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The Warrior’s Quest: Becoming the Weaver of Your Life—An Interview with Ana Forrest

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Ana Forrest Interview

Internationally renowned yoga teacher Ana Forrest is creator of Forrest Yoga and a pioneer in the applications of yoga for emotional healing. Forrest Yoga infuses traditional yoga asana sequences with a strong vision of yoga as one avenue for connecting more deeply with our spirit.

In this interview, Ana discusses some of the key elements she integrates in Forrest Yoga, and talks about her pioneering approach to working more consciously with facilitating emotional healing in our yoga practice.

Q: A central part of Forrest Yoga is that you almost always start by asking people to set an intent for the class, or focus on a body part they want to work with. Tell us about the background for this practice?

Ana Forrest: That is part of what I learned to do in ceremonial medicine within the Native American tradition.  Setting your intent is very powerful—whether it’s for the ceremony, for the day, or for whenever you teach yoga.  

I personally set my intent every day, whether or not I’m on the mat, so that my life runs in the order that makes sense for the intent of the day as well as for my intent for my life. It’s much more powerful that way, instead of just getting up, having coffee, going to work, always doing the same thing. We were not born just to do that; there’s more to life than that.

In the very beginning of classes, I have different themes that I work with depending on the class. Let’s say we’re working with injury. I would give the students a few moments to scan their body using their breath, like they would use fingertips to feel inside for an area that’s crying out for help. It could be a heartbreak, or it could be a low back injury, or a headache. Once students connect with that, we start questing for moving the breath through that area. We keep that focus for the entire practice session. That way, we are moving the energy through the area, and it starts healing.

Q: That’s one of the beautiful things about your teaching, because we usually do the exact opposite! If there is an issue in the body, be it back pain or even more, an emotional hurt, we tend to avoid feeling that area.

Ana Forrest: Yes, the only coping skill we’ve learned is avoiding it. It’s a coping skill. We haven’t learned how else to deal with it.  So that’s part of what I educate people with.

My favorite thing to teach is embodying your spirit. When we think of spirit, we don’t necessarily think of it as connected to our cell tissue, but it can be. Learning how to spread your spirit through that whole vast amount of space in the body and being able to feel it, and learning how to eventually fill your own body with your spirit is amazing. Sometimes, it just starts with a little flicker. But that’s the start.

So you make that the priority in the pose. It’s not about whether you’re in full splits or have your feet behind your head. Feeling your spirit in the pose is your priority. That changes everything. Then the priority becomes the quality and energy rushing through you—instead of whether you’re bending far enough.

Or, if that’s too advanced for that day, then connect to feeling your body. If that’s feeling like, “Okay, I got that,” connect to your heart. Breathe and connect to this area.

Q. That’s not always an easy thing for people to do.

Yes, part of the process is to build the courage to feel whatever feelings are stored in your heart or in your back—or wherever. Some of it is really uncomfortable—like your rage or your resentment or your hatred. These are things that are not considered ‘spiritual’ in traditional terms. But these are all human challenges that we must learn to deal with, and that is part of the spiritual road.

So, what I ask in the yoga ceremony is for people to open their mind to learning something about their own condition, whether it’s suffering or heartbreak, or just that your hips are tight! This is an amazing process, because we are not taught that we can do that. But once we do, we begin to become the weaver of our own life. This is ceremony.

So you may have some really difficult elements in your life… For example, people who’ve been drinking or on drugs are haunted by the demons of addiction. But now, from a place of greater insight or wisdom, you can begin to unravel that pattern and re-weave your life in beauty.

Will you change the past? Yes, in a way, because you change the way it affects your present and your future when you decide, I am brave enough. I’m going after this ship. I’m going after it. I’m not a victim of life anymore. Whether it’s back pain, hip pain, sexual abuse, or whatever.

People who are victims of sexual abuse often have a lot of pain in their body, and they don’t understand that this is connected to the abuse. In these cases, there’s going to be a lot of healing—emotionally, mentally and physically. You are teaching the muscles involved how to integrate differently, so that they respond in a more wholesome way instead of responding from the memory of this terrible damage that happened.

Q. You focus a lot in your teaching on helping us be more in our bodies, creating greater embodiment. So this is part of the process?

Yes, this is all part of creating greater embodiment. And it’s also a part of ceremony.

It’s like the archetypal hero’s quest. You go into your own damage and you meet scary dragons. You meet evil. You meet all these things. You’re going on a quest and what you get from this quest is wisdom and treasures. You get treasures for your own healing. You get wisdom. Whatever the life issues are – back injury, broken heart, disconnected, drug abuse, you can solve so much on the mat and go on quest and become the person that you most want to be. That is why I do this.

People sometimes think of ceremony as a sort of La-La Land. It’s not. Ceremony is down and dirty and gritty, not out in La-La Land. In the process of ceremony, whether it’s in a Sweat Lodge or in Sundance or Pipe ceremony or sweating it out on the yoga mat, you have to clear away the nonsense, the confusions to find out what is actually happening, what’s the truth.

We have also put truth out in La-La Land. But it’s not out of there. It’s what you’re doing right now. Are you lying to yourself right now? Are you denying what you’re feeling in your body, because that’s all you know how to do? What’s the truth of what’s happening? First tune in to that, and then let’s start to use these new tools.

