As the lights dim I rest my tired body on the floor, laying flat on my back with my arms and legs gently spread. “Turn your awareness to your breath – noticing the inhalation, the retention, the exhalation, and the retention again. Focus on the retention of the breath, dwelling in that gap between the inhalation and exhalation. This is the Kumbhaka.”

I have been practicing Iyengar yoga with Tony Eason for close to six months now, and dwelling in the gap, the Kumbhaka, has become something I look forward to. Not just at the end of class, nor just during class, but all the time – whenever I am conscious of my breath. It is in this place that I find serenity and peace of mind, body and spirit.

Now hold that thought, and travel back with me a few weeks to a lecture I heard called, “A TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Diagnosis of Earth: Correlations between the Microcosm of the Human Body and the Macrocosm of the Earth Body.” The lecturer (Max Salamander, student of TCM and Integral Ecology) mapped the TCM principles of dis-ease onto our planet and proposed a diagnosis. She also briefly mentioned the rise and fall of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels through out the year.

I was quite intrigued by the whole idea, but one concept that struck me most was considering the planet as a breathing being. I immediately thought of the Kumbhaka and wondered when the Earth’s “inhalation” peak and “exhalation” base were. I wondered if they corresponded to the Solstices, as these are peaks of the seasons and cycles of the sun.

I learned that there are two scientists (Tyler Volk, Ph.D. of NYU, and Stephan Harding of Schumacher College, UK) who have been studying this idea of the Earth as a breathing entity, and how it relates to life on Earth. According to Volk, they occur closer to  the Equinoxes, in May and September. This makes sense, as it relates to the growing and dying of oxygen producing plants during the year.

So even though this “Kumbhaka of the Earth” does not correlate to the Solstices, we humans still organize our seasons and harvest celebrations around the cycles of the sun. I like the idea of using the Solstices as a time to “dwell in the gap” between two cycles. The winter Solstice is an especially potent time to pause, as we sit in the empty darkness and contemplate our year. May we all find peace on this, the longest night of the year.

– Nick Venegoni, M.A.

This time of year can be difficult for some: the nights are long and our moods may darken, or the bustle of the holidays can be stressful on the mind and body. But the winter can be a wonderful time for reflection and introspection.

This is a drop-in class to learn skills for reducing stress, anxiety, depression and anger during challenging times in your life.

$5-10 suggested donation: no one turned away.

Thursday, December 15th @ 7PM – 8PM

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

Personally I find music and ambient sounds to be very relaxing and soothing to my senses. Because I work with many people who are stressed by every living and a variety of anxieties, sound can be a quick and effective way to soothe the soul. Here is my first installment in Soothing Sounds. This is an audio sample from the nature sound album: ‘Dawn Chorus: Australia’s Inland.’ I especially like listening to this one in the morning with my first tea, to welcome the day. Enjoy!

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/24173174″]

 

During this autumn, the season of harvest, we begin to reflect back on the year and make stores for the winter. This is a good time to clean out the pantry and collect sustenance for the colder days and the longer nights. Autumn is a great time to do this, even though “spring cleaning” is the more popular time. Letting go and making space is a practice I try to cultivate regularly.

Letting go of that which does not serve us can be difficult. In Buddhism, this is illustrated in the Four Noble Truths. The second Noble Truth says, “The origin of suffering is attachment” —attachment to transient things and the ignorance that follows. (ALL things are transient, nothing is forever.) “Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow.”

Someone came to me and asked, “How do I let go of the past? How do I let go of grudges I hold for something from so long ago?” My first thought was, “How do you hold on? What does keeping this collection of grudges do for you? How does this attachment serve you or keep you where you are?” The person wasn’t able to answer these questions right away, but took them in and reflected mindfully upon them.

We frequently want to immediately get rid of something when we notice it is to our detriment; but sometimes that letting go takes time, for it took time to acquire as well. We never take something on without purpose. Looking back on how this thought, belief or behavior served us in the past, and reflecting on how it no longer serves us can help us let it go.

Perhaps you can take time this autumn to clear out that which no longer serves you in order to make space for the new. This is the last harvest time – fill your stores with that which nourishes you.

– Nick Venegoni, MA

A workshop to improve your relationship
to food and your body
with Marnie Northrop & Nick Venegoni

Tuesday, August 23rd / 6:30-8:00 PM

Are you ready to experience…?
– More energy and greater stamina
– A sustained healthy weight
– Improved health and enhanced immunity
– Better digestion and relief from digestive distress
– More focus and productivity & less stress
– Greater freedom with food
– Increased sense of satiation and well-being
You will discover HOW you eat is as important as WHAT you eat.

If you’ve been trying without success to use will power
and deprivation to reach your health goals,
and you’re ready to savor & enjoy your food, this workshop is for you!

To read more and to register, visit Freedom With Food.

As I have recently started teaching classes on a variety of mindfulness aspects, I realize that I continue to refine my definition of mindfulness. But what is it? I begin to explain it to others, and after ten minutes of discussion I say, “Why don’t we just practice, instead of talk?” Then I lead the group in a body scan. But what is it? I can only tell you of my experience.

The origins of mindfulness come out of Buddhist ideas and practices of awareness and meditation. Through the practice of attentive awareness the individual learns to have a clearer comprehension of their experience and their reality, by slowly clearing the lenses through which they view the world. The goal is to attain a liberating wisdom, which allows the “illusions” of the world to be identified and lifted. As this occurs, life experiences begin to change because of the way they are perceived and interpreted.

Mindfulness became more popular in the realm of psychology in 1979, when Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts, to treat the chronically ill. It soon grew to be used by many people for a variety of reasons.

Over the last century, various forms of mindfulness have evolved in many other psychotherapeutic practices. “Awareness” (though slightly different) has been a keystone of Gestalt therapy since 1940; Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) uses mindfulness as one of the four core skills taught to students and clients; and Hakomi also uses mindfulness as a foundation for increasing awareness through experiential practices. I use mindfulness tools in my practice in all of these ways, and also to teach clients to relax their mind and body to more easily access deeper parts of themselves in hypnotherapy.

And still you might ask, but what is it? My definition of mindfulness is, the practice of quieting the mind, slowing the breath, and focusing your awareness on your internal experience of yourself. The experiences you perceive through interacting with the outside world and your inner world are both equally important. The goal is neither attachment nor detachment to your thoughts or feelings, but to notice. Notice how your mind, body, heart and spirit react. In the noticing and the slowing down, we can choose to respond instead of react, and make a new decision about how we interpret and proceed from that moment.

Many say that mindfulness is about being present in the moment – “be here now.” Choosing to respond to the moment based on what’s happening now, and not based on what happened last week or what may happen tomorrow, can liberate us from pain and suffering. It may sound easier said than done, but that’s why it’s called a practice. We succeed in our practice every time we remember to be aware and notice, what is happening now.

by Nick Venegoni, MA

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

Tuesday, April 26 · 8:00pm – 9:30pm

SF LGBT Community Center
1800 Market Street
San Francisco, CA

Are you struggling with life stressors such as unemployment, finances, or relationships? Learn mindfulness skills to help reduce stress and get anxiety under control.

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