Artist, Entrepreneur, and Mindfulness Meditation Teacher
As Co-Founder of Vallefuoco Contractors since 1999, Gianna has spent 25 years helping thousands of clients manifest their creative tile and marble projects in the Washington, DC area. Trained as an artist in figurative oil painting in Florence, Italy, she uses her art background and principles from her undergraduate degree in psychology to help clients make mindful construction design decisions, and to create Intentional Spaces in their homes. Construction is not Gianna’s only gig. She is a certified Mindfulness Meditation Teacher with a passion for teaching fellow humans how to thrive, and the science behind thriving. She carries years of experience in compassionate leadership in the construction industry and through neuroscience and mindfulness-based coursework. Gianna works regularly with the construction industry and crisis intervention teams, focusing on de-escalation training, stress management, and self care. She specializes in empowering leadership teams to model mindfulness, and lead both effectively and compassionately.
Gianna was first introduced to meditation and yoga as an infant by her grandmother in South Africa, yet she didn’t begin a regular mindfulness practice until early adulthood. As an overwhelmed new mother juggling her career and some challenges in her family, she stumbled into a local yoga studio seeking a moment of solace. Instead, she found a lifetime of wisdom, and began her path to teaching. Her mindfulness background includes diverse ideologies and scientific disciplines. She completed coursework in mindful leadership training through SIYLI and her first meditation certification through Beyond Om. After studying both asana (movement practice) and contemplative yoga, she received her 200YTT Yoga Teacher certification at Thrive Yoga. and completed a two year curriculum as an MMTCP certified mindfulness instructor through UC Berkeley’s Awareness Training Institute and Greater Good Science Center with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. Recognizing the deep connection between mindfulness, psychology, and neuroscience, she continued studies in Interpersonal Neurobiology with Dr Dan Siegel. She incorporates principles from the “Mindsight Approach To Wellbeing,” to bring a multi-faceted context to her mindfulness workshops.
Gianna’s client base spans populations across the globe, including law enforcement and first responders, psychologists, non-profits, public and private schools and universities, trade associations, private companies, and retreat centers. Her mindfulness and creativity sessions are known to bring her students to all kinds of tears; most often deeply cathartic ones, and sometimes those from belly-aching laughter. Her method for skillfully navigating common human struggles is based on areas of study she holds dear. She gently weaves art, eastern wisdom, neurobiology, and psychology concepts into her programs. Gianna’s own passion project is Disability Inclusion Guild®; a 501(c)3 dedicated to breaking social barriers for people with disabilities, which she founded after the birth of her nephew. She believes a conscious intention and self compassion are the key to self empowerment.
“To create anything, we must be intentional. Intention steers us from the heart & saves us from the ego.”
Services & Events
Customized for your group – Whether you’re looking for tools to to regulate emotions, improve relationships, find motivation, or break unwanted habits, mindfulness can empower you to make long term shifts to navigate life skillfully.
Expect to create deeper connection with yourself and others, and learn to thrive in each aspect of life. We each have the capacity to overcome challenges, fulfill our deep desires, and find purpose and joy in our lives.
Intuitive Art Sessions
Small Groups in the Art Studio Join me in my own home in my N Bethesda, MD art studio (or at your location) to harness your creative spirit. No art experience required. I believe we are all artists, and all wired for creative self expression.
In this small group session, we practice mindfulness, unleash your innate creativity, and help you discover your intuitive calling or purpose. You will create your own artwork to keep forever. All art supplies and media will be provided. Bring only an open mind and heart.
Retreats of a Lifetime
Join me for the RETREAT OF A LIFETIME in different locations across the globe. This one is at Relais Ortaglia with Sandy Ferretti, Sandy Abrams, Elia Nichols and me. Learn concrete ways to optimize your life through breath, voice, posture, intuition, and creativity.
Learn concrete ways to optimize your life through breath, voice, posture, intuition, and creativity.
More info on future retreats to follow soon…
As humans, we tend to conform to social norms to be accepted. Often this means suppressing our innate calling in order to do what’s expected of us. This includes how we choose our friends, life partners, studies, professions, and our belief systems as a whole. We attach to the identity we create in order to fit in. Unfortunately, this can mean abandoning our intuitive calling, or “truth.” After years of feeling unfulfilled, I was able to quiet the influences that weren’t serving me, to find my own truth, and reconnect with my calling; creatively empowering others to thrive. Join me to create your own purpose-driven life, and to learn a skill set for thriving.