So one of the beauties of ceremony is giving yourself the space to learn something new, which means you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. That’s called learning. It’s okay. Not only is it okay, it’s absolutely necessary.

It’s like picking up any kind of a tool. You have to play with it. You have to work with it to get skillful with it. Give yourself the grace of learning time to play with these poses, to play with how to use your breath,

Q. You have a course coming up on YogaUOnline, which we are very excited about! We are looking forward to going on a vision quest in cyberspace with you! Tell us a bit about the course and what you will focus on.

Ana Forrest: The focus is on creating greater embodiment. You will learn how to use your breath as your wind horse. By that I mean that you will learn to use your breath deliberately and specifically. You ride your consciousness into these different parts of your body, so that whether you are dealing with a back injury or healing your heart, you learn how to use the breath in this conscious, brilliant, exciting way to create freedom inside.

And it feels great, even though there can be emotional upheavals, but that’s part of your freedom road. But it can also become ecstatic; it starts feeling really good. Even going after some nasty gnarly thing inside of you feels really good because, oh, my god, you finally have the tools to begin to free and heal that area. That’s tremendous.

So we will focus on how to use the breath. We will venture into other great explorations, like how do you relax your neck and start to de-stress your body in a matter of minutes? How do you turn on your feet? We’ll look at how to create active feet, i.e. spreading your toes, spreading across the balls of the feet, spreading across the heel so that all the nerve endings in your feet wake up. This makes you more firmly grounded and it has many benefits. Your joints work much better with active feet, for example, and if you have back pain or headaches, working with the feet help with that.

On a deeper level, you start to become aware of how you are walking on this earth, which is part of the necessary awareness to become wiser and to become a more wholesome spiritual being.

We’re taught such weird things about the body. We’re taught look in a mirror and that the body has to look like the models that we see in magazines or on TV. And we’re taught to disconnect at the head. It creates such damage between our brain and the rest of our body.

So this is all some of what we’ll go into, but the breath is the key. It is the key to freedom. It is the key to your health. It is the key to your life. What’s so fantastic is when you bring the breath into an area that has been shut down or hurt, something changes. The breath and the mystery are intimately connected. The breath and spirit are intimately connected.

So that’s part of what we’ll be working on: The magic of the breath and how to begin to move in a way that brings healing. Doing some abdominal work, working in the chest; getting the neck to let go; teaching the brain how to get off that hamster wheel of stress and anxiety and habitual thinking and teaching our brain to do something else.

So that’s some of what we’ll be covering in slow increments: learning how to work the brain and the nervous system and the muscles and the emotional archiving. That’s what we will be beginning to explore and experiment with.

But of course, this is an ongoing lifelong practice, because we are so vast and mysterious that the two sessions that we get to have for this online program will be a wonderful beginning. Hopefully whoever’s listening in will get turned on enough to start to quest for themselves.

Q: I’m sure many people in our yoga community already have had the opportunity to have a workshop with you. But even so, we’re really excited about getting an opportunity to learn more from you and join you in cyberspace! So again, thank you so much. We’re really looking forward to this!

Download Ana's full interview here:
Connecting with Spirit - Nourishing Your Starving Heart

For more information about Ana's course on YogaUOnline see here:
Creating Embodiment – Developing Your Body Being

 

 

Deepen Your Yoga Practice: Refining Alignment in Triangle Pose

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Triangle Pose

By Liz Rosenblum - 

Triangle pose, or Trikonasana in Sanskrit, is a regular part of many yoga practices, from Hatha to Iyengar to Anusara and Ashtanga yoga. Whatever style you practice, Trikonasana is a powerful yoga posture that will help to open the chest and shoulders, stretch the spine, strengthen the thighs, and increase flexibility in the hip. With these physical openings, Trikonasana also helps relieve stress and energize the body.

From one yoga style to the next, the general position of triangle pose is the same, although depending on what style you practice, you may be instructed to place your hand in a different location. As with just about every pose in yoga, though, minor adjustments within the posture can make a big difference.


Getting into Trikonasana

  1. Starting in Mountain pose, inhale and step your right foot about three feet with your foot turned at a 90 degree angle. Your left foot will turn in just slightly. The heel of your right foot should be in line with the arch of your left foot.
  2. With your arms at shoulder height and parallel to the floor, reach your right fingertips forward.
  3. Next, exhale and tilt over the right hip to bring your right fingertips to the floor on either side of the right foot or grasp your peace fingers around your big toe. If this is too much for you, you can use a block to shorten the distance you have to reach. If you don’t have a block, your shin works too.
  4. Open your hips and torso to face straight ahead as the fingertips of your left hand reach toward the sky.
  5. In Triangle pose, your gaze can be up toward the sky or down towards your toes. Most important is that you don’t feel strain in your neck.
  6. Hold this for five breaths before rising up on an inhale and repeating on the opposite side.


Refining Alignment in Triangle Pose

Just because you’re in the pose, there’s always more to gain and more ways to open different parts of the body with micro-sized adjustments or even just an energetic shift.

Let’s start with your feet. It’s common in triangle pose to focus all the attention on the front foot and ignore the back one. The pressure should be equal between the two, and as you put weight into the back foot, concentrate on grounding the outer edge of the foot. You should feel a greater lengthening in the left side body from foot to hip.

Moving up the body, engage the muscles of the both legs, especially the thighs, but take note that you’re not locking or hyperextending your knees as this can cause injury. This is where the strengthening benefit of the pose comes in.  

