Category Archives: The Life

Flask Mob

  • 1
  • 2
  • A photographer takes a photo downtown on Saturday, April 19th, 2014. The group was part of Flaskmob, a flashmob of photographers who meet monthly to take photos and network together. Photo by Ryan Leibrich / Xpress
    A photographer takes a photo downtown on Saturday, April 19th, 2014. The group was part of Flaskmob, a flashmob of photographers who meet monthly to take photos and network together. Photo by Ryan Leibrich / Xpress
  • Kyle Thomasson plays the guitar while others take photos on Saturday, April 19th, 2014. The group was part of Flaskmob, a flashmob of photographers who meet monthly to take photos and network together. Photo by Ryan Leibrich / Xpress
    Kyle Thomasson plays the guitar while others take photos on Saturday, April 19th, 2014. The group was part of Flaskmob, a flashmob of photographers who meet monthly to take photos and network together. Photo by Ryan Leibrich / Xpress

Written by Marianna Barrera
Photos By Ryan Lebrich

As soon as the sun sets, the mob slowly starts to gather between Sansome and Commercial Streets. Soon hundreds of people are gathered on that same corner being loud, drinking, and drawing attention to themselves.
“Flask Mob! Flask Mob!” chants everyone as soon as founders Evan Thompson and Sabina Farrugia show up and begin to lead the way. Once at their first stop, everybody poses for a group picture and smoke bombs are distributed. In no time, the air is filled with smoke and the flash of cameras is all around.
Filling the streets by the hundreds, they drink, smoke, laugh, and photograph anything around them. They are a family; they are Flask Mob—some of the Bay Area’s most creative minds gathered and ready to take over the streets of San Francisco.
Flask Mob started as an idea after Thompson’s friends and online followers constantly asked to go shoot with him. Thompson is known for his truly invigorating pictures of the San Francisco skylines, not fearing boundaries and always going above and beyond to capture the perfect shot.
“There’s always new spots to find, and there’s always new buildings,” says Thompson, “so once we found a name and a reason to meet up, that’s how it organically started.”
The idea behind Flask Mob was to create an event where people with an interest in photography could gather and learn to take pictures in places where Thompson usually does, all while having fun and drinking.
“We’re creative people,” says Farrugia, “So we wanted a forum for people to hang out, chill and network, and do stuff that we like to do.”
The catchy name was created by Farrugia, taking the idea of flash mobs and making it their own.
“Flash mobs meet and dance at a random location. Flask Mob would meet and drink at a random location,” says Thompson.
One of the main group objectives is for people to network with each other, in a more nontraditional way.
“We want it to be fun, because I have to do networking stuff all the time, and a lot of it is stuck up, wine, suits—not fun,” says Farrugia, “creative people typically aren’t’ the people who want to be in suits with wine discussing what they can work on together.”
Flask Mob was the answer, it would be a networking event in which people could still have fun and not have to worry about traditional networking stuff.
“So we started telling people to pack a flask, pack a camera and show up,” says Farrugia.
The first meetup took place last November with about seventy people. Since then, word of the mob has been spreading quickly through social media, increasing the number of attendees by the hundreds.
“Everyone was so about it from the get go,” says Faruggia, “It became a lot bigger than we had planned. “
The mob now has almost four thousand followers on Instagram, and more than five hundred email sign-ups for their upcoming website.
Throughout the night, the streets and alleys of San Francisco are illuminated by flares, spinning steel wool, and everyone’s excitement. Bystanders were confused, their cars slowing as they tried to figure out who this group of people was. Employees would come out and ask who they were as the mob passed by their business.
The group made five stops in their route. Leaders of the mob tried to control the crowd by separating and communicating with each other via walkie-talkies.
One of the bigger problems the mob has had to deal with, is the constant tagging.
“It got so out of hand with the tagging that we actually pulled the plug. We said it’s done you guys,” says Farrugia about one of their previous meets.
“We do encourage expressing yourself, but there are ways to do it,” said Farrugia, “A lot of our friends are graffiti artists, and I have tagged back in the day, but that just has to be separate from what were doing, mainly because we can shut down really quickly.”
Flask Mob is trying to keep under the radar as much as they can, thus staying out of trouble is a big concern. John Kim, a former social media follower of Thompson was taken in after the first meetup, and is part of crowd control for the mob.
“The crowd started to get bigger, and I kind of tried to control it on my own,” says Kim. “It’s hard, but I’ll try to start at one section and try to keep them in line, and we communicate with walkie-talkies too, because nobody answers their phones.”
Kylle Thomasson walked with his guitar and was singing with others throughout the night. The crowd cheered for him and sang along, bringing even more enthusiasm to the already rowdy group. At multiple points, he provided music for a free style rap performed by two other attendees.
“I feel like I’m family. It’s like I came here and was accepted, you feel me?” says one of the freestyle rappers and first time attendees, Michael “Burnt Toast” Young. “ It wasn’t like, ‘Oh he’s an outsider’ I felt welcome here.”
The night continues until past midnight, the crowd’s enthusiasm going strong and by the end of the night, after a few security guards kicked everyone out of the Yerba Buena gardens, the mob slowly started dispersing.
Flask Mob events are held once a month, and every other month such as last month, instead of walking the streets, they will gather at a spot to network and drink with each other.
“Flask Mob, as it grows, it’s a learning experience in how we coordinate the large amounts of people,” said Thompson.
Thompson felt as if he was not able to communicate with everyone by just doing the walking Flask Mob. His goal for the alternate meet ups is to be able to know everyone in the group, and have a chance for everybody be able to talk to each other as well.
“I like how we’re meeting all these new people and learning from each other,” said Andre Soto at his first Flask Mob event, “We get to make a connection with everyone, and it’s a way of connecting with your community. It’s perfect.”
For now, the renegade group is staying in San Francisco, but Thompson is already working on expanding the mob and, by the end of the year, plans to take over 3 more cities.
Their next stop: Los Angeles.