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One Small Shift Toward Stillness
Many of us are curious about the concept of meditation, but we may feel we’re not cut out for it or we don’t understand what the benefits could be. In fact, some non meditators have even expressed to me that it looks like “pointless suffering.” This misconception is often based on the idea that meditation is intended only for those who are naturally inclined to sit still. I assure you, I am not one who ever found stillness to be a natural or easy state.
Meditation is a practice for all humans. It is simply a deliberate training of attention, which benefits all who practice, especially the most fidgety people like myself. It is a practice of a shift toward stillness of mind. For those of us who live amidst real life stressors like work, other humans, and life’s expectations, then sitting still without thoughts would be near impossible. Meditation is not about achieving stillness, or any goal for that matter. Instead, it is based on the act of practice, which seems strange in a culture that often strives for an end game that’s close to perfection. Meditation values process over outcome. Meditation is about becoming the kind witness to your thoughts, not getting rid of thoughts. Meditation is a practice to quiet the mind, not to suddenly enter a trance. In fact, in the Buddhist Psychology perspective, the “trance” is what is considered to be our warped perspective when we’re not present and connected to ourselves and others; a trance of separateness. When meditation becomes a regular practice, we learn how to move away from that trance. We begin to know ourselves better, feel more compassionate and connected to others, find a quieter mind, fewer thoughts, and even a calm mental state. These are natural consequences of regular meditation. This comes from practice.
To meditate, we embrace curiosity, not judgement. We detach from outcome. We create distance from our thoughts and emotions, so we are no longer trapped in the stories of the mind. We repeat this distancing process over and over. This is the practice. As we meditate, we intentionally train the brain to create a habit or reflex of a gentle single focus. The brain has the capacity to change in response to repeated experience. This ability is called neuroplasticity. The more we meditate, the more we are able to strengthen circuits in the brain to make meditation easier.
In meditation we can choose an anchor, such as our breath, to be our single focus. Each time a thought arises, we learn to release it and come back to the anchor. As we become more aware, we notice the thought arising, we can then name it, deeming it a “thought,” and releasing it. This is the ongoing process of quieting the mind, without judgement, with curiosity, and with compassion. Self compassion is an important quality of meditation. Go easy on yourself as you meditate.
Remember; meditation is always a practice, and never a perfection. For this reason, meditation is truly for everyone. The most daunting meditation is often the first. The battle is getting your tush on the cush(cushion.) Once you’ve meditated even one time, you’ve begun the practice. You cannot fail at meditating. You can only fail to try.
If you’re ready to start, try a meditation app like Insight Timer or Headspace or join me in this short video INTRO TO MEDITATION WITH BODY SCAN.
How A Little Self-Reflection Can Unite Our Divided Nation
Our air right now is thick with momentum, amidst the clash of a viral illness and a viral movement for change. The pandemic has left us far too starved for human connection to let the winds of change pass us by alone and silent. We’re a deeply divided country, desperate to grasp some strand of unity wherever we can find it. In anguish. In protest. But most likely, in self reflection.
There’s an undeniable divisiveness among us, propelling us into a phase of discomfort that offers no refuge in apathy or indifference. It’s 2020 and inaction is as defining as action. Racism and hate need to be dismantled, starting with the ideologies that perpetuate them. To live in harmony with each other, just as the true natives of our land once lived with nature, we must look at ourselves with honesty and openness. This is the only way to heal our nation. I believe we can do better now. We just need to take a good hard look at ourselves.
Be curious, not judgmental
The cracks in our fragmented society run far too deep to be covered up with feeble excuses for inequality, or blatant denial of it. To mend our nation we need to dig deep into the ugliest, most uncomfortable layers of ourselves; our own belief systems. We must peel away the layers of separateness, let go of judgment, and simply examine ourselves and our inner circles.
