Exploring sports triggered violence and healthy ways to express aggression.


This last weekend was the Super Bowl game that happens once a year in the U.S. It’s a pretty big deal for many people, even those who aren’t big football fans. It ends up being a time to get together and cheer on with some friends. Good fun.

But there comes a change when the game ends. Soon after the winning team is declared, the fans of that team begin to churn up wild, primordial energy. This energy becomes violent and destructive, as they take to the streets and begin to damage property, overturning cars and smashing windows. Remember, these are the happy winners. So, why does this happen?

Every man has a wild beast within him.
– Frederick the Great

In a recent article, Why do fans riot after a win? The science behind Philadelphia’s Super Bowl chaos, the authors interview multiple social psychologists with a few ideas. First of all, they say that as humans, we strive to belong and be part of a group, and being a fan of team gives us that experience. When you have a sense of belonging, you feel less isolated and alone, and you are generally happier and more productive in your life. Awesome! (This is also in alignment with recent studies about how isolation and loneliness are significant precursors to addiction.) They go on to say that when a fans team wins, their testosterone levels increase, which leads to aggression. Add to this the consumption of alcohol and the poor decision making of mob mentality, and you have the perfect recipe for riot.

A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.
– Albert Camus

The phenomenon of sports riots is not the only example of this wildness itching to break free in our culture. There are many other events that people love attending so they can be part of a group, break out of their shell and let loose their animal spirit. In San Francisco we have many street fairs and other nearby events which are the perfect petri dish for just this: Halloween, SantaCon, St. Patrick’s Day, How Weird Street Fair, Bay to Breakers, Burning Man, and more. Most of these events are the perfect venue for such expression, and generally do not cause (much) damage to other people or property.

How to re-wire your brain and re-wild your spirit.

I’m no expert, but I have a few ideas. I do think it’s necessary to have a space for healthy expression of aggression and destruction; to express the energy and impulses that testosterone creates in our body and mind; to surrender to our wild beast. I believe that space is in nature. And I believe that it might be because of our disconnection with nature that we have this pent up animal energy that yearns to be expressed.

The natural world is constantly creating and destroying (or transforming) all around us: waves crashing on the shore breaking up rocks and shells; fires burning down forests and homes; earthquakes shaking the ground beneath us and reforming the landscape. These aggressive impulses are a natural part of life and cannot be repressed. Connecting to these aspects of nature can help us to release our own energy and hold us while we do it.

Practically this can take many forms: running through a forest, chopping wood, digging holes to plant trees, throwing heavy rocks over a cliff or into water, pulling weeds in your garden, burning old branches from pruned trees, going to the beach and screaming at the waves, dancing or drumming around a bonfire, swimming under a waterfall. These are all ways to connect your wild spirit to the power of nature and productively move that energy through you. *These ideas are encouraged to be done safely and mindfully.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one WILD and precious life?
– Mary Oliver

I challenge you to take your sport and play with nature. Release your wild-ness to the wilderness, and let it teach you about the productivity of aggression.

~ Nick Venegoni


Many people are getting ready right now to settle into their couch or favorite recliner for a long evening of red carpet interviews, flashy fashion viewing and celebrities – tonight are the Academy Awards! But you may want to take some time to go for a walk with the dog or hit the gym for a quick work out before you veg out in front of the boob-tube. Moving your body is not just good for your body, but good for your mind!

One of this years hot nominees is Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro. At the core the plot is your typical boy meets girl romance, with a twist – the two main characters are believed to be bipolar, which makes for some unusual and entertaining chemistry. However, one of the ways these two people primarily connect is through dance. Lawrence’s character has entered a dance contest and needs a partner, and gets Cooper to assist her in this endeavor. It’s interesting to see both their verbal and non-verbal communication during their rehearsals, which at times seems to be contradictory. But what I noticed was how through their daily rehearsals they were able to forget about their worldly troubles by getting into their bodies and have fun dancing and creating choreography together.

