Yoga Instructor Danielle Campagna on How Practicing Keeps Her Healthy and Why Teaching Is Her Duty

In honor of National Yoga Month, we're sitting down with some of the Valley's favorite instructors to find out how they first got involved in yoga, how it changed their life, and why they believe everybody should incorporate yoga in their lives.

Danielle Campagna-Withycome (she just celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary this month, but she's still known professionally as Danielle Campagna) has been a part of the Balley yoga community for over a decade. She started out as a receptionist for At One Yoga (now Life Power Yoga), and after years of avid practicing she decided, on a whim, to take At One's teacher training program instead of moving to NYC to pursue a career in business and communication. That decision gave the Valley one of its favorite yoga teachers, known for her ability to command the room despite her small stature (and random playlists).

See also: National Yoga Month: Events and Deals in Metro Phoenix

How did you first get into practicing yoga? My mom used to take me to yoga with her when I was like five, six years old. And I really didn't understand it or appreciate it, I was just like "oh, okay, I'll be flexible," and I was a dancer -- ballet, jazz , tap and hip hop -- so it felt natural for me to do that. And then later on in college, I got more into it just for the peace of mind, from all of the exams and such, and then I realized through a chiropractor that I was going to that I had stage four Scoliosis, so he recommended for me to dive deeper into my practice, instead of having a steel rod put into my spine. And so that's what I did, so I've been doing it pretty much all my life.

What made you want to go to teacher training? Because I wanted to understand not only the alignment purposes behind all of the different poses, but I wanted to know more about what I do everyday on the mat, because there is so much more that goes beyond just the poses themselves. It's living your yamas and your niyamas off the mat, just being good people and making good choices and doing good things for the planet, and the community. And I wanted to do it because I didn't want to get a steel rod put into my spine, to be perfectly honest. So I really was just motivated to learn more about the practice.

So you've been able to avoid surgeries and the rod in your back thanks to yoga? Correct, and I keep it really comfortable too, you know. If I don't do yoga for a couple of days I can feel it in my back; it starts to tighten up. So it keeps me healthy and limber, and all that good stuff.

What was your experience going through yoga teacher training? Oh my god, it was life changing. It was a time in my life when I really needed it. I had just graduated college, from ASU. I was going to move to NYC in the fall and take on an internship with Condé Nast Publications. I was all ready to go, and I was sitting on the beach in Del Mar, and someone called me from the studio, saying there's one spot left for teacher training, and I decided to take it. And it changed my life; it was one of those pivotal moments in my life that I realized this is what I'm supposed to be doing. And not only did it help and heal my body, but then when I started teaching...I never really went in to teacher training to be a teacher, cause I was relatively shy, I'd just roll out my mat in the back of the room and do my thing and skip out right after savasana. I really didn't think I'd be a teacher. And it kind of, the path chose me, if that makes sense.

What was it like teaching your first class? When the owner of the studio [At One], Ian [Lopatin], gave me a class to sub one day, and it was a really popular class and I remember I was terrified; I was so nervous. And one of my teachers came, and my mom even came, and the whole time I was just shaking like crazy. But I taught it and I felt so grateful for it, just to move these bodies. And you can see just a whole change in a person, from the moment they walk into class, to the moment they leave, there's release, this peaceful wave that kind of swept over them. And I just think there's a lot more than just a physical exercise, that I hope people realize when they come to the mat.

People love you and make it a point to attend your classes. Why do you think that is?Just my time in this community, I mean I've been a part of the old At One, I've been teaching for 7 years, which means that I've been a part of this community for I think like 12 years now. And when At One sold to Life Power, I decided to leave a community that I felt really comfortable in, that I think everybody kind of dispersed, and it's fun to see my fellow yogis that I taught with or I went to teacher training with opening their own studios, or doing their own thing. And no matter where we're at in our lives we all support each other, and I think that's what really drives the community. I'm just a people person, I love people. I love understanding what's going on in their lives, and you know, I think also a yoga instructor can be kind of a therapist in some ways, getting people to feel comfortable just releasing their stuff on to you, because it's a safe place.

Is that why a lot of yogis will only go to specific instructors or at least try to? You get in your comfort zone, we all get in our comfort zones, we like what we like and we wanna know what we're walking into. You go to an Alex Austin class, it's you know, a tall shot of espresso, and you're gonna smile the whole time and sweat your ass off but it's gonna feel good. You know you're gonna get a dancer flow from Jenn Chiarelli, because that's just who she is, and there's these teachers throughout the valley that really bring out certain aspects. I think, my music, people always say 'I love your music, you're so different and eclectic,' I mean I'm all over the board with Bob Marley to The Rolling Stones to ASA, you name it. So, music is fun too, because I think people are drawn to it, and it gives them a place to kind of just tap out of all the shit that they've gotta deal with on a daily basis. Is teaching physically and emotionally draining at all? There's definitely an emotional exchange between you and your students. There are days that I will go home and feel energized, and totally jazzed about my day, and there will be days when I'll come home completely drained, and exhausted, and I'll have to take a hot bath, and just like soak all that stuff out of me. Sometimes I'll have big headaches, I definitely feel there's a lot of energy transfer. You have to remember to release it. Either through hot baths, or doing another yoga practice on your own, or meditating, or just doing something, whatever you need to do to release that energy, I think everybody's different in that.