Blind Ambition

  • blindman_lsalvatin_015

  • blindman_lsalvatin_013

  • blindman_lsalvatin_010

  • blindmand_lsalvatin_003

Written By Ben Tasner
Photos by Lorisa Salvatin

A child of two deaf parents, Meir Schneider, was born with cataracts, glaucoma, astigmatism, and nystagmus. As a young boy he underwent five unsuccessful surgeries that shattered and scarred his eye lenses. He was declared permanently blind. Despite being told that his condition was hopeless he was determined to see. Now he drives.
Schneider spent his childhood reading and performing schoolwork in Braille. At the age of seventeen his life changed dramatically when he met an instructor who introduced him to the Bates Method of eye exercises, a natural vision therapy developed by William Bates in the late nineteenth century.
Schneider diligently practiced the Bates Method and combined it with his own regiment of self-massage and movement. Within six months he began to recognize visual objects for the first time and today he holds an unrestricted California driver’s license.
“Working on my eyes was at first painful,” says Schneider, who attended SF State from 1978-79. “Then slowly as I built more and more vision it became more normal for me. We worked and I improved my vision from something like 20/2000 to today about 20/70.”
Schneider ability to see defies the basis of modern vision diagnosis. An optometrist might take one look at his eyes and immediately conclude that he is blind because his lenses admit less than one percent light. Yet he can read the eye chart and he drives throughout the Bay Area on a regular basis.
“To be in a place where I can drive is beyond anyone’s imagination,” says Schneider. “The day that I got my driver’s license was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It was like a prize. The biggest prize I could possibly get.”
Despite the rising rates of vision failure Schneider’s story of natural vision improvement runs cross current to the swell of traditional vision correction. The National Eye Institute reports the number of Americans who report some form of visual impairment is expected to double by 2030. But as the rates of vision failure continue to increase, mainstream medicine remains stagnant in its approach.
“Medicine does nothing about it,” says Schneider. “What happens with medicine is that they give you crutches to deal with it, but they are not doing anything to help the essential reason why vision gets worse.”
Schneider challenges the notion that vision failure is irreversible and the prolific tendency to over-correct through the use of lenses.
“The whole world is resistant,” says Schneider. “They say [vision failure] is a process of life, and that’s that.”
Medical professionals state nearsightedness, farsightedness and other refractive errors are a result of eye shape and a hardening of the lens, which cannot be changed. Schneider sites poor blood circulation to the head, stress, bad habits and environmental influences as the causes of most vision problems and believe that people can improve their vision if they explore these factors.
At his School for Self Healing on the corner of Santiago and 48th Street in San Francisco, Schneider, 59, analyzes habits like excessive close viewing, the prevalence of shoulder tension, and other symptoms of modern times, which have led to increasing rates of vision failure.
“When people were illiterate there were very few people with nearsightedness,” says Schneider. “When people started to read some of them became nearsighted, and when people used the computer many more become nearsighted.”
He has taken his experience and research, and translated it into a program of self-healing. He works with patients individually to improve their vision, leads group workshops periodically, and travels throughout the world helping others achieve the unthinkable.
“The reality is that traditional optometry and ophthalmology could do nothing for him,” says Erik Peper, professor at the Institute of Holistic Health at SF State, who met Schneider in 1976. “Here’s somebody who had horrible vision from birth, but he did not listen to a culture that told him he had no hope. He’s an exemplar of what is possible when we really have a drive and desire to achieve whatever we want.”
The exercises Schneider teaches draw on principles derived from the Bates method with the addition of massage, relaxation, and various forms of bodywork. The physical exercises are an important component of vision improvement because he says the eyes are a function of the body and cannot be treated separately, and blood flow to the eyes must be developed.
At his school near the ocean he has fourteen massage tables, a sauna, and a trampoline. Schneider leads his patients on Ocean Beach excursions and instructs them to walk backward in the sand. He wants people to activate muscles they rarely use and to relax the muscles they frequently use. He helps patients learn to isolate muscles and then unite the parts.
After relaxation has been cultivated, Schneider leads his patients through the eight principles of natural vision improvement: deep relaxation, adjustment to light, distance viewing, looking at details, periphery, balance of two eyes, balance use within each eye, and body-eye coordination.
He says that a myopic lifestyle leads to poor vision habits. Staring at a computer, or remaining transfixed on a cell phone for too long decrease the eyes’ abilities over time. He also believes that sunglasses are anti-productive, but he does have one use for them.
“We break sunglasses, that’s the only use I have for sunglasses,” says Schneider frankly. “We break one lens and put duck tape on the other lens, and it becomes an obstructive lens and we use that.
He frequently rubs his eyes, gently massaging them throughout the day, a technique he teaches his patients as well. Night walks and sunning are other practices he employees to strengthen various parts of the eye.
“The body sees well. We do things that make it not see well and we don’t compensate for what we do, and by not compensating we create all these problems.”
“Yoga for the Eyes” is a series of YouTube videos in which Schneider demonstrates how a person can quickly improve their vision. One of the methods, developed by Bates, but practiced by Tibetan yogis for thousands of years, is a palming practice, in which a patient cups his hands over his eyes. Schneider says that this is the most integral of all eye exercises because it both rests and energizes the eyes at the same time.
Lindsay Cartwright, a massage therapist and Schneider’s former operations manager, was hesitant to buy in at first.
“I was skeptical because his story is very grand,” she says. “But you see it’s not only true for him, but for a lot of the clients we have coming here. They have results that are just as miraculous. It’s not often the big stories you hear are true.”
Jeanne Harvey, 67, of Quebec City, Canada, had pseudo laminar dystrophy, which her ophthalmologist recommended treating with surgery. If left untreated, pseudo holes can lead to blindness. While waiting for the surgery she found out about Meir Schneider in a book, flew to San Francisco for one of his workshops and began practicing his exercises. Within a month her ophthalmologist told her she no longer needed surgery.
“My mother was blind, two of my uncles were blind, and my husband is blind,” says Harvey. “I’m very grateful to find Schneider and his work.”
Schneider has been acknowledged by many leading experts in the vision field, including August Reader III, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at California Pacific Medical Center. Reader says that he has personally seen improvement in his patients who have worked with Schneider.
Doctor Edward Kondrot, an ophthalmologist and homeopathic physician, is interested in Schneider’s work and focuses his own vision research on reversing chronic eye disease, with an emphasis on light. He says that ‘light at night’ is not normal for humans and it is the most dramatic environmental change in the last thirty years, a direct result of computer use and artificial light. He says the intensity of this light is much higher than natural light and the wavelength is much shorter—a dangerous combination.
In the face of miraculous results, Schneider, Kondrot and other natural vision healers remain ostracized by the traditional vision world.
Kondrot says mainstream ophthalmology and natural vision therapy are “two different approaches to healing and they will never agree.”
Schneider says the fathers of ophthalmology in America decided that vision cannot improve and the issue has never been revisited.
“It’s a false decision,” says Schneider. “I’ve disproven it thousands of times so far.”
He thinks most ophthalmologists and optometrists are merely students of their teachers and ignorant to natural vision improvement, but he also thinks there’s more to it than that. He says his accomplishments challenge the entire system and people are scared.
“The whole school is to give you a correction and you’re brought up in that thinking,” says Alfred Lee, 93, an optometrist on Sacramento Street in San Francisco.
Lee says that optical schools are starting to come around to natural vision techniques, but not too long ago an optometrist could get his license revoked if he tried something like what Schneider is doing.
“At that time if anything is out of the realm or not the way they want it you’re blacklisted,” says Lee.
The UC system came close to conducting a research study on Schneider’s techniques but eventually backed out. He’s still waiting for someone else to come calling. Meanwhile he continues to help people get out of glasses.
Schneider’s School for Self Healing is intended primarily for people with vision problems, but also for those who wish to improve various muscular issues, learn embodiment techniques, and increase mindfulness. It has a vocation school status, so not only does he work with patients, but he also trains people to teach his method of healing. Schneider has one-hundred seven instructors teaching his method of vision improvement in Brazil and many others teaching throughout the United States. His new book Vision for Life is available worldwide, printed in English, Spanish, German, Mandarin, Hebrew and Czech.
Unfortunately, he says there is one downside for the people that visit him.
“They have to contend with my terrible jokes.”

Dropping the Ball

  • Liz Piscano, of How We Roll, throws the ball between her legs during a skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Feb. 20th, 2014. Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
    Liz Piscano, of How We Roll, throws the ball between her legs during a skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Feb. 20th, 2014.
    Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
  • The Artist Formerly Known As Freeballs and The Big Laballskees congralute each other after a game of skeeball at Bar None, in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 20th, 2014. Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
    The Artist Formerly Known As Freeballs and The Big Laballskees congralute each other after a game of skeeball at Bar None, in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 20th, 2014.
    Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
  • Kayla Clark prepares to throw the ball during her team's skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 20th, 2014. Clark plays for the team Aww Skee Skee.  Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
    Kayla Clark prepares to throw the ball during her team's skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 20th, 2014. Clark plays for the team Aww Skee Skee.
    Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
  • Ty Hyland monitors the score during a skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Feb. 20th, 2014. Hyland runs the San Francisco Skeeball League with two other people. The league was started three weeks ago, and plays every Thursday at Bar None. Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
    Ty Hyland monitors the score during a skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Feb. 20th, 2014. Hyland runs the San Francisco Skeeball League with two other people. The league was started three weeks ago, and plays every Thursday at Bar None.
    Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
  • Myra Navarro (left), of Fighting Falangees Balls of Fury, and Chris Chang, of ASTRO Ballers, play each other during a skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Monday, Feb. 20th, 2014. Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
    Myra Navarro (left), of Fighting Falangees Balls of Fury, and Chris Chang, of ASTRO Ballers, play each other during a skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Monday, Feb. 20th, 2014.
    Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
  • Brad Davis, of The Artist Formerly Known As Freeballs, throws the ball down the lane during a skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 20th, 2014. Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
    Brad Davis, of The Artist Formerly Known As Freeballs, throws the ball down the lane during a skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 20th, 2014.
    Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
  • Amanda Hoffman, of The Big Laballskees, throws the ball down the lane during a skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 20th, 2014. Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress
    Amanda Hoffman, of The Big Laballskees, throws the ball down the lane during a skeeball match at Bar None, in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 20th, 2014.
    Photo by Gavin McIntyre / Xpress

Written by Jessica Mendoza
Photos by Gavin McIntyre

As you walk down the streets in the Marina district, every corner you turn is bursting with restaurants showcasing the finest meals and small boutique shops that carry the cutest clothes. The Marina is the perfect place where twenty and thirty-somethings can unwind from their busy lives to enjoy a cocktail at a sleek lounge. But what people may not realize is that the Marina district is also home to the San Fran Skeeball League.