On to the hips and torso—the parts of the body that benefit the most from this pose. As mentioned earlier, your hips should be facing forward. To get deeper, it may help to focus on bringing the top hip back and the lower hip forward. Think of the top hip and side body as an extension of the leg and foot—one long line continuing to expand all the way to the top of your head.

It’s common in Trikonasana for the lower side body to collapse into the hip. You’ll notice a significant difference if you work to raise the side body (in this case the right side) away from the hip and thigh. While you may not immediately think of the top of the head as connected to the side bodies, energetically draw the top of the head in the direction your toes are pointing and you’ll feel a great expansion along both sides of your body.

Your shoulders should be stacked as your fingertips draw in opposite directions.

Think about your entire body being sandwiched between two panes of glass, that’s the position you’re working towards.

You can even do your own adjustment in triangle pose by using your top hand to grasp your lower ribs and encourage them to move forward and then bring your arm back to straight up.

Don’t worry if your hips and torso don’t go to this position to start. This is what you’re working towards. Most important is to experience the opening in your hips, chest and shoulders and listen to your body.  

 

Liz Rosenblum found her way to the yoga mat as a way to find peace and calm in her crazy former life as a journalist and the days in content marketing. Over the years her practice has focused on an alignment-based style as a way to find relief from chronic hip pain to power yoga to a home practice, but it was Ashtanga where she found her true home and received her RYT-200 at White Orchid in Clearwater, Florida. She is passionate about the power of yoga to heal the mind and body, and continues to be amazed that no matter how many times a posture is practiced, one slight adjustment can change it exponentially. She is thankful to have the online yoga community of YogaUOnline as a place to share her passion and learnings with others.

The Hip Joint in Yoga Asanas–How Individual Differences Affect Your Practice

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In this interview, renowned yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater reflects on important anatomical differences of the hip joint and how they affect our yoga practice. It’s important to stop thinking that hip-opening is somehow the Mecca of deepening yoga postures, Judith notes. She introduces a new approach to working with the hip joint, focusing more broadly on balancing rather than just stretching and opening.  

YogaUOnline: Hip-opening yoga poses are usually poses that people either love, or, love to hate—there’s rarely something in the middle! What is it about this group of yoga postures that make them either uniquely soothing—or incredibly frustrating?

Judith Hanson Lasater: Well, I actually prefer to not name these poses hip-openers. I refer to them as hip-balancers, because some people’s hips are very open in one direction, but not in other direction. You want to create balance, rather than just focusing on opening.

This is important, because we often think that going deep in a pose is a matter of the muscles and soft tissues stretching. However, there are dynamics inside the joints that have to happen as well. It’s actually what’s going on inside the joint itself that it important.

The hip joint is the major weight-bearing joint of the body. It’s the place that transfers the movement of the legs up into the trunk. The shape of that joint—its depth, size, and the direction in which it points—is very, very different from person to person. There are obvious differences between the male and female hip joint, but also within each gender.

So not everybody, no matter how diligently they practice, will be able to sit on the floor, put the soles of their feet together and open their legs out to the sides in Badhakonasana and eventually, with practice, have the knees go down to the floor.

YogaUOnline: So ultimately, the structure of the hip joint determines its function in terms of its range of motion in different postures?

Judith Hanson Lasater: Yes. Structure shapes function very strongly. Of course, the way we function changes our structure to a degree, it’s a dance. It’s a universal eternal infinite dance between function and structure. And we want the perfect balance between those two things. What is the body structure telling me about how to function in that body? What is my body’s function telling me about what might be going on with my structure? These are great questions to explore.

But it’s important to stop thinking that hip-opening is somehow the Mecca of deepening yoga postures. If you develop too much opening, too much mobility in your hip joint or surrounding tissues, that is not good. More movement is not always the answer. Sometimes we need stability, we need to strengthen the muscles around the hip joint, or we need to focus not just on external rotation, for example, but on strengthening the abductors because they hold the pelvis level in walking.

It’s like an orchestra. If you want to play a beautiful piece of music with an orchestra, you can’t have the violins dominating. They need to be just in harmony with the cellos and the violas in the string section.

YogaUOnline: So, that makes it very difficult to understand what is the normal range of motion of the hip joint and how that might be manifested in yoga asanas.

Judith Hanson Lasater: Yes, there are large individual differences. And in the yoga community, there are instances where we might have misunderstood those normal ranges of movement, where we may have been unaware of how our instruction and teaching or positioning and poses might be going against that normal.

I like to say that there are only two sins in yoga asana practice: Too much and too little. So, I don’t like the word hip-openers, because it makes it sound as if opening is the only strategy for wholeness. What we’re really trying to do is bring awareness and choice to opening. And so, that’s why I prefer the idea of hip-balancing.

YogaUOnline: And of course, the way we practice poses for balancing or opening the hip also influences the other parts of the pelvis?

Judith Hanson Lasater: Yes, everything in our body is interconnected, so the balance of the hip joint also influences the sacroiliac joint and the lumbar spine as well as the knee joint.

As teachers, we need to do two contradictory things. We need to go deeply into the detail of what’s going on in the hip joint, but we also need to step back and look at the whole of it. If you have a knee problem with a lot of pain or a cartilage issue in your knee, chances are this is affecting the way the hip moves and the sacroiliac and the lumbar spine.