Let’s be honest. Most of us are living in a protective little bubble of people just like us; our circles of sameness. Examine the members of your own circle. Consider what they value; who they love and fear; for whom they pray and for whom they vote. Are they safely similar to you? What about those outside your circle? Look beyond the perimeter of that circle, the line that separates you from the others.
Recognize the act of othering
We must delve into the concept of othering; seeing another person or group as intrinsically different to oneself. When we other, we create an ingroup and an outgroup. We feel a sense of solidarity and loyalty to our ingroup, and a sense of separation from the outgroup. For every problem in our nation, there is abundant blame. Who gets blamed and who does the blaming simply depends on the group with which we identify. Othering, while creating the facade of belonging, simultaneously creates a tragic paradox. It excludes the others. You can be sure that each of us, at some point, will be among the others.
Lose the labels
The only way to unite this angry country is to stop focusing on our differences; the way the others look, dress, vote, speak, love, and fear. When we fixate on the otherness of the others, we justify their separateness, and we begin to feel threatened by them. We fear them, and foster a need to defend ourselves from them. We label them as criminals, failures, racists, liberals, conservatives, socialists, idiots. We subtly dehumanize them and detach ourselves from them. When we engage in this act of othering, we degrade our society and promote disconnectedness. Othering is crippling America.
Question your beliefs
We can’t eradicate racism and separateness without addressing the fears and values buried deep within us. We must examine our subtle underlying thoughts and beliefs; the stories we keep on hand to justify the otherness of the others. We tell ourselves they’re dangerous, useless, cruel, racist, senseless. But we fail to see our own hate and divisiveness. Hate, even toward a hater, is still hate. Hate can never cure racism, whether it’s for people we see as black, brown, white, blue, invisible, or simply different. Humans are wired for connection and belonging, not for hate. We learn hate, and we can absolutely unlearn it! We need to recognize it to dismantle it. The end game is not to admonish all the haters, it’s to take responsibility for our own destructive beliefs about others, and transform them. There’s no shame in owning our mistakes and learning from them. This is how we transcend hate.
Our circle of sameness has immeasurable influence over our beliefs. Dare to step outside your circle, and connect with the others. See them. Hear them. Listen up and listen hard, not just to the people with whom it’s easy to agree. Daryl Davis, a courageous black jazz musician, dared to walk into a dangerous world of hate. In doing so with authentic empathy and fortitude, he ultimately influenced over 200 KKK members to leave the klan. His first step was in listening, then hearing.
Acknowledge all oppression
We don’t need to measure or compare oppression. Historically most groups have been marginalized and oppressed within their cultures. There’s no badge of honor for who’s suffered most. It’s vital that we take notice of those whose pain and struggle is most relevant right now. This doesn’t make your oppression or that of your ancestors any less valid. Acknowledging that black lives matter doesn’t imply that other lives don’t. It affirms that black lives are and have been at risk. Lives, like all things, matter most in the moment that they’re scarce or threatened. A stable job, good health, a safe home, hand sanitizer, face masks, even toilet paper matter most when they’re gone or at risk of being gone.
Find common humanity
To transcend oppression, we must focus on what unites us. The big and meaty stuff. Our common fears and vulnerabilities and dreams. The irrefutable love we have for our children and loved ones. The agonizing fear we have of losing them or seeing them hurt. The incessant joy and hope and insecurity and inspiration and burden and suffering we all experience as humans. We all yearn for love. We all suffer from fear. If we refuse to see this universal thread of humanity, we’ll remain a nation of broken pieces, and live as detached fragments of a very angry America. I recently spoke about the state of our country with the mothers of two boys. One has a son who’s a young white police officer; the other, a black college student. Both women expressed the chronic fear they have for their sons’ safety as each one ventures into adulthood. These are two women from different walks of life, but whose words were almost identical. In the eyes of these mothers I saw the exact same limitless maternal love and eternal worry, that which I hold for my own children. We are all these mothers. We are all their children. There is no use for hate between any of us.