Yes, a skeeball league.

The San Fran Skeeball League take place at Bar None, located on Union Street. The inside of the bar is like a frat boy’s fantasy home. There is foosball, pool, boxing games, beer pong tables, television and of course, a skeeball machine.

On February 6, 2014, “San Fran Skeeball League” held the first game of the skeeball season. The league coordinated by Ty Hyland and Sean Pratt, has become one the newest attractions in the Marina district where people can drink cheap beers, engage in casual conversation, and play skeeball all at once.

Teams sport names like Ball Don’t Kill My Vibe, ASTRO Balls, SKEENUTZ and The Big LaBallSkees

“Its super fun” says Amanda Hoffman of The Big LaBallSkees, “It’s competitive, but we’re here to have a good time.”

The mastermind behind the Skeeball League, Giovanni Marcantoni, wanted to create something competitive and fun for people to enjoy.

“We wanted to create a sociable environment to distract people from their problems,” says Marcantoni. Before he created the Skeeball League, Marcantoni and his friends established a bocce ball league in Baltimore. Marcantoni and his friends played bocce outside in the grass, but weather conditions sometimes put a damper on the bocce game forcing them to cancel.

“It was too cold outside,” says Marcantoni about playing bocce. People were also getting hurt and injured during the game. The bocce league’s problems inspired Marcantoni to create a league that is indoors in a bar where people can drink and play games without traveling anywhere else. Marcantoni branched the skeeball league into different cities on the East coast. He has expanded the league to Manhattan, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Charleston.

After a successful run on the East coast, Marcantoni decided to move the league West. Marcantoni added cities Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco—the newest city in the league.

Pratt explored the city to find the perfect bar to hold the skeeball games. The problem in their search was no bar already housed a skeeball machine. That was until they came across the Marina and found Bar None. It was perfect bar, already carrying gaming machines and already with the perfect laid-back atmosphere.

“They help us out by allowing us to have the Skeeball League,” says Pratt, “We help them bring more people to the bar.”

As they finally settled on a location, it was time to spread the news about the new league in the city. They created their website sanfranskee.com where people can register and create a team.

“It’s a good rational mix of people,” says Justin Beann, a league member of team The Artist Formerly Known As Free Ball.

“Anyone can join and play,” Pratt said. “You don’t have to be perfect.”

So how do you join the San Fran Skeeball League? Anyone can register on the website. Each team has to have a captain and a group between six-to-twelve members with each person paying a fifty dollar entrance fee.

“We don’t turn people away,” says Meg Nash, another member. “We want people to come here and make lasting friendships.”

Of course, whoever signs up to play in the league has to come up with a name for their team. People put “Skee” in their teams names. Like the guys from A. SKEE Slater who of course name their team from the popular “Saved By The Bell” television series. Other teams give themselves more progressive names like R.W.A which stands for Rollers with Attitude. Each member has names like Skeeyonce Rolls, MsSkeeElliot, Run DMSkee, Big Skeeballs and Andre Skeethousand.

“We wanted to have names to intimidate other teams,” says  Skeeyonce Rolls about her teams choosing their alter-ego identities.

Not only does Hyland and Pratt host the tournament but they join in the game. When David Miller was the only member from his team that showed up, Hyland and few others jumped in and played with him.

The Skeeball League is far beyond different than other tournaments. The league is created for people to come together and have the time of their lives.

“Most of these folks just come here and have a good time.” says Hyland.

XPress DIY: Dinner Party Decoration on a Dime

  • thewholething1.jpg
  • Other Stuff Collage.jpg.jpg
  • Other Floral Headband Collage.jpg.jpg
  • Other flower table Collage.jpg.jpg
  • GeoMobile Collage.jpg.jpg

Written and Photographed by Nicole Crittenden

Summer is here! Hopefully this means you will have a little more time to relax and enjoy San Francisco’s foggy climate (and maybe even a few sunny days). Whether you are escaping the chilly weather outside, or just need a bit of crafty inspiration, here are a few very simple “do it yourself” ideas to help you throw a fun dinner party. To remind me of summers back home, I chose to go with a floral theme. I started by making a flower tablecloth out of butcher paper and paints. This makes for easy clean up after your party and provides a touch of color to your table. If you are going with a simple theme, leaving the butcher paper white can look very classy, and is affordable.

For the hors d’oeuvres I chose to keep it simple and popped popcorn over the stove. I made simple sugar cookies and bought a few artichokes and berry candies. I also baked a simple yellow cake for dessert.

I had a few items lying around, like yellow and mint candle sticks, a huge paper crepe flower, polka dot balloons, fresh flowers and string lights. I set these on and around the party table. String lights and candles provide a romantic and cozy atmosphere once the sun goes down.

Mobiles add height and dimension and can be a conversation piece. I’m a huge fan of simple lines and geometric shapes, so I made this very easy mobile out of wooden dowels and small styrofoam balls. This is one of my favorite crafts because the designs and shapes are endless.

It’s always nice to be able to have your guests leave with something, even if it’s small. I decided to make flower headbands with inexpensive plastic headbands I found at Walgreens and artificial flowers I picked up at the craft store. I saw some really beautiful ribbon and decided to attach them to the headbands for extra embellishment. This is optional.

I finished by sprucing up the fiddle leaf fig and draping streamers around the picture frame. I then set up a few bottles of my favorite summer wines put on a nice record.

Happy crafting everyone!

DIY Headband:

Supplies: Plastic headband, artificial flowers, decorative ribbons, a hot glue gun, and wire cutters

Step 1: cut the flower stems to the same width as your headband.
Step 2: hot glue the stem to the top of the headband.
Step 3: continue cutting the stems and glueing them to the headband.
Optional: tie the ribbons in a knot around the headband and hot glue them in place.

DIY Floral Tablecloth

Supplies: Butcher paper, paints, and paintbrushes

Step 1: Mix your background colors together (I used forest green, tan, pineapple yellow, and white to make a pretty sage green).
Step 2: Use a feathery brush and long brush strokes to fill in the background.
Step 3: Paint yellow and pink dots on your paper in random order to make the flowers.
Step 4: Paint leaves in a bolder green than your background between you flowers and let it dry.

DIY Geometric Mobile

Supplies: Wooden dowels, styrofoam balls, and hot glue

Step 1: Poke a hole in your first styrofoam ball with the wooden dowel.
Step 2: Put hot glue in the hole and replace the wooden dowel, making sure it holds. Continue this step while you create your wonderful geometric shapes!

Sensory Deprevation

float8 copy

By Nicole Dobarro

I was naked in the darkest space I have ever been in. I willingly shut the door but my fingers refused to let go of the handle. Instead they only gripped tighter. My mind filled the seemingly silent space with an intensely loud, body-shuddering noise. As the first couple seconds passed the sound of my breath grew loud, competing with the rhythm of my racing heartbeat. I voluntarily decided that I was going to stay in this pitch-black, salt-water filled tank, also known as a sensory deprivation chamber, for an entire sixty minutes. It was a decision I started to regret.

After what felt like ten minutes, my mind progressed from a state of panic to reason. I was only naked in a soundproof tank where I couldn’t see anything. I thought, “How bad could it be?” My fingers finally released the death-grip I had around door handle and I began to sink back into the salt water. As I surrendered, my entire body was instantly lifted by the insane amount of Epsom salt mixed into the water. I was experiencing my first “float” and it felt really weird.

The story of sensory deprivation chambers begins in the 1950s with Dr. Jonathan Cunningham Lilly. He was sort of a fringe science jack-of-all-trades. He was a physician, biophysicist, neuroscientist, inventor and author. Many call him a pioneer in the counter-culture of modern science, while others would simply call him batshit crazy. Besides being the inventor of sensory deprivation chambers, Lilly is more famously known for his research done on communicating with dolphins and doing a lot of LSD in the name of science. His so-called eccentricity went on to inspire films like Ken Russell’s film Altered States and Mike Nichols’ film The Day of the Dolphin.