Have you found as a teacher that you have less time or interest in taking a class yourself? It's not less interest, I would love to take more classes, I just don't have the time to. I teach a lot, I think 18 classes-that include privates-a week. When I do practice, I feel that I'm a better teacher, because I'm giving back to myself. So I make it a priority to get to my mat at least once a week, I try to two or three. One of my favorite teachers, Johanna Epps-she was a very well-known yoga teacher here [before moving]-said to me, "watch out sister, when you start teaching more you're not going to be able to practice as much," cause she knew how much I loved yoga. It definitely changes, but I know how I feel when I'm on my yoga mat, how good that feels, and if I can do that for a classroom of people, I know that I'm doing my duty, I'm doing my part in this world for people to be better, to feel better, to live better, to act better, and if I can just do that, I feel like I'm at least getting something out of it.

How important is doing yoga, do you think everybody should practice? I think if they're not at least practicing on their mat on a daily or weekly basis, I think they should at least be practicing off their mat. Yoga is so much more than just the poses. It's the yamas and the niyamas, what we do in our own observances. So, being kind and respectful, recycling, and doing things that are your contribution to society, and this community that we live in. And I think that if everybody connected to that, it would change the world. It would really have a massive shift. I really do hope that someday, everybody practices yoga in some way, shape, or form, so that it brings that awareness to their own lives. I think it can really benefit everybody, in their own way.

Do you think yoga is too expensive? Yoga can be expensive, depending on the studios that you go to, or there's this idea that you have to have all the right equipment, you have to have the expensive attire and so forth, but if you dust off all the fluff and you just get to the point, I think it can be reasonable, and I think you can find places throughout the valley that provide community classes, or donation-based classes. And there's ways you can look things up on the web and you can join webcast classes anytime during the day, I even think they do it at the YMCA. So there's always ways to find yoga. I don't think it has to be expensive. And yoga is cheaper than medication!

What do you think about the naysayers (usually men) who say yoga is just stretching? Of course, people will say they can't do yoga because they're like 'I'm not flexible enough.' When I worked at the yoga studio, that's the number one thing people would always say. I say, well you gotta do yoga to become flexible, it's a process. And obviously, people feel timid about it because they see these people putting their legs around their heads like pretzels, and doing these amazing poses and thinking, 'oh God, I could never be like that,' but there's many different types of yoga, so whether it's stretching, or a power, or it's a yin, everybody can get something out of it. But people will understand it in their own ways. Some people gravitate toward Bikram, because it's hot and extreme detox, and they can see where they start to progress in each pose, and some people love Ashtanga. If they think it's just stretching and chanting, then maybe try a different teacher. Don't just go to one class, and have that as your impression of yoga. Because there's so many types and so many teachers as there are people, eventually you'll find your groove.

What's your advice for people who want to try yoga but are intimidated? I would recommend to ask some of their friends that do yoga, and if they feel safe and comfortable with that person, go under their wing and take a class with them. And start basic, don't jump into a power class, don't intimidate yourself. It is fun to go into those classes and to be in that energy, because there is an amazing, awesome energy that comes out of that type of class, but you can get there. You work your way up to that, you gotta start somewhere, you have to have a strong foundation before you can build your tall highrise. Start slow, start easy, start comfortable, and then take what you need. I always say, take what you need and leave the rest behind.

Do you have any spiritual leaders or teachers? There's a lot of people that have influenced me throughout my life, I mean obviously my yoga teachers, the people that I was influenced by have been Alex Austin, Jenn Chiarelli, John Salisbury, Johanna Epps, Ian [Lopatin] from At One, David Romanelli, all those people that I kind of grew up with, and they were my home base. And my mom, she's an amazing healer in her own right, she's a Reiki master and she's the one that introduced me to yoga when I was a little girl, so even though I thought she was crazy for doing all of this stuff, and growing kombucha mushrooms in our wine cellar, I appreciate it now in my present day. I'm so thankful for how I was raised. She's a huge part of who I am today. I'm also inspired just by the world around me. Yeah, there's a lot of negativity and fear out there, but I think you gotta everyday try and make your own positive influence. Try to change it and try to make that conscious effort to shift your thoughts to a more positive place and hopefully everybody else will do it too.

What are some of your favorite inspirational books? Happy Yoga by Steve Ross, Aspire by Kevin Hall, and Freedom, Power, Grace by Deepak Chopra.

Do you have a favorite yoga pose? My favorite yoga pose is dancer pose, because I used to be a dancer, and that was a thing that I loved, and truthfully if I had a steel rod in my spine I wouldn't be able to do dancer pose. So, it reminds me that I can still be flexible. Savasana is my other favorite yoga pose.

What is your favorite quote? "Be the change you wish to see in the world," [Mahatma Gandhi] and "Be yourself, everybody else is already taken," [Oscar Wilde].

You can find out more information on Danielle's upcoming workshops, events, as well as class schedules and how to schedule private lessons on her website.

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