Recognize anger and release fear
Hate and separateness cannot be conquered with more of the same. They must be fought by opposing energy. We can celebrate our uniqueness without oppressing or negating that of others. We are the others. The purpose of being one great nation is to share an abundant and even playing field. If this idea brings you any discomfort, consider why. Does it take away your sense of safety, control, advantage, or perhaps your anger? No judgement, just observation. If you peel down the layers, you’re likely left with fear of losing something. I’ve listened profoundly to the empty reasoning behind some angry people’s refusal to wear masks during the pandemic. It seems selfish and absurd to most of us, but it’s deeper than that. It comes down to a fear of not having control. Deeply fearful people will risk the lives of others to avoid facing their fear of losing their sense of control. Fear is generally the basis of anger and hate. Get to know your anger and your hate. It often hurts other people, but it always eats away at you. Releasing anger, and ultimately fear, doesn’t make us more vulnerable. It makes us more connected. It levels the playing field, making it safer, more loving, more productive, more humane. An even playing field doesn’t prevent us from thriving. It creates a bigger group with whom to thrive. Enlarging our ingroup is how we fight racism. And pandemics.
Notice the hate within
Be passionate about ending racism, but also be wary not to create new hate in the process. Destroying racism means enlightening and transforming racists, not becoming them under a different guise. Hate toward any human or group is hate toward humanity. Our goal should be to observe, understand, educate, and improve. Not to hate. Hate cannot conquer hate. Compassion and inclusiveness can. Sometimes this means detaching from being right, justified, and increasingly angry. Focus on being open and productive. We can speak and reveal the truth relentlessly, gain understanding and momentum and passion, and do it all without anger.
Choose passion over anger
There’s a fine line between passion and anger. Both are feelings of intense emotion. Passion is rooted in love or desire for something, while anger carries hostility. Anger is directed toward something or someone, but it destroys you. Anger is contagious. If you don’t believe me, watch the news or get married. Whether your anger is for a spouse or an opposing group, it will escalate unless at least one side releases it. If you win a battle by means of rage or anger, you’ll always have another fire to put out later.
Releasing anger is pure freedom to the body and mind. It makes space for compassion. Consider Nelson Mandela. He refused to degrade himself to avenge or hate his oppressors. In 27 years of imprisonment, he grew compassionate, wise, and highly self aware. He knew hate and anger only weakened him, and he found the wisdom and restraint to let go. Anger may well be an easy emotion to latch onto, but it’s exhausting to sustain. Compassion takes much more effort to grasp, but it’s painless to sustain. Our country will heal when we learn to replace the anger with compassion. We can start with ourselves, using concepts like mindfulness and empathy.
Mindfulness techniques like self reflection and focused attention are a means to releasing anger and finding inner freedom. Mindfulness teaches us how to still our mind, release fear-based thoughts, and find the space for compassion. Mandela turned a barren prison cell into a space for mindfulness. In “Mandela The Authorized Biography” Anthony Sampson writes of Mandela’s words, “at least, if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you.” Mandela developed the best in himself from a concrete jail cell. When he became President of South Africa in 1994, he alienated nobody, not even his former captors. In turn, they learned compassion and humility from him.
Be wary of absolutes
We must harness empathy as we open up, speak up, and listen up in this moment of divisiveness. We must give others the space to hear and to be heard. It’s time we look each other in the eyes, and see beyond brutal nicknames and prejudice. We must be wary of absolutes. Nobody is all good or all bad. Those who aim hate at any group of people cannot dismantle racism. We are all connected by humanity, even to the most seemingly distant others. The courageous Daryl Davis knew this when he reached out to members of the KKK. He rose above fear and hate. He had every reason to justify both, but he didn’t. He found limitless empathy, and sought human connection. We can learn from him, and make an effort to see ourselves in everyone.
3 Daily Practices for confronting racism:
- Begin a regular practice of self awareness
- Focus on finding compassion
- Operate with an intention of inclusion
Share your growing wisdom with your inner circle, and expand your circle. It may feel uncomfortable, but progress always is. Discomfort lays the path for growth and for releasing what no longer serves. Let go of grudges, judgement, and seeking otherness in others. You can embrace your own uniqueness and ethnicity while simultaneously celebrating that of others. Just be your highest self. Be the example for the human race; our shared and sacred race. Let’s unite America, so we can take pride when we look in the mirror.