While Lilly’s research produced somewhat of a cult following, he was aiming to learn more about the human state of consciousness and its limits. Lilly’s research began in 1953 when he took at job with the National Institute of Mental Health. There he began studying how our brains work, what keeps it functioning and how it reacts to our environment. Lilly began toying around with sensory deprivation tanks to study the effects on the brain when all stimuli are removed. Stimuli in this case refers to vision and hearing. Lilly hoped that isolating these senses would prove that even without external stimuli, the brain and consciousness would continue to function.

Since research like this had never been done before, Lilly and his colleagues acted as the test subjects. Early designs of the tanks required them to be fully submerged in a water-filled tank wearing only a tight mask with a pipe for oxygen. Because of the uncomfortable state of having their heads wrapped in a tight neoprene fabric, the design evolved into the coffin-like tank design common today. Once the design proved more logical, Lilly began promoting the use of these tanks by sharing his experiences. Perhaps the most intriguing experience he shared with people he titled “First Conference of Three Beings” which is currently published on his website. Lilly recalls leaving behind his body in the tank and having a conference with three unknown entities “in a dimensionless space, the spaceless set of dimensions somewhere near the third planet of a small solar system dominated by a type-G star.” Was Lilly tripping or was this a legitimate experience? Who knows? However the act of floating in what feels like a zero-gravity tank caught on and is growing in popularity today. Today people “float” for different reasons. Most people float to reap the mental and physical benefits, though there are some who float as a shortcut to meditation and out of body experiences.

To gain a better understanding of how sensory deprivation tanks work, I decided I would need to get into the tank. I contacted Allison Walton, the owner of the Bay Area’s oldest float center called FLOAT located in Oakland. Allison opened FLOAT, which also acts as a constantly changing art space, in 2005 after she experienced a life-changing float twenty-five years ago. There are actually a couple spots in San Francisco that have float tanks, but none of the ones I found focused only on floating. I didn’t want to go to a spa that happened to have a tank. I wanted to talk to someone who actually knew what she was doing.

When I entered the space Allison greeted me with a glass of water and talked me through what I was going to do and what I could expect. She explained the types of tanks she had, which are manufactured by a San Diego company called Oasis. “Our tanks are the largest in the Bay Area. Everyone can fit in them,” says Allison. The white rectangular box is made of fiberglass with a vinyl inner liner. Allison explained that the solution, or water, used to float contains a high concentration of Epsom salt which increases the density of the solution causing a body to naturally float. “Average tanks require about 800 pounds of salt, but we use 1000 pounds,” Allison told me as she pointed to a stack of what looked like giant rice bags. “These tanks are also the most sound and light proof,” says Allison. “These don’t depend on the room  it is in for a lightproof or soundproof float.”

She continued to explain what my brain might experience when it is disconnected from all stimuli. Though first-time floaters rarely completely “let go” and experience out of body experiences, it was likely that my brainwaves would slow down and enter the state of theta. Our brains experience five states of being; alpha, beta, theta, delta and gamma. In the beta state, our brain waves reflect a waking state and entirely conscious state. In the alpha state, our brain waves reflect a relaxed state. This usually happens when our eyes are closed. And theta, the state our brains are likely to enter while in the tank, is when our brain waves slow down and allow dreaming. We generally experience theta when we’re falling into a deep sleep or are awakening from a deep sleep. The theta state is also when lucid dreaming occurs. Some people even recall experiencing vivid visualizations comparable to visualizations caused by hallucinogenic drugs. “Some people go straight into the theta state, even during their first float. But the rest of us are mortal,” says Allison.

I finished drinking my water and headed upstairs to the second floor loft where I would enter a tank and “unplug” from the world. An hour later, I was not sure about what I had experienced. What I had just done was weird and I could not tell if removing myself from external stimuli affected me in any way. I only remember waking a couple times from a light sleep and before I knew it the hour was up. “It’s is a really weird thing,” says Allison. “Not everyone gets used to it and just fights the experience the whole time. I once had a friend that refused to let go of the handle and she exerted herself so much to prevent herself from floating that she eventually fell asleep.” Because our reactions to the tanks all differ in experience, the types of floats experienced differ as well. No two floats are ever the same. “Everyone’s brain is completely different,” says Allison. “Some people see crazy light shows or budding paisleys the second they close their eyes. Some people don’t fall asleep but just think.”

When I asked about the type of people that float, the answer I got surprised me. I honestly that it would be a small niche of people into odd alternative medicine. “When I opened, I thought there’d be a type of client,” says Allison. “But our clients are really busy people, business people or people with families. There really is no profile because we get all ages and all ethnicities.” Allison did mention that her clients do tend to be of the more creative type if anything. “Lots of people float to clear a mind block, whether it be doctors or artists or writers,” says Allison. “And every time someone comes to float because they need a new idea, the second they step out of the tank, they got it.”

The benefits of floating truly seem to be all over the grid. The benefits range from mental relaxation and rejuvenation, similar to the effects of a deep meditation, to physical relaxation, like entering a state of savasana. “We’re constantly reacting to stimuli in our environment, in particular to technology,” explains Allison. “Our bodies are doing things [like using technology] that humans aren’t designed for. We’re designed to be creative, thinking beings.” Floating is a way to unplug from it all. Today, floating promotes the entire and complete relaxation of our most complex organ, our brains. “For almost everyone, floating will be the only time we’re completely alone with ourselves since the womb,” says Allison.

It seems like Lilly’s isolation tanks are all grown up. Even the language is evolving from sensory deprivation chambers to isolation tanks to float tanks. “It’ll probably be another ten years before they’re actually called float tanks,” says Allison. Though the change in views on floatation therapy will take some time, Allison believes that we will soon be seeing float tanks, or “unplugging stations,” everywhere. We are continuously online and the growth of technology doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. So in order to keep our heads screwed on while constantly receiving new information and the stress that follows, we need to find a way to disconnect. As crazy as paying to be shut into a dark, soundless water tank sounds, it may be one of the few ways to keep us sane.

Photos Courtesy of Allison

Pitch Black Symphony

13343102585_373ba07bf7_o
Written By Chantel Genest
Photographed by Lorisa Salvatin

You are acutely aware of a bang and a roar, a drum cymbal between a ticking beat traveling from your left to your right. A toad croaks amidst the mire beneath you, a deep hooting owl hidden in the trees above you. Chirps and a buzzing of a busy forest evade your surroundings. Silence. Water trickles off of the walls, a child’s utterance coming towards you from the distance. Ascending high and low, far and near, a makeshift symphony heightens your auditory senses as you sink into the pitch-black world consuming the remains of your sightless perception. You are experiencing the Audium

“I gradually fell into a trance state where I was somewhat awake and somewhat asleep,” says Ben Slater, twenty-five. “The fragment of noises brought memories in and out of my mind and made me more aware of time.”

As you pass the ticket booth and make your way into the foyer, you at once cannot help but to look all around you. Moving images of waterfalls stream across the walls and the echo of dripping liquid takes hold of your auditory senses. From the moment you enter the Audium building the experience has begun.

Once eight-thirty strikes you will assemble into a faintly lit room and choose from the forty-nine plastic folding chairs set up in a sphere around the dome-like theater. The lights begin to dim little by little until you find yourself in complete darkness. For the next ninety minutes, if you can handle it, you will be entrapped by a series of noises. Not quite together, yet not far apart, from children laughing to puddles splashing a chain of sounds bring you into a new perceptual awareness.

In the 1950’s, space was still an unexplored element of music composition due to the lack of audio technology available. Composer Stan Shaff and equipment designer Doug McEachern shared an idea that space was capable of revealing a new musical language.

Together the SF State alumni took their idea and made it reality. In 1967 the first Audium location opened up, the only space of its kind constructed specifically for sound movement and utilizing the entire environment as a compositional tool. At that time the performance was created through only forty-four speakers.

By the time the present location opened up on Bush Street in 1975, the space was installed with a floating floor and 136 speakers hanging above the audience and embedded into the walls and floors.

“What you are hearing in there is me at a board, changing and altering where the sound is coming from, the intensities, the speed in which it’s traveling,” says Shaff. “The board is an instrument of space. I am literally composing my work, which is on a hard disc in a separate part of the building that comes into the board and I then distribute it into the different speakers around the room.”