You cannot ever just pull out one piece, one joint, and one thing and say that’s the cause. It’s like everything is connected, which is also an absolute truth of the universe. It is one emotional, psychological, immunological, neurological, musculoskeletal, intellectual location that is moving through space against the force of gravity and it is deliciously and annoyingly complex.

YogaUOnline: When practiced without pushing too hard, yoga asanas that engage the hip joint are very satisfying to practice. What is it about this group of yoga postures that make them so uniquely soothing?

Judith Hanson Lasater: Every pose is an expression; it’s like an archetypal expression. It may be because, in for example, Pigeon Pose, you really need to be grounded through the heads of the femurs downward. So you have that rooting which we all need in our crazy deranged society of constant movement. And then you combine that with the lifting and the freedom of the chest and the opening of the heart, and with throwing the head back, which is the opening of the throat. So we open our throat, we open our heart, we open our belly. It’s a surrendering receptive movement, which is balanced with this deeply grounding movement. And maybe it’s just the perfect combination of taste like sweet and sour, something that is sweet and sour or salty and sweet. Maybe it fulfills a lot of our taste.

Eva Norlyk Smith: Interesting. Now Judith, you have course on Yoga U called “Freedom of the Hip Joint: Asana, Anatomy and Therapeutics.” Could you tell us what you will be covering in that course?

Judith Hanson Lasater: Well, first, I’d like to renew our anatomical understanding of the structure of the hip joint in relation to its function and what is considered normal range of motion of that joint, as well as how anatomical variations affect the range of motion. This is important for teachers to know, because they will encounter these differences among their students.

And then we want to talk about some specific poses, and how they might be useful balancing the hips. We will also talk a bit about labral tears and hip replacement. And I certainly want to take specific questions about the particular challenges course participants experience with the hip and challenges they find in teaching a variety of students. Questions, I find, are always important to address some of the common issues teachers experience that are relevant to everyone listening in.

Judith Hanson Lasater is one of the most experienced and well loved yoga teachers in the US. She’s been a yoga teacher in the Iyengar yoga tradition for more than forty years. She is also a physical therapist, and holds a PhD in East West Psychology. Judith is the author of eight books in yoga, including “Yogabody: Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Asana” as well as “Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times.

 

Nourishing the Prana Body for Long-term Health and Vitality: A Q&A With Ayurvedic Doctor Charlotte Bech

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Charlotte Bech, M.D., is one of the many “traditional” health care providers who has embraced Ayurvedic medicine as part of their practice. She spoke to us about treating patients holistically, how our state of mind impacts our health, and her course Prana, Yoga and Ayurveda – Mindful Living for Self-Healing.

YogaUOnline: You’re trained as an M.D. in Denmark and you have had your own private practice focusing on Ayurvedic medicine for many years. What made you make this switch, and what do you feel Ayurveda has to offer that complements modern medicine?

Charlotte Bech: I worked for years as a medical doctor in a top hospital in Denmark, but I eventually switched to practicing Ayurveda because it is natural, holistic, and has no side effects when administered correctly. Ayurveda takes the whole human being into account—mentally, socially, physically, emotionally, psychologically. Simply put, it works.

YogaUOnline: In your practice, what are the reasons people seek you out?

Charlotte Bech: Most people come to see me because they are looking for a natural approach. Their doctor may have told them that there’s nothing really wrong with them, but they are just not feeling well. So they are very happy when they finally find somebody who understands that they are not feeling well, and who also can help them do something about it. I also see many people who have a specific diagnosis and have been treated with allopathic appraoches, but they are really looking for natural procedures, because they are concerned about side effects or worried about the chemicals in their body.

YogaUOnline: What results do you  see with your patients?

Charlotte Bech: The results are excellent. Ayurveda is not a quick fix, but it works over time with a regular and patient, constant attending to the body. Most of us know remarkably little about how to care propery for our body, and it is striking to see the results people get by simply changing elements of their lifestyle, diet, daily routine, and so on, following the Ayurvedic recommendations. Many people are able to reduce or even completely quit Western medications. So the patients are extraordinarily happy and that means that in my practice, I have six very long waiting lists. So now, I’m training other medical doctors to help me in the practice. I have a group of twenty medical doctors in training right now.

YogaUOnline: When most people think about abouts Ayurveda, they think about the three Doshas but you have pointed out in your teachings that the concept of Prana is just as significant. Tell us what is meant by the word Prana in Ayurvedia, and why it is considered so important.

Charlotte Bech: Prana is a key concept in Ayurvedic medicine. It is best translated as ‘vital force’ or ‘vital energy.’ It is constructed of the syllables, “pra” and “na”. Pra means emerging of impulse and na means movement. So it means a constant emerging movement of impulses.

You can imagine Prana like a river flowing through the landscape of the body and through all of creation. It’s the flow of life through the human physiology, the flow of life in nature. We can say that Prana is really the breath of the universe, it’s the breath of creation, the breath of life. In Ayurvedic philosophy, Prana is our essence, our own inner soul, and it’s the flow of our soul.

In other words, Prana is present everywhere. It’s in light, in air, in water, in plants; it is the life in all living beings. It begins life, sustains life and is the very basis of life. So that’s why Prana is most important.

The amount of Prana in the body determines our life span. It determines how much energy we have when we wake up in the morning, how much energy we have throughout the day, how happy we are, and how healthy we are. Prana is really the most important factor in our health.

