, I didn’t have the capacity to care about anything besides myself--I was too consumed by my own mind and boggled down by stress. When I started traveling I absolutely fell in love with the earth, especially the ocean. I started scuba diving and free-diving on this trip, and became obsessed with the ocean. There are so many incredible creatures that live under water. Being able to swim with nine foot manta rays and sharks was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Especially since it’s on their turf.

The most startling experience I’ve had was how the oceans are changing because of humans. I had the opportunity to dive in places that are extremely well protected and regulated and in places that are unregulated. The differences are extreme. Like I said earlier, I’m a skeptical person. I’ve always known about things like global warming and pollution but it wasn’t until I got in the water and saw what was happening (bleached and dead coral, trash, overfishing) that I realized that all of this is a huge problem.

Photo By:  Julia Campanelli

Can you explain the difference between a healthy coral reef and what you see and one that is in trouble?

A healthy reef is booming with color and life. A dying reef looks like a coral graveyard. Everything is gray, dull, and crumbled. Some are lined with layers and layers of plastic. I’ve had a couple experiences where I thought I a jellyfish was swimming up just to realize that’s it was actually a plastic bag.

What are the most common items that you find in the water?

Mostly single-use plastic. Ice cream wrappers, plastic bags, plastic water bottles, shampoo bottles. Plastic gets a bad rep, but I think it can be such an incredible resource. It’s used on cars, furniture, appliances, machines. I think the issue comes from the fact that plastic use has become abused and overused as a source of convenience. Most of the things that are polluting the environment (at least from what I’ve seen) are things that would be so easy to avoid using. Yes, it takes a little more effort to wash a dish instead of using a plastic plate, but that’s one less piece of plastic that’s roaming around the reefs.

Do you think it’s too late for the ocean? For example, these reefs that have turned to gray?

Photo by  Sam Blount

Photo by Sam Blount

I’m not sure. I think some of the damage that’s been done can’t be undone. There are a many different issues that need to be corrected-- local issues like overfishing and pollution, and global issues like rising temperatures and ocean acidification. And the process is two-fold, stopping the progression of these issues and then trying to undo all of the damage. Coral reefs are home to twenty-five percent of all ocean life and are vulnerable to rising temperatures and PH changes in the ocean.

But from the researchers I’ve talked to, the ocean is actually an incredibly resilient place. There are ways to regenerate growth of coral through transplanting coral fragments from one location to another (although not always successful) and artificial reefs can be used to create structurally complex habitats that encourage colonization of algae, invertebrates, and fish.

I think people are starting to wake up and I have faith that it’s possible to reverse some of the damage. It does feel like a bit of a race against the clock though.

Have you seen human impact (positive, or negative) on the natural areas that you have traveled to? If so, what has the impact been like?

If you scroll through Instagram you’ll see pictures of stunning paradise beaches. But then you go to these beaches and pan around and see there is trash and garbage completely covering these beautiful shore lines.

Unfortunately in some less developed parts of the world, people are in survival mode. They can’t afford to think about the tomorrow and long term impacts of their actions when they are just trying to feed their families today. You can tell them to stop overfishing the ocean but in some areas, that is their only access to food. On top of that, they don’t have the infrastructure set up to allow them to recycle. They don’t have garbage facilities. As a result, people oftentimes use the ocean as their dumpster or burn garbage to get rid of it.

After this eye-opening experience, what do you personally plan to do differently to positively impact the earth around you?

I left those areas with the realization that I have access to and can afford everything I need to live a sustainable lifestyle. I’m not in survival mode. I have access to things like local farmers markets, community gardens, bulk shopping stores, reusable containers. A truck drives by my house every week to pick up my recyclables. Therefore, it is my responsibility to make as many changes as I can to reduce my footprint.

[Check out Adventure Bag Crew where travelers are making it a point to carry an “adventure bag” full of trash each time they goes on an adventure or hike. They pick up trash as a way to say thanks to the earth, and are making a positive impact and inspiring others to do the same. The Instagram shows how powerful this movement is!]

Are people in the local communities concerned about the environment, and what are they doing to spark interest in making positive changes within the surrounding areas?

I did see some small movements in local communities. There are a couple local NGOs that are doing an amazing job to help provide education and resources and help communities make small but impactful changes.

Any words of wisdom for people reading this?

2 pieces of wisdom:

  1. I always used to make excuses about my consumption habits like “it’s only one plastic bag, it’s only one plastic cup”. I was on a boat in Cambodia watching the trash float by and realized that all of those pieces of trash equated to a handful of people making an excuse about that one plastic bag. I always think about that when I catch myself making excuses. The little decisions add up to something larger.

  2. If you can afford to travel, go and see the world. Go see the changes with your eyes. It takes experiences like these to open your eyes to new things and you learn so much from experiencing new places.

Photo By:  Julia Campanelli

Julia’s story is so inspiring and really shows that you have the power to make changes in your life, no matter how wild or out-of-the-ordinary they may be. It takes these kinds of experiences to really make an impact in the world, and to experience life. Follow Julia’s exciting journey on her Instagram. Say sustainable, millennial, and get out there in nature!

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