Today, with 176 speakers placed specifically around the custom made structure with slanted and protruding walls, the audience is carried into pitch-blackness, allowing no visual awareness, to hear a sequence of noises travel over and under and everywhere in between.

After nearly a half century, Shaff continues to show up every Friday and Saturday at eight o’clock to compose the performance for audiences young and old, both newcomers and returners looking for something new to expand their minds and views.

“With technology has come this world of sound,” said Shaff’s son and employee Dave. “The world used to be a lot quieter than it is now.”

Surround sound, Imax movie theatres, and the boundaries of music being broken down constantly have changed the way we think. Technology has pushed younger generations to crave new ways of thinking and to explore the unknown.

“People nowadays are searching out and looking for that experience with a kick and this is definitely that,” says Dave.

The performance at Audium is unique, no doubt. You are forced to see with your ears and accept the both harsh and delicate reverberations moving through you, transforming from distant clatter to in-your-face bangs.

“You can’t follow one thought for too long because the audio will take you somewhere else,” says Aaron Strick, twenty-four. “It was a nice blend of internal feelings that someone else is guiding and affecting. Its just a rare experience to have.”

Halfway through the performance the lights turn up just enough for your visual senses to return and for five minutes you and the strangers around you sit staring around at the dark images of each other’s bodies and the hanging speakers above you. For those that aren’t grasping or enjoying the composition, this is the time to exit.

“Initially we weren’t sure, and early on more people were uncomfortable with the darkness and the atmosphere,” Says Stan.

For now, Audium continues to use a recorded audio sequence in which Shaff changes every year to year and a half. But Shaff, his son, and McEachern have bigger plans for the future with more elements to add to the mix. Live performers and greater three-dimensional sounds are a hope for the staff.

Learning to use the soundboard is a daunting task, but one Stan plans to teach his son very soon. Dave, who has been around Audium his entire life and even lends to the performance with audio recordings of him as a child as part of the piece, plans to continue and expand further what his father has started.

“I look at Audium as being only a seedling, like a start up of the idea of space, immersion, sound movement and the control of that motion,” says Shaff. “I imagine it only getting more evolved and seeing more places like the Audium popping up eventually.”

You can experience Audium for yourself, every Friday and Saturday night beginning promptly at eight-thirty.

SAFE and Sound

GM_SAFE03
SF State’s campus is dotted with emergency call buttons, marked by the blue lights atop of the poles.

Written by Jourdon Ahn
Photographed by Gavin McIntyre

This year President Obama composed a memorandum for immediate release, addressing the harrowing prevalence of rape and sexual assault in our Nation’s institutions of higher education. He reiterated studies that highlighted the staggering number of sexual victims (men and women) and stated, “more needs to be done to ensure safe, secure environments for students of higher education.”

The Obama Administration is not only targeting universities, but all institutions of higher education that participate in Federal student financial assistance programs, like colleges, community colleges, graduate and professional schools, for-profit schools, trade schools, and career and technical schools. They are pressing for an increased presence of sexual violence prevention organizations on school campuses. He wrote that the above schools must:

-provide students with information on programs aimed at preventing rape and sexual assault, and on procedures for students to reporting rape and sexual assault

-adopt and publish grievance procedures that provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of rape and sexual assault complaints

-investigate reports and take swift action to prevent their recurrence

-survivors must also be provided with information on how to access the support and services they need

“Reports show that, however, that institutions’ compliance with these Federal laws is uneven and, in too many cases, inadequate. Building on existing enforcement efforts, we must strengthen and address compliance issues and provide institutions with additional tools to respond to and address rape and sexual assault.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/22/memorandum-establishing-white-house-task-force-protect-students-sexual-” target=”_blank”>You can read the full memorandum online.

At SFSU there are multiple resources that can help with the issues you may be dealing with, whether it be in the form of counseling, therapy, or physically escorting—our university strives to assist its students to the best of its ability.  Specifically concerning sexual assault and violence, we spoke with Laurene Dominguez, the SAFE Place Coordinator. Watch for an exclusive interview packed with important information on how to keep yourself safe for the benefit of our campus community.

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Photo by Erika Linker
Photo by Erika Linker

Written by Erika Linker

“Aren’t you going to eat the meat I put in there for you?”

The dreaded and familiar question had been lobbed at me before I could turn away and hide the remaining contents of my bowl. As I poked at the mysterious hunk of tough, grayish-brown meat with my spoon and attempted to delay the inevitable, I recalled the excitement that had been caused by this meat a few hours earlier. “Is that what I think it is? Oooo boy! That’s right, that’s right,” the excited shouts tumbled out of the kitchen and I had started to wonder exactly what was going to be served up.

With my poking getting me nowhere closer to tasting this intimidating meat chunk that had been so cleverly disguised in my favorite creamy peanut sauce, my boyfriend grabbed my bowl and deftly sliced the chunk in half.

Oh, the swells of gratitude that crashed over me — thanks honey. Drowning the meaty half in as much sauce as I could fit onto the suddenly tiny spoon, the moment of no return had finally arrived. With my mouth wide open, and boyfriend staring, my taste buds were assaulted with these salty-smoky, weird and unrecognizable flavors that I dreamed of washing down with the glass of red wine sitting within arm’s reach.

As I chewed the meat, I could feel my impending doom as it expanded in my mouth— the same way steak did when you tried it for the first time as a child and you ended up spitting it out into your parent’s napkin. With one more mental kick in the pants, the deed was done, the meat swallowed, and my mouth was being cleansed by the familiar sweet-tart taste of wine. I looked up to see not just my boyfriend watching me, but his cousin and two friends as well, all grinning widely.

“We’ll make you into an African yet, girl,” they gleefully jeered at me. I’d just had my first taste of goat meat.
In cosmopolitan San Francisco, the concept of interracial relationships is often taken for granted. It is a metropolis of mixed races, ethnicities, genders, and sexualities, the concept of interracial relationships seems rather tame to the modern city dweller. As an insider of the interracial relationship club, I can tell you that the joys and pains of dating a person of another race are as real now as they were forty years ago— they’ve simply evolved and look different.

The novelty and hesitation that interracial relationships are met with are unsurprising when one examines the low numbers of them in the country. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, interracial marriages make up only ten percent of marriages in the country. The number rises when looking at unmarried couples, though not by much: eighteen percent of opposite-sex unmarried couples are interracial, and twenty-one percent of same-sex unmarried couples are.
For Ayuchi Haga, thirty-four, the reality that her relationship as a Japanese woman with a Jewish-American man was still a novelty, came when her nephews first met her husband.

“I’ve always been really close with my nephews— from the time they were born to this day, they look up to me, and I’m always helping take care of them,” says Haga. “So I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry on the day they met my husband. He kneeled down in front of them to say hi, and they started crying because his face and his features were not familiar to them.”

It’s true— the modern day interracial couple is still faced with judgment and disapproval by family and friends. One of my closest friends once shocked me by saying that she wished I would “just date white guys” because it would be easier for her to understand and relate to. This remark came after I had told her the story of my first trip to a barbershop for black men.

I sat waiting while the barber asked my boyfriend how he wanted his hair styled. He suddenly turned to me for my opinion. Should he line his hair? How far should the barber take it down? All I could do was stutter— what was lining? Take what down? I had never heard of these terms. Was there a menu of choices I could look at and point to?
Bridgette Marshall, a twenty-two-year-old white woman who has been dating a Filipino man for two years, says that for her, these humorous moments make up for the harder ones. She recalls the hardest moment in her relationship: when her boyfriend’s mother asked them to pretend they weren’t dating for the day so a close family friend wouldn’t be offended during her visit.

“I was speechless,” said Marshall. “I couldn’t believe that after all our time together, his family wasn’t willing to proudly stand beside us. How could we offend someone with our love? What about love is offensive?”

The funny moments that happen when new foods are tasted, new languages are learned, and new customs are introduced— these help interracial couples get through the snarky comment here, a raised eyebrow there, when people do just enough to remind them that they’re still discriminated against.

“We, as a couple, still get weird looks when we’re out in public. No verbal comments, just facial expressions,” says Marshall. “I believe that diversity has played a large role in the workplace, educational systems, and society is more knowledgeable of other cultures. But those little looks that people give us, they start to add up and make you wonder sometimes if we’ve really come that far from Loving v. Virginia.”