The lesson here is twofold. The first is that by getting into our bodies and moving we are able to be present in the moment, releasing worry, depression and anxiety. Despite what people think about multitasking, the brain can only focus on one thing at once. Forms of artistic expression such as creating choreography force us to be present with that one thing and letting in our thoughts of suffering (not mention the exercise and increase in oxygenation of the body). The second lesson is that creating and communicating with another person is extremely rewarding and builds a strong foundation of trust and collaboration in relationships.

So if you struggle with emotions such as anxiety or depression, or you want to build connection in your relationships, step away from your screen and move your body. Have a spontaneous dance-break with your partner or family, and dance those blues away!

Over the last twelve years I’ve been on a journey which has drastically changed my relationship to my body and the food I consume. As a kid I didn’t play sports nor was I very active, and as a result I was not in tune with my body and its needs. Growing up in the 80’s there was a lot of buzz in the media about being health conscious, with cartoon campaigns to educate children about their bodies, food, and how to live healthy lives. Now as an adult, I’ve greatly changed how I relate to my body and what I put into it. As a psychotherapist I also understand how our physical health greatly affects our mood, our outlook on life and our connection to the universe. This is my story of that journey.

Yoga: My first step into reconnection with my body began with yoga in 2001. Y2K was a year behind us and the world was happy that all our computers were still working and modern civilization had not come to a stand-still. The dot.com crash was in full force and techies were fleeing the Bay Area like rats on a sinking ship, as their funds were rapidly absorbed by credit cards bills. The twin towers were still standing, but not for long.

I had moved into a new apartment in the Mission after my last roommates got married and ventured north. One of my new roommates told me about a nearby yoga ashram, which he jokingly called a “cult” because many of the teachers lived there and only wore white clothing. I had done yoga with a friend in their home a few times before but I had never taken a class, so I thought I’d check it out. I felt like I should start focusing on my physical health now that I was in my early 20’s, and given that I was exploring a variety of spiritual practices at the time, yoga sounded like a good fit.

Attending my first hatha yoga class I thoroughly enjoyed the calm spirit of the ashram right away, the quiet yet friendly people and the challenge of the asanas. Being someone who is frequently in his head, yoga was a good fit because learning how to get my body into the poses was kind of like a puzzle at first.

A few months later (now post 9/11) I lost my job and started volunteering at the ashram in exchange for free classes. I began to learn more about the different branches of yoga: meditation, breathing, chanting, etc.; I also learned a little about ayurveda, which looks more at diet and lifestyle (more on this later). It felt very comfortable for me to be there, yet challenging for my mind, body and spirit too. I went to the ashram regularly for almost three years until I moved out of the neighborhood. I continued to hold aspects of yoga in my life, but not in the same way again for a few years.

Just over a year ago yoga came back more fully into my life, again with the invitation from a friend to attend a class together. I learned about the new trend of donation classes where you pay what you can, as yoga had become quite popular and expensive. I eventually found an Iyengar teacher I resonated with, which was a good fit for my constitution by focusing on proper alignment and calming the mind. I committed to two classes a week and after just a few months not only did I see changes in my body and energy levels, but I noticed my anxiety and anger levels reduced significantly – two traits which had become more pronounced since my first stint with yoga. Yoga is a great vehicle to learn about the mind-body connection, which I feel is a crucial education in our digital age of disconnection.

I continue to practice hatha yoga as well as other branches, and work to honor the principles of ayurveda which support my specific constitution. I encourage others to cultivate a mind-body practice as well, as I find this can lay a strong foundation for healing dis-ease on all levels: mind, body & spirit.

(Coming soon: Part 2 of my journey I’ll share about my struggles with food and digestion, and how that has colored my self-esteem and relationships.)

I’ll be presenting at the August Electric Connection Gathering. Electric Connection is a new monthly gathering fostering meaningful relationships for queer men, and sponsored by the California Men’s Gathering.