Prana is also related to the Vata Dosha. The three Doshas—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha—each have five sub-Doshas. Altogether, we have fifteen sub-Doshas. One of the sub-Doshas of Vata is Prana Vata, and this is the most important of the Vata sub-Doshas, because it’s the first one, it’s the mover, it moves everything else. It moves all the other Vata sub-Doshas, all the other Pitta sub-Doshas and all the Kapha sub-Doshas. So by working with Prana, we can actually balance and pacify all the other sub-Doshas of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, i.e. all the fifteen sub-Doshas and all the three Doshas.

In other words, working with the Prana is the key to creating balance in the entire physiology. Prana is also the substance of the first layer in our subtle body, the body of light. Everyone knows we have a physical body, the physiology. But we also have different bodies of light, some people call them “aura” or we can call them bodies of light or bodies of energy. And the first of these is made of Prana. So we actually are living in an organism made of Prana. We’re living in an organism made of food, that’s our normal physiology. But then, the next one is really our physiology of Prana—Pranamayakosha. It’s our physiology of light, and this body of Prana is nourished by the flow of Prana, by the flow of the subtle life energy. And that is why it’s so important to focus on Prana in order to have good health, energy and happiness, and a long life span.

YogaUOnline: What are some of the things that would facilitate the flow of, or the amount of, Prana in the body, and what are some of the things that would reduce the Prana in the body?

Charlotte Bech: That’s a very good question. We come into this life with a certain amount of Prana in our body and through lifestyle and diet, we either increase it or we decrease it. Most people are simply not aware of how powerfully our daily habits and diet impacts us by either freeing or blocking the flow of life force in the body. This is one of the areas where Ayurveda really stands out.

There are two ways to increase Prana: one is internal and the other external. In the internal way, we can increase the amount of Prana by practicing yoga, pranayama, and meditation. We can also increase the amount of Prana via external means by eating very specific foods, drinking specific types of water, breathing specific types of air, specific types of herbal medicine, etc...

How do we inadvertently decrease Prana in the body? By never going outside in the fresh air and the sunlight or eating foods that are stale, old, full of preservatives or other additives. This would decrease the amount of Prana. Also, drinking water that is not pure, water that has chemicals added into it, or water that has fertilizers or pesticides in it as remains of agriculture chemicals. This is also definitely decreasing the amount of Prana. These are just a few examples.

But the most important point is really that our body of Prana, our body of light, is a body that is made out of this life force. And in this body of Prana we have 72,000 channels of energy, streams of energy called Nadis. These 72,000 streams of energy are flowing in our body of Prana and if we are performing pranayama practices, we can increase the flow of Prana through these channels. We can also increase the flow of Prana, for example, by walking in the early morning to a body of water (like a lake or a river or an ocean) just before sunlight and just being present at that moment when the sun is rising on the horizon. This is the time of the day and night where there is the maximum amount of Prana in the air, and in the light.

YogaUOnline: So what you are saying is that when looking at the universal life force from an Ayurvedic perspective, what we are within is the same as what is all around us and, if we can align ourselves with the force that surrounds us, it has a nourishing life-giving influence?

Charlotte Bech: Yes, and even more so, because Prana is also influenced by our emotions and our psychological and mental state. For example, negative thinking or negative emotions will decrease or deplete the amount of Prana. To the extent that we can be in the light, happy, positive frame of mind, to that extent, we are supporting the force of evolution. And to that extent we are really increasing the amount of Prana in our mind, in our thinking, in our feelings and also in our physiology.

YogaUOnline. That’s wonderful. Now you are also teaching a course on Ayurvedic principles for enhancing Prana in the physiology. Tell us more about what you’ll be covering?

Charlotte Bech: We’re going to focus on Ayurvedic guidelines for increasing Prana in the body through our eating and cooking habits as well as the kind of influences we surround ourselves with, particular in regards to the basic elements – water, air, and light. Ayurveda offers an enormous amount of important knowledge about different, small adjustments in how we eat, how we are shopping, how we are cooking, how we are thinking and feeling, and what kind of water we are drinking, what types of air we have in our surroundings, what type of air we are breathing, what type of light we are seeing. So thse are the things we will be focusing on.

When we are increasing Prana through all these different procedures, we are really increasing our own consciousness. It’s about consciousness, our soul connecting to the soul. Everything in Prana means we are connecting to who we are on the inside, we are being connected to our own inner nature, our own inner essence. And that is the main point. That is the secret to release the Prana. So Prana is there. We only need to find it and release it. 

Making Yoga Safer: 5 Tips on What We Should Do in Asana (A response to Matthew Remski)

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Preventing yoga injuries

By Chrys Kub, P.T., yoga therapist - 

Author, blogger and Ayurvedic practitioner Matthew Remski has recently started a project called WAWADIA (What are We Actually Doing in Asana?) which is creating lots of discussion in the yoga community. As a physical therapist and biokinesiologist, this question has been loudly blaring in my mind since I have started my yoga practice over 14 years ago. In the beginning, I assumed it was because I did not know enough about the practice, so I would just follow my teachers when they would confidently say things such as "this is the pure posture as taught to me by Swami What’sHisName when I was studying with him for the last 15 years, so just do it!" As time passed and I deepened my knowledge of the practice, doing the requisite 500 Hour Teacher Training and eventually studying yoga therapy, I realized the dirty little secret that Matthew so astutely reveals…we don’t really know What We are Actually Doing in Asana! And neither did Swami What’sHisName.