Loving v. Virginia is the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision that put an end to a Virginia statute that barred whites from marrying non-whites, while simultaneously overturning similar bans in fifteen other states. However, anti-miscegenation laws were still on the books as of 2000, when Alabama became the last state in the country to remove the anti-mixed marriage law from its constitution. The change almost didn’t happen, as the revision only passed by a narrow twenty percent.

In the end, people are going to love whomever they are going to love, no matter what color their skin is or what language they speak. While racism still exists and there is still some discomfort about interracial dating, we have to remember that not everything is about race— unless we continue to make it so. Love, after all, is a universal language.

We’re all spinning

Written by Katrina Andaya
Photo & Video by Tony Santos

She looks up just for a brief moment as her green and yellow hula-hoop spins effortlessly around her slim body. Her movement graceful and elegant, a testament of her background in ballet. She tosses the plastic hoop into the bright, overcast Oakland sky and catches it nonchalantly continuing where she left off, the hoop still spinning.
“It’s not just a toy. It’s my dance partner,” says thirty-two-year-old Hoop Artist Tiia Maaret, referring to the hula hoop she personally crafted.
She is not only swinging the hula hoop around her waist, but the hoop swings around her entire body as she implements various techniques, dancing with the hoop.
“I think it really allows for a lot of personal expression and a lot of how you want to represent yourself and who you want to be,” Maaret says. “Its not so defined. There are no rules. The possibilities are endless, just like the hoop itself is infinite.”
Hooping, made popular in the 1950s, has made its way back into mainstream culture, especially in fitness where larger, heavier hoops are used, but more recently has popularized itself in the dance and flow arts as well.
While hoopers can be found all over the world, the Bay Area is known to be the Mecca for hoopers and flow artists.
Maaret has tried many different types of dance including ballet, folk dance, belly dance and hip-hop, and has been hooping for three and a half years now. She also teaches hoop classes and workshops as well as makes her own hoops.
She explains that when people think of hula hooping they think of the plastic children’s toy that they swing around their waist, but it’s more than just that.
The spirituality of hooping is subjective and every hooper has their own inherent beliefs, but many share the concept that the hoop is a circle and is spinning connecting the dancer with everything else in the universe which is also spinning.
“So I am adding another dimension to it by adding an object that is spinning and creating flow,” says Maaret. “So being able to tap into that and to tap into the idea that everything is spinning and not even just the physical part of the world we live in, but seasons, cycles, the life cycle, the death cycle. Everything is connected. So it’s a dance that connects all of it.”
Antonio Gomez, a forty-six-year-old hooper and SF State graduate, is a member of Bay Area Hoopers in San Francisco and explains that Native Americans use hula hoops in a lot of their ceremony dances and that the circle is an important part of our world.
“There is something about when you’re inside the hoop or the flow as they call it,” he says. “There is an existential expression of your physical self and your mental self with the actual ring and the hoop.”
Hula hooping has not only physical, but mental benefits as well. Many hoopers talk about feeling an energy or high when they hoop.
Twenty-one-year-old SF State student Amelia Depue has only been hooping for six months, since she moved to San Francisco discovered the art, but has already reaped many benefits from it.
“I can push myself and challenge myself and also have a good time,” she says. “It is very stress relieving. So whenever I am hooping, if I am having a kind of down day, if I am having too much going on with my life, I can pick up the hoop and turn on some jams and just kind of forget about things and just jam out. It is pretty sweet. It is a great feeling.”
Sporting a brown, suede pirate hat with a pink feather, forty-six-year-old Jim Hendrickson of Bay Area Hoopers has been hooping for four and a half years. He wears his pirate hat whenever he hoops and it has become his persona as a hooper.
He says that before he started hooping he held a negative stereotype of hoopers, but that quickly changed when he joined Bay Area Hoopers, a group that meets at Inner Mission on Sunday and just hoops.
“I thought it was going to be all these flighty people, one type of people, but you come out here and realize there’s people of all ages and different walks of life,” he says. “It is just that nice blend that really makes the group something special because you can not just define it by one individual.”
Hooping is continuing to grow in the community and San Francisco is in the center of it all. There is so much more to the plastic children’s play toy that goes far beyond what an outsider may see.
“I guess with hooping it has kind of made me realize that everything is centered and you really get that flow with the hoop,” Depue says. “It is a pretty cool moment when you can just be in a flow and just forget about everything else and just be in that moment. You are having a good time. You are hooping and you are expressing yourself. It is kind of a beautiful thing when you can do that. You see other people and other people watching witness it as well.”

Fostering Friends

Written by Melissa Landeros

In the summer of 2005 SF State established the Guardian Scholars Program (GSP), which would prove to be life-changing for a number of students.

The program, created to cater the needs of students who were or still are in the foster system trying to pursue an undergraduate degree, serves ten new students every fall and also accepts transfer students.

Erica Sheppard McMath, a transfer student and a part of the GSP, was first put into foster care at the age of sixteen following an altercation between her and her mother. After living in two group homes McMath turned eighteen and was on her own.

She moved from San Francisco to New Orleans in order to experience college in a new environment with a roof over her head. “Dillard University in New Orleans accepted me and they were giving me housing.  That was my primary purpose for leaving. I didn’t have an interest for education at all I just wanted a place to live,” says McMath.

Although housing was provided, McMath says that the school did not offer much support for the situation she was coming from.

It was not until McMath transferred to SF State that she began to take school seriously, “My attitude completely shifted. Before I had no interest in school, I was really angry with life in general, and I did not come from any type of educational background.”

Since the program’s establishment, the number of graduates has significantly increased. Director and cofounder of the GSP, Xochitl Sanchez-Zarama, says it’s very motivating for the younger students.  “There are definitely several resources for students that need them, and the program encourages the students to be self-supporting, role models, who have an equal opportunity to be successful professionals.”

The GSP offers numerous services to students including priority access to on-campus housing, priority registration dates, internship opportunities, and access to counseling and psychological services.

The programs continued success is largely due to its partnership with the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), the SF State School of Social Work, and off-campus social service groups.

Oscar Gardea, Director for the Educational Opportunity Program says, “EOP plays a very important role in assisting the GSP with their admissions process, and providing students with academic advising via an assigned advisor.”

There are weekly check-ins with the students from advisors, and constant updates regarding scholarships, and resources regarding holiday activities.  As McMath says the program is very supportive and involved with what is going on which each of its students.

The Guardian Scholars Program is truly an outlet for students to pursue a successful life post foster living. Many students who have been in foster care have not been given the proper foundation and support needed to succeed.

From being an inactive student McMath has vastly changed and says, “I pulled a 3.4 GPA last semester and for me that is like a 5.0.”

The GSP is striving to prove that progress and support go a long way.

Finding the Light

Written by Bek Phillips Photos by Gavin McIntyre

“I love you, mom.”

Those were the words she wrote before she emptied a full bottle of Vicodin in her hand and methodically took each pill. All she wanted was to sleep forever and put the last three years of depression behind her. She was eighteen and wanted to die.

Alysa Hanks, twenty-two, is now an anthropology major specializing in forensics and criminal justice. It has been four years since her second suicide attempt, but her depression is still an unspoken breeding ground for fights between her and her father.

“We ignore it,” Hanks says sadly. “If it comes up, we sweep it under the rug so it doesn’t turn into a fight, he never supported me.”

This situation is all too common, according to Kurt Churchill, a practicing marriage and family therapist with specialties in teen and young adult suicide and depression.

“In our society, there is a very negative stigma attached to mental health and parents will think they didn’t raise thier kids right,” Churchhill says, “They have a hard time accepting mental health issues.”

According to the American College Health Association, serious depression and mental health needs are nothing to be in denial about. Thirty percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function.” In another study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly three-fourths of students diagnosed with mental health conditions say they experienced a mental health crisis while in school.

Despite these statistics, the negative stigma surrounding mental health and the idea that you should be able to handle life’s problems without medication keeps many who need help away, and a lot of the time that begins in the home.

“The negative stigma on mental health can be cultural or family-fueled .Those in crisis believe they can handle it within their own group or family,” says Churchill.