Sunday, Augst 12th – 4PM
Hanuman Center

4450 18th Street, San Francisco, CA
$10 – Sign-up through:
MeetUp.com OR

Tuesday, May 10 · 8:00pm – 9:30pm

SF LGBT Community Center
1800 Market Street
San Francisco, CA

Anger: It can creep up on us from nowhere – explosive outbursts, road rage or sudden arguments with friends or partners. Then it leaves us exhausted and often with feelings of regret or depression. This class will focus on slowing down anger and exploring the thoughts and feelings which lay beneath.

Open to all Gay/Bi/Transgendered men. Sponsored by SNAP! of the SF LGBT Community Center, and facilitated by Nick Venegoni, MA Counseling Psychology. Nick has been practicing mindfulness and meditation for 10 years now and enjoys guiding others to deeper places in themselves in order to facilitate personal healing.

This is a FREE Workshop

The Mindful Path: FREE Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class

Are you struggling with life stressors such as unemployment, finances, or relationship concerns?

This is a FREE drop-in class to learn skills for reducing stress, anxiety, depression and anger during challenging times in your life. Each class will build upon the previous ones, though attendance is welcome at any point in the series.

Open to ALL – We will meet six Tuesdays in a row from 5:30-6:30p
Beginning Tuesday, April 12th through May 17th.

Location: The MCC – in the Castro
150 Eureka Street between 18th & 19th Streets
San Francisco, California 94114

Many of us have heard the praises and benefits of mindfulness, from workshops in the style of John Kabat-Zinn and mindfulness-based stress reduction, to DBT and Hakomi practices. I have been exploring and playing with these tools and ideas with my clients for four years now and find they are helpful in reducing stress, anxiety, anger, etc.

Before that I had been exploring other kinds of altered and trance states (or what Stan Groff calls Non-Ordinary States) through meditation, journey work, ecstatic dance, and breath work. I discovered that in these Non-Ordinary States (NOS) anxiety, fear and anger simply melt away, and underneath is an innate wisdom residing in that peace. Moving forward, I wanted to find a way to clinically justify bringing my clients to these deeper places inside themselves and to tap into their own resources for growth and healing. Neuroscience research on brainwaves supports this hypothesis.

Our most common (or predominant) waking state of consciousness puts our brainwave frequency in beta. When we shift our level of consciousness, we move into (or add) other brainwave frequencies such as alpha, gamma, theta and delta. Mindfulness and meditation practices are an excellent entry into these various states of consciousness for clients. The state of hypnotic trance can cause a person to be in beta and other frequencies concurrently, allowing them to consciously process the information they might be attaining from the deeper parts of themselves. This is just what I want to bring to my clients.

I have discovered that through various mindfulness practices, some of my clients were naturally slipping into these deeper places of uncharted territory by the conscious mind. It was fascinating to see what emerged from these places and this is key in my own drive to learn more and bring deeper understanding to clients.

To that end, last year I decided to train in the methodology of Depth Hypnosis, as developed by Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. Depth Hypnosis combines elements of hypnotherapy, transpersonal psychology, Buddhism and shamanism. The hypnosis practices primarily use regression to access earlier experiences, which affect the client currently. From a psychological perspective this can look very similar to aspects of Psychosynthesis, Gestalt dialogue, Focusing, Hakomi and inner child work. However, doing this work in a relaxed and altered state can allow the client to perceive at a deeper level, a clearer understanding of themselves and their experience.

Over the last year, as I’ve brought hypnotherapy tools into my practice, I find that most clients who have already been practicing some kind of mindfulness exercise, more easily accept the process and move into the work beautifully. A majority of my clients start each session with a simple mindfulness exercise, and as they internalize the changes and see the benefits, they begin to look forward to it. I encourage them to practice on their own between sessions, and many do.  Regarding hypnosis, some clients’ experiences are profound, allowing them to look at life differently; and some simply rediscover important parts of themselves, which were long forgotten. Whatever they find inside themselves, it is deeply therapeutic because it came from them. The deeper parts of us use our own personal language better than anything someone else could communicate to us.

By Nick Venegoni, MFT & CHT