In a recent podcast,The Liberated Body hosted by Brooke Thomas, Matthew mentions that in addition to this question, he would like to ask "what can we do in asana to make it a safer, more efficient practice biomechanically for the body?” This response is to offer some suggestions, based on my 25 years in the field of physical therapy, the last 10 which have been working with persons on an individual basis using yoga asana as one of the tools to help them heal structural injuries, not just a few of which have been "because” of yoga. These are things you can do now, until the time comes when the majority of yoga instructors begin to understand that the in depth knowledge of how the body moves can only enhance their teaching and help their students keep coming back, without injury. 

Just to be clear, I love the practice of yoga. It has helped me become healthier and happier and I have seen this occur in the many clients who I have worked with who have embraced the practice. My livelihood is dedicated to spreading the practice of yoga to others, and helping them learn how to use it as a tool to help them in their lives, but it is only one tool. I am not condemning anyone who teaches asana practices, but instead challenging them to perhaps dig a little deeper, not to accept and teach practices that they don’t fully understand and to get in on the discussion and conversation that Matthew started.

We all know that asana is only one small part of yoga, but let’s face it, it is the biggest part that modern society is now practicing, and it’s the part that is causing the physical injuries that William Broad discussed in his now infamous article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body in the NY Times. This article got national exposure, and scared (maybe appropriately?) many people away from yoga practice. Below are some tips to address some of the things we can start today, things which on the cutting edge of modern research I might add, to help us prevent injury from the practice of yoga, as well as use it to maintain structural health and possibly heal a structural injury.

1. Stop practicing yoga to stretch tight muscles, it doesn’t work!

This radical thought will probably rock the yoga world. When the general yoga population is polled as to why they practice yoga, the majority state it is to gain flexibility. Unfortunately, the latest research is showing that stretching does not really change your flexibility and that flexibility probably does not help improve function or performance. Any changes you are seeing in flexibility are due to the changes in the nervous system, not how hard you pull on your hamstings or how deep you go into a backbend. For a deeper discussion on this particular issue, read a few blogs by my wonderful colleague Jules Mitchell, who spent the past two years investigating the research on stretching and yoga. She describes what stretching is and what is isn’t, and what we really need to do in asana to actually increase muscle stiffness to improve efficiency.

2. Get a one on one assessment of your body’s structure and weak links by a qualified yoga teacher, personal trainer, physical therapist or yoga therapist trained in structural assessment. This is probably the most important tip. You may think that I am just promoting my profession (which is true), but I have good reason. It is virtually impossible for your yoga teacher to know what your individual body’s’ needs are and address them adequately in a group yoga class. We all have our body’s history of lifestyle and trauma; emotional, physical and mental. This is held in our body and manifested through dysfunctional movement. When we practice yoga, we are moving the body biomechanically, with various levels of force and contraction through movement patterns. These movement patterns are affected by our individual alignments, weaknesses and strengths. In order to make your practice fit your body, you must know where you might be compensating, where your muscles might be overworking and learn to use the asana practice to create more efficiency and balance in your movement patterns.

3. Individualize your practice to address your needs.You may think that getting an individual assessment means you have to practice alone, and not attend a group class. But to the contrary, having this knowledge will transform your practice to one that is specific to your needs and instead of getting hurt, you will stay healthy or even begin to heal. Attend the group class after you learn from your yoga assessment session how to adjust the postures to meet your goals. Yes, they probably will tell you to do a short 15 minute home practice a few days a week to target certain areas more intensely, but you can take that knowledge into your practice, be it Bikram, Ashtanga, general vinyasa or restorative, and make that practice your own.

4. Consider adding foam rolling for myofascial release into your asana practice. Since we now know we don’t really stretch our muscles (i.e. change their length), we can use the foam roller to help improve mobility of the muscles and connective tissues to allow the nervous system to more efficiently activate your muscles. Research into foam rolling has found some wonderful benefits which will help you learn to release overactive muscles and activate those that need to awaken in order to improve efficiency and alignment. As described in the review by Chris Beardsley entitled Does Research Support Foam Rolling, foam rolling is beneficial pre exercise to reduce muscle fatigue and possibly improve exercise performance. It will improve the joint range of motion without decreasing performance. Post exercise, foam rolling can help decrease muscle soreness, possibly improving your ability to train again sooner and with less discomfort. Foam rolling is not utilized in order to improve flexibility, but to decrease the neural activation of the resting tone in the prime movers (which are usually the muscles you think are "tight”) Once you reset that neural tone of the tissue, the muscle is better able to release and relax, thus allowing an increased range of motion of the joint. This results in more efficient movement of the joint and allows one to begin to activate those muscles which may have been "lazy” and not doing their job. Those lazy muscles are what caused the brain to tell the compensating muscles to "tighten up” in the first place in order to perform the movement or protect you from injury. To learn how to incorporate myofascial release into your yoga practice, check out Yoga TuneUP and Rollasana.