In Alysa’s case, this was all too true and has had devastating effects. The summer before her junior year in high school, she became anorexic and struggled daily with depression.

“You don’t really know when [depression] starts,” Alysa says, pausing to find the words that would express her emotions all those years ago. “You struggle with being happy every day and nothing helps, friends and family just don’t exist.”

As she struggled to keep her grades up, stopped eating, and spent more and more time alone, her parents undoubtedly knew something was up. But they would never use the term depression.

“Mom knew, especially when I stopped eating, but it was never talked about,  it was ignored. She thought I was just in a funk and would grow out of it.”

And that was when she first attempted suicide.

“When I was depressed, I wasn’t aware of what was going on, all I could think about was how I am so depressed and there is no help for me. I just want to sleep, if I died it would be like falling asleep forever,” says Hanks.

She had a Vicodin prescription that she would take to fall asleep and there was about a half a bottle remaining,  but after taking the rest, she fell asleep and woke up retching, with one of the worst hangovers she has ever experienced.

Churchill has it all down to a science. The lizard brain, or the flight or fight area of the brain, has domination during times of mental crises. But before you can get there, people go through a process where they test out their resources, they go to their mom, dad, boyfriend or best friend.

“When people act on the thought of committing suicide, they feel like they have exhausted all their resources, they are done, there is just so much turmoil going on in their head that they can’t take it anymore,” Churchill says.

According to Center for Disease Control, ten percent of adults are depressed. This same study found that adults aged eighteen to twenty-four were the most likely to report “other depression.” Linking that to suicide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, scientific evidence has shown that almost all people who take their own lives have a diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder.

“In other words,” Churchill says, “The feelings that often lead to suicide are highly treatable. That is why it is imperative that we better understand the symptoms of the disorders and the behaviors that often accompany thoughts of suicide.”

Now the eighth-leading cause of death overall in the United States, and the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four, it has become imperative that we keep an open and knowledgeable discourse going. A large part of this discourse is educating ourselves on signs and symptoms so we can address them in ourselves and others close to us.

“Tragically, many of these signs go unrecognized,” Churchill says. “And while suffering from one of these symptoms certainly does not necessarily mean that one is suicidal, it is always best to communicate openly with a loved one who has one or more of these behaviors, especially if they are unusual for that person.”

For college students, it may be important to take note of the fact that of those who commit suicide, while many may have talked about it beforehand, only thirty-three to fifty percent were identified by their doctors as having a mental illness at the time of their death and only fifteen percent of suicide victims were in treatment at the time of their death. The other staggering statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health state that of the young adults and teens, approximately one-third of teens who die by suicide have made a previous suicide attempt.

On campus there are many resources available for students that are struggling with depression. The counseling center, located in the student services center, gives out six free sessions a year to students. A psychiatrist on campus is also available by reference of the counselors. Beyond this, support groups and other services are available.

SF State’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center offers therapy services for students throughout the academic year. Licensed clinical counselors provide six free private counseling in the student services building on the second floor. Group and couples counseling is also available.

For people who live on campus, students have access to the “Let’s Talk” program, which is a safe and informal counseling program available every weekday in residence halls. Other student services include the CEASE program, which provides free support for drug and alcohol problems, the SAFE place for victims of sexual violence, as well as the Active Minds student group for mental health and suicide prevention education.

Phone numbers to memorize or keep close to you are the San Francisco’s suicide hotline that is open 24-hours at (415) 781-0500, and (415) 989-5212 for Spanish.

For professors or employees at SF State who want to increase their knowledge of depression and suicide and learn some tips on how to help, the Counseling & Psychological Services Center, in conjunction with SF Suicide Prevention, will offer a free 2-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop from 9am-5pm on Thursday, March 27 and Friday, March 28. According to the Counseling and Psychological Services Center, “The goal of ASIST is to increase the knowledge of laypeople to the signs of possible suicide ideation and how to help the person through it – suicide first aid.”

Prefacing a suicide prevention conference at SF State in 2013, Yolanda Gamboa, clinical counselor and suicide prevention coordinator says in an University Communications article that “Mental health disorders typically emerge during the college years, and stressors and environmental factors can be triggers. Symptoms of depression or the diagnosis of a mental illness can be precursors to thoughts of suicide. We want people to know that if they do have these thoughts there’s support available for them.”

However, when walking in to set up an interview with someone from the counseling services, they declined to being interviewed for the school magazine on the basis that scheduling and appointment for an interview might take away from another students time.

Alysa utilized the counseling and psychological services here when she struggled with depression and mania during her freshman year, going to the psychiatrist when she felt she needed immediate attention. But for her, things have been looking up ever since she took the first steps to get help now four years ago.

“I struggled with depression a lot freshman year, but nothing compared to when I was in high school,” Alysa says. “It is hard when you move to a new environment, have to make friends, but it has been two years since I have seen my psychologist, I rarely visit my psychiatrist, and only when I need my meds adjusted.”

Despite her first year struggles, Alysa thrives in her major and works hard. Her passion is evident when she talks about different classes she has taken and how she was ecstatic to take a class in which she was able to work with real human bones. She still takes the lowest dose of antidepressants, and some days are really hard, but she has a steely sense of determination in her voice when she talks about it and the changes she ultimately wishes to see when it comes to depression.

“It’s a part of me,” Alysa says. “but it doesn’t define who I am. When people know that you are being treated for depression, people treat you differently like they have to wear kid gloves just so they don’t upset you.”

This is only one of the changes Alysa wishes to see concerning the discourse of mental health and depression. “Mental health issues are just not talked about, when people ask you how you are they aren’t really asking, they just want to hear ‘fine’ and move on. We need to listen, ask better questions, and pay attention to those close to you.”

Breathe: Holistic Health

Junior Monzenat Herrera and other students of Elementary Tai Chi execute Step Back and Repulse Monkey, practiced in the for known as Chuan.
Junior Monzenat Herrera and other students of Elementary Tai Chi execute Step Back and Repulse Monkey, practiced in the for known as Chuan.

 

Written by Ben Tasner Photos by Lorisa Salvatin

Students rest their arms and legs as they lie on the floor of a darkened dance studio. The room is an ocean, and their bodies, like softly breaking waves, unfurl in the moonlight of the half-cracked door. The instructor, like a captain speaking to the ocean, encourages her students to relax.

Vivian Chavez, a professor of health education at SF State, leads her students through relaxation exercises intended to improve body and breath awareness. Lying on the floor, students place their hands on their collarbone, chest, diaphragm, and lower abdomen to observe their bodies as they breathe.

Practicing breath awareness is one of many ways that students can easily maintain and improve their own health. The life of a college student is stressful, which makes simple self-care health techniques invaluable when time and resources are limited.

Many college students are leaving their families for the first time to enter an environment filled with academic and social pressures. Most students juggle jobs, classes, and relationships while battling exams, aspiring for good grades, and holding on to hope that career opportunities await them.

A 2010 study of two-hundred-thousand full-time college freshmen at four-year universities, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found that the emotional health of college freshmen has dropped to the lowest level in twenty-five years.

“Students are stressed because they have so many thoughts,” says Jun Wang, professor of holistic health studies at SF State. “They have fears about the future, interpersonal relationships, graduation, and lack of time. When you feel like you need to do things in a compressed amount of time and when you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you get stressed.”

Over-stressed students are likely to experience depression, anxiety, various physical ailments and a myriad of other health problems. Sometimes it seems best to turn to a medical authority for help and medication, but what if you could improve your health and decrease your stress on your own? Wang says it only takes five or ten minutes to recover from the stress of the day.

But it is. Many simple self-care practices exist with roots in ancient eastern and western practices that have proven beneficial for thousands of years. All of the methods focus on body, mind, and awareness of breath. Some may emphasize one aspect more than another, but to truly increase health and decrease stress it is essential to integrate all three. Too often do we turn to a doctor for a pill or hop on the treadmill- eyes glued to the television, ignoring the connection between body, mind, and breath. Take ten minutes to try one of the holistic self-care practices outlined below and see if you notice a difference in your health.

 

Body: Many physical (somatic) practices are available for students to quickly relax their bodies. Physical relaxation is the first step and perhaps the most direct way to quickly decrease stress.