How to Protect Ourselves From Fear and Anger in the Air
The new normal is full of new rituals to find relief. Removing a stiff pair of shoes after a long day at the office has been replaced with peeling off a mask after a weekly grocery run. Although most of us enjoy shedding our masks, they can offer a subtle emotional safeguard, a strange sense of anonymity and separateness.
Viral pathogens aren’t the only malady in the air. Many people are openly angry, rioting and yelling, some even publicly threatening the lives of others. It’s important to recognize that under most anger is a deep foundation of fear. To ensure we don’t inhale too much of the fear or the anger in the air, we need to find a dash of self-awareness and a hefty dose of compassion.
3 Tips for protecting yourself from anger :
- Pause before reacting
- Slow down your breath
- Focus on what unifies us as people
As a mindfulness teacher, stress reactions have always fascinated me. Most people respond irrationally when threatened, especially if given a wall of protection. Consider road rage or unexpectedly hateful online posts. The shield of our vehicles or the virtual barrier of our social media pages becomes our safety net, allowing an audacity and disrespect that’s much less likely when face to face. This ruthlessness behind a shield is exacerbated when we’re afraid. Right now we’re terrified! For our health, our livelihoods, and our sense of control. Amidst this new uncertainty, even masks, while biologically protective, can add an extra layer of separateness.
Last week, while choosing mushrooms at the grocery store, I noticed a woman staring at me from several feet behind. She said nothing at first. Her face was masked like mine, but her eyes were enough to reveal her palpable rage. She began shouting at me angrily, “You crazy!” Before I could determine whether that was a question or a diagnosis, she got louder, mixing foreign and english words. The english was all expletives, mostly starting with f, although one started with c and rhymed with “runt.” I had no idea what I’d done to merit this woman’s outrage, as I was well beyond six feet from her. She then gestured toward a grocery cart, full of bananas, in front of me. I gently stepped aside, dumbfounded. She abruptly grabbed the cart and started shaking it, screaming harshly in her native tongue. Her words were hidden by her mask and her language, but her anger was conspicuous and sadly contagious. As she whisked away her cart, she left me with the burden of all her fury.
Pause before Reacting
As I tried to make sense of what just transpired, I noticed my heart pounding, ready to explode. My instinct was to use my adrenaline rush to chase down the banana hoarder, tackle her, and publicly declare my innocence and her wrongful attack on me. Fortunately, my mindfulness training had taught me to breathe first and react later. I took a moment to pause and reset.
All I needed was time to find my breath, control it, and bring down my heart rate. I instinctively began a practice I learned a decade ago in yoga, called three part breath. I followed my breath through three stages, my chest, ribs, and belly. There I stood in the organic produce aisle, eyes shut and hands on my torso, gently and loudly inhaling and exhaling. My favorite book on breath, Breathe To Succeed by Sandy Abrams, taught me to find my breath on command, anywhere and anytime I felt a stress trigger in my body. So I did, and with my breath, I slowly found my humanity.
Channel compassion, empathy, and gratitude
Before I took that pause, I was in the midst of an unraveling story in my head. I was an undeserving victim of a stranger’s evil outburst. Yet, after three minutes of slow breathing, I became a mere observer of my own narrative. I found perspective. I found compassion. I saw that this woman was scared, like me, and like many of us right now. Perhaps scared of getting infected or infecting someone she loves, someone for whom she’s baking banana bread, hopefully with chocolate chips.
I felt this stranger’s anguish, until she was no longer a stranger. She was a fellow human, just like me. I remembered what it was like to live in another country, and struggle with the language. I considered my life in Italy, before I’d learned Italian. Simple tasks like grocery shopping were truly intimidating with the language barrier. I, like her, had learned all the curse words first. I giggled to myself, noticing how predictable we humans are.
I wasn’t angry or scared. I no longer felt wronged. I didn’t need to defend myself. I was grateful for my pause, my breath, and for finding the space for kindness. I was grateful for my delayed reaction. I was grateful also for the food I was going to buy for my family and me. I was even grateful for this woman. She reminded me of my own connection to others. We all have similar instincts when threatened.
We are all in this together. The fear and anger in the air doesn’t have to infect us. When we control our breath, we expand our reaction time. In that expanded space, we can repel the hate, and be our highest, kindest, greatest selves. We can wear our masks to separate us from pathogens, but not from human connection.