5.  Finally, move through your practice with BAMA (Breath, Alignment, Mostility and Awareness)
a. Breath: the foundation of the asana practice. We all know it, it’s undeniable, yet I have been to many a yoga practice where I did not hear the students breathing or the instructor really cuing the breath. All I can say is please include this as the foundation of your practice.

b. Alignment: if your body is out of alignment, your movement is inefficient and you will create overuse injuries from repetitive stress. This is well established in the literature. Shirley Sahrmann, PT, PhD, FAPTA was a ground breaking physical therapist in the area of movement dysfunction. Her philosophy, if we move with poor initial alignment, we are setting ourselves up for failure and possible pain. If you are a kinesiology geek, her text, Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes is a must read. If you aren’t, just trust me, alignment is important.

c. Mostility: Mobility and Stability are the keys to efficient movement. Since one is codependent on the other, I came up with a new term, Mostility. If you have decreased mobility of a joint, it is usually due not to a tight muscle, but to a combination of fascial restrictions and connective tissue from an injury or repetitive movement dysfunction coupled with poor activation of the prime movers as well as some muscles compensating for that poor activation with over activation. A prime example, the hamstrings in someone who is active in athletics tend to get what they perceive as tight. This tightness is actually increased contraction of the hamstrings to compensate for relative inactivity of the gluteus maximus, which is the primary hip extensor. Once the athlete learns to turn on the gluts as the prime mover instead of the hamstrings, his tightness miraculously decreases. This athlete could practice this in an asana practice by paying attention in poses like Shalambasana as to how he turns on his hip extension, activating the gluts before the hamstrings. This is just one example of how knowing what to activate and how can change your movement patterns.

d. Awareness: One word, Feldenkrais. What is it? The Feldenkrais Method is experiential, providing tools for self-observation through movement enquiry. It is used to improve movement patterns rather than to treat specific injuries or illnesses. Feldenkrais taught that increasing a person's kinesthetic and proprioceptive self-awareness of functional movement could lead to increased function, reduced pain, and greater ease and pleasure of movement. Wow, that sounds like yoga with awareness to me.

So what is the conclusion? What We Are Doing in Asana is still being debated and investigated. It is only through the work of those who are brave enough to bring this issue to our attention that we can begin to address the impact of this practice in creating injuries. Purists may balk that this is taking the yoga out of the yoga practice. But to the contrary, what could be more in line with the practice of yoga than practicing ahimsa in our asana practice? That is…do no harm.

 

Chrys Kub is an integrative physical therapist who incorporates therapeutic yoga as a tool in her practice. She is also an educator in therapeutic yoga through teacher trainings and the yoga therapy program with Holistic Yoga Therapy Institute. She provides continuing education in yoga therapy online through YogaUOnline, HomeCEUConnection.com and PTCourses.com. She also travels throughout the United States presenting yoga therapy at conferences and to health practitioners to help spread the benefits of yoga to all who are willing to learn. You can contact Chrys at chryskub@yogaclub.us

Dr. Timothy McCall: The Best Way to Prevent Yoga Injuries

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how to avoid yoga injuries


By Dr. Timothy McCall - 

In my own experience, perhaps the most important way to prevent yoga injuries—besides such obvious things as keeping the joints well-aligned—is to pay close attention to the breath, trying to keep it as smooth, even and regular as possible.

In most instances, before a problem occurs the breath has become ragged or strained. Slow, even breathing tends to keep the nervous system calm, even when you're doing practices that are intense. If you find it impossible to keep the breath smooth, I believe you need to back off in the pose, reducing your effort or how deeply you've gone in, or simply come out. Your body is giving you a message with the breath, and you ignore it at your own peril.

Pay particular attention to the breath as you transition in and out of poses, as this is a time when many injuries occur. For those who have trouble remaining mindful of the breath, I suggest employing a light ujjayi breath, loud enough that you hear and can use as a meditative focus, but which someone on the next mat might not be able to hear. 

Of course, you also want to avoid any poses and breathing practices that are contraindicated for any medical conditions you have, for example, skipping headstand and shoulderstand if you have neck problems or retinal disease. I've written extensively on contraindications in my book Yoga as Medicine, and in many articles archived on my web site, and I also recommend Loren Fishman's work in this regard.

 But often, people have medical conditions that have not yet been diagnosed (or which they don't mention to the teacher). It's my belief that even in these instances the breath will usually indicate whether it's safe to proceed.

Also see Dr. McCall's article on yoga and safety, particularly as it applies to practicing headstand. 

Missed the Telesummit on Yoga Injuries: Facts and Fiction with great, prominent yoga teachers Dr. Timothy McCall, Judith Hanson Lasater, Roger Cole, Dr. Loren Fishman, Ellen Saltonstall, Julie Gudmestad and Peggy Cappy? There is still time to upgrade to a permanent access pass and enjoy all the session recordings as well as transcripts. More details below. For more information about Dr. Timothy McCall and his national and international yoga workshops, see DrMcCall.com.

More information on Telesummit on Yoga Injuries: Facts and Fiction

 

The Supreme Journey of Life - Quotes by B.K.S. Iyengar

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Iyengar yoga, yoga quotes, yoga inspiration


With this blog post, we continue our series of quotes from renowned yoga masters, who have devoted their life to the practice of yoga and meditation. We hope you, as we have, will find inspiration and guidance for your yoga practice and life from their wisdom and insights.

Yogacharya B.K.S.Iyengar is a living legend, who has been practicing and teaching yoga for more than 75 years. He is widely credited as one of the foremost yoga masters in the world, and through his emphasis on the fine details of alignment in yoga asanas, he has helped millions deepen their experience and practice of hatha yoga.