Wang, who teaches Chinese perspectives in holistic health, Chinese herbs and nutrition, and Chinese body-mind energetics, focuses on the development of qi (pronounced ‘chi’) as a tool to improve and maintain health. Qi can be translated as ‘vital energy’, similar to prana and cit in Hindu religion, mana in Hawaiian culture, lung in Tibetan Buddhism, and ruah in Hebrew culture. Or if you subscribe to the Star Wars philosophy it is like “The Force.”

“If you have strong qi you have a strong defensive system,” says Wang. “You can still be balanced while enduring physical or emotional stress.”

To cultivate qi you need to start by relaxing the body.

“Our mind is like water in a cup,” says Wang, analogizing the human body with a cup. “First you need to stabilize the cup.”

The effects of student life lead to an irregular lifestyle. Many students do not eat properly or sleep adequately and these habits lead to stress, which often manifests physically. Relaxation is a quick and easy way to combat the toll that stress takes on the body.

People commonly stand, sit, and even fall asleep with their shoulders

elevated. It is known as the red light reflex, or startle response, which

many people live with unknowingly. In this condition, a person’s body is hunched, their shoulders are elevated and muscles tensed in response to anxiety and fear.

Erik Peper, a professor of holistic health and director of the Institute for Holistic Health Studies at SF State, attributes this condition to an adaptation made when humans once lived in physical danger and protecting the neck was vital. But in today’s society, danger rarely presents itself in the same manner and the red light reflex has become a liability.

Progressive Relaxation is an easy self-care practice to decrease muscle tension and increase body awareness, hopefully reducing habits like the red light reflex that lead to body stress.

Start by focusing your attention on the muscles in your toes. Tense them vigorously for a few seconds and then release. You should notice a greater level of relaxation in your toes. Slowly work your way up your body, tensing each muscle group individually: your calves, quads, gluteus, abdomen, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, and even all the muscles in your face. Make sure to breathe regularly throughout the exercise.

This exercise draws on what Richard Harvey, a professor of health education at SF State, calls the principle of opposites. He says that you have to first experience the extreme end of an issue to gain perspective on a healthy baseline.

Yoga is a physically focused practice (with mind and and breath components) that many people employ to increase health. With its origins in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga is a mind-body practice that incorporates breathing techniques. The number of Americans practicing yoga increased thirty percent between 2008 and 2012, with more than twenty million Americans currently practicing according to a study by Yoga Journal.

“Yoga is important because it stretches the tendons,” says Wang. “This allows your qi to flow more smoothly.”

Robert Gonzalez, a health education major, says yoga centers him.

“Yoga practice helps with stress, so I do not feel as nervous or stressed as before.”

Tai chi and Qi Gong are two more practices that can increase energy and decrease stress. Tai chi, which began in China as a martial art, is commonly used for health benefits. Qi gong is less aerobic than tai chi, but both exercises involve deliberate movements of the body to stimulate qi. They help develop concentration, presence, and balance yin and yang energies. In Chinese medicine, all illness, whether it is physical or emotional, is attributed to an imbalance of yin and yang energies.

Yin can be equated to the physical nature of existence, and yang the transformative. On a grand scale, earth is the yin and the sun is the yang. Food (yin) becomes energy (yang). According to Chinese medicine, everything we experience is due to an interaction between yin and yang.

By developing qi and balancing yin and yang, tai chi and qi gong are two physical exercises that relax the body and quiet the mind.

“It is very important for you to relax your body,” says Wang. “When your posture is correct then you can relax your mind and cultivate qi.”

It is important to foster physical relaxation, especially for students who spend countless hours sitting in class and in front of computers. Even if you do not embrace any of the practices mentioned above, you should apply some sort of physical practice to your daily routine.

Stretching and massage are other useful tools to relax the body. The holistic health network on campus hosts a massage hour that meets regularly each week. Led by certified massage therapists, students give ten to twenty minute massages free of charge to anyone that stops by.

 

Mind: Many of the mentally focused practices that students can adopt to improve health and decrease stress revolve around various forms of meditation. Meditation is a modest practice that can be accomplished sitting, lying, standing, or walking. A student does not need to become an expert in meditation to experience the benefits. By simply practicing meditation, a person is accomplishing the task.

Meditation can be a closed-focused experience, like focusing on the flame of a candle, or more open-focused, like observing thoughts and judgments.

Meditation techniques like mantra meditation, mindfulness meditation, Zen Buddhist meditation, and others derived from religions and spiritual practices. Many people use them today to increase health without religious association.

Previous research has found that meditation can reduce depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. More recently, a 2011 study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, found that meditation also increases gray matter concentration in the left hippocampus of the brain. The left hippocampus is involved in learning, memory, and emotional control.

Chris Hambelton, a holistic health student at SF State, says that mindfulness meditation has helped him observe when his mind is judging.

“I notice when my thoughts are beating on me for no reason,” he says. “(Meditation) helps you learn to be a better friend for yourself.”

He’s referring to the all-too-common act of self-judgment. Too often people degrade themselves with judgments they would never cast on another person, and the negative self-talk has serious health repercussions. Dwelling on past mistakes and fearing the future is unhealthy. Depression is a result of focus on the past, and anxiety is a focus on the future. Meditation helps draw the practitioner back to the moment. Learning to observe the present and decrease thoughts about the past or future has enormous health benefits.

Wang says she experiences stress just like her students. She practices meditation every morning and experiences wonderful benefits. It helps her still her thoughts.

“I can maintain a calm way to deal with an insane world,” she says.

Components of meditation include imagery and visualization. By imagining what you want and visualizing it as a reality you will increase optimism and experience a direct physiological benefit.

Imagery and visualization can be practiced as part of meditation, or as individual exercises. Many professional and Olympic athletes use visualization prior to performance to increase results. Researcher Angie LeVan says that the brain acts similarly during visualization as it does during the actual physical act, which means that the brain is training during visualization.

Breath

Perhaps most integral in self-care is breath because it is a doorway between the conscious and the unconscious. Breath is something we can intentionally control and it is also a natural which cause a person to hold their breath unconsciously. Shallow breathing limits the body’s ability to carry oxygen to cells, and in turn can make a person feel short of breath and anxious.

When a child is acting out of control they are told to count to ten, a strategy that draws on the principles of deep breathing.

“When you count to ten, usually by five, your mind and reactivity has changed due to awareness of breath,” says Chavez.

Sabreen Khalil, a psychology major at SF State, uses breathing techniques before an exam. “It helps me bring my stress level down so that I can focus on my test because it really cools your body down and brings you back to the present.”

Whitley Lucas, a health education major at SF State, has applied deep breathing to her daily routine. “To actually breathe and relax your mind is so powerful because it can help reduce stress that may be bothering you,” says Lucas. “In my down time during the day I do stretches and breathing techniques to get my mind and body together.”

In addition to his research on the red light reflex, Peper is interested in the physiology of breathing. In his book “Make Health Happen,” he wrote that extended computer use and long hours of poor posture exacerbate poor breathing habits. He helps students train their bodies to relax so that they can perform better on exams.

He says that people who habitually engage in shallow chest breathing may experience panic and symptoms associated with hyperventilation. He recommends students to breathe with their diaphragm to decrease tension, increase oxygen flow, and improve their test scores.

To test your breathing habits, start by placing a hand on your chest and your abdomen. Peper says that a deep breath should begin with a full expansion of the diaphragm, followed by expansion of the lungs and chest. Peper and Chavez encourage students to practice deep breathing by finding a quiet place and counting each breath. Chavez says that counting brings awareness to breath and limits distracting thoughts.

When she has trouble sleeping, Chavez counts her breaths up to ten and then back down. She is usually asleep before she gets back to one.

In the darkened dance studio she wants students to take what they need from the breathing exercise. Occasionally someone falls asleep during the practice, which is fine with her.

“Every direction that I give you is an invitation only,” says Chavez quietly, embracing the darkness. “If you want to do something different, do it. This is your class.”

Sometimes what is needed most is sleep. It is a perfect combination of body, mind and breath relaxation.

Note: Many other self-care practices exist that can quickly increase a student’s health. Stop by the Holistic Health Learning Center, in HHS 329, and check out the unique library of resources.