 

"Illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss await you, but you have to choose to embark on the Inward Journey to discover it." ~B.K.S.Iyengar

 

“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”  ~B.K.S.Iyengar

 

"He who has conquered his mind is a Raja Yogi. . . . .It is generally believed that Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are entirely distinct, different and opposed to each other, that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali deal with Spiritual discipline and that the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Swatmarama deals solely with physical discipline. It is not so, for Hathy Yoga and Raja Yoga complement each other and form a single approach towards Liberation.

As a mountaineer needs ladders, ropes and crampons as well as physical fitness and discipline to climb the icy peaks of the Himalayas, so does the Yoga aspirant need the knowledge and discipline of the Hatha Yoga of Swatmarama to reach the heights of Raja Yoga dealt with by Patanjali."   ~B.K.S. Iyengar -Light on Yoga, p. 23.

 

"The supreme adventure in a man’s life is his journey back to his Creator. To reach the goal he needs well developed and co-ordinated functioning of his body, senses, mind, reason and Self." ~B.K.S. Iyengar -Light on Yoga

 

"It took me whole decades to appreciate the depth and true value of yoga. Sacred texts supported my discoveries, but it was not they that signposted the way. What I learned through yoga, I found out through yoga."  ~B.K.S. Iyengar Light on Life, p. x

 

"Yoga recognizes that the way our bodies and minds work has changed very little over the millennia. The way we function inside our skin is not susceptible to differ either in time or from place to place. In the functioning of our minds, in our way of relating to each other, there are inherent stresses, like geological fault lines that, left unaddressed, will always cause things to go wrong, whether individually or collectively. The whole thrust of yogic philosophical and scientific inquiry has therefore been to examine the nature of being, with a view to learning to respond to the stresses of life without so many tremors and troubles." ~B.K.S.Iyengar -Light on Life, p. xv.

 

"Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open."  ~B.K.S. Iyengar

 

"If you take up any noble line and stick to it, you can reach the ultimate. Be inspired, but not proud. Do not aim low; you will miss the mark. Aim high; you will be on the threshold of bliss." ~B.K.S. Iyengar  - Light on Life, p. x.

 

"Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one's being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union -- the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one's actions."  ~B.K.S. Iyengar

 

“Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they're meant to be."  ~B.K.S. Iyengar

 

"In order to find out how to reveal our innermost Being, the sages explored the various sheaths of existence, starting from body and progressing through mind and intelligence, and ultimately to the soul. The yogic journey guides us from our periphery, the body, to the center ofour being, the soul. The aim is to integrate the variouslayers so that the inner divinity shines out as through clear glass." ~B.K.S. Iyengar  –Light on Life

Menopause, Anxiety, and Yoga

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Yoga for anxiety


By Cheryl Acheson, RYT      

My brain went wacky around 50. I have a loving husband and great kids, yet I was not enjoying my life. Menopause had bestowed on me one of its gifts—anxiety. The hamster on the wheel in my brain began running in overdrive, especially at night. Are my adult kids safe?  Will I have enough money to live on? Why is my dog coughing—do I need to get her to the vet this minute? Did that new sweater hide my back fat?  On and on it goes—and most of it is complete garbage.

The topper for me was trying to get out of a repeat family trip to Hawaii, a place I have always loved.  My brain was not working properly.  Fortunately, my young but wise physician encouraged me to seek assistance rather than go it alone. She encouraged me to continue my steady yoga diet along with guided meditation work to reduce my angst. After six months of consistent practice, I am happier and my relationships are healthier. I sleep better.

Yoga helps me deal with anxiety.  Not just any yoga.  Not the yoga of a 25-year-old with a Cirque du Soleil body sweating and pretzeling into noodle-like forms.  I am talking about the kind of yoga taught by a knowledgeable teacher who creates an environment for students to stretch their physical, mental, and (perhaps but not a requirement) spiritual selves and relax.  For those overwhelmed by worry, relaxation is perhaps more beneficial than the movement portion.  I also like a class that is fun! 

Here is what yoga gives me:

1. I have a new community and friends (young and old) whom I would never have met. There is something about being together and stripping away protective barriers that creates an environment where it is all right to share ourselves. Our common bond is we enjoy gathering together, focusing on our individual breathing, and for a multitude of reasons finding peace and sometimes even grace in moving our physical and mental selves out of our comfort zones. We support each other.

2. I am now physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger from yoga.   I have developed confidence that allows me to embrace new challenges.

3. I focus on my breath and slow it down.  This allows the body and mind to relax, which is vital to good health.  In short, the hamster in my brain stops running, if only for a few seconds.  Knowing I can stop the hamster is very powerful.  I now have the power to stop the hamster when I am not practicing yoga!

4. A specific physical benefit for me is strengthening the pelvic floor.  Why is this important?  Leakage—no one wants it.

5. I have a sense of balance—physical and emotional.  I have heard that physical balance is something we lose with age unless we specifically work on it. Who on this earth does not need to enhance emotional balance?

So, if taming the stress response sounds helpful, I encourage you to give yoga a try.  Find a teacher who is nice and with whom you can relate.  Avoid "power" and "heated" classes, as these are code words for an "ass-kicking" class.  You can certainly work up to that if you wish.  Seek out Level 1 or Beginning Yoga.  If your first class does not feel right, find another.  

Hope to see you on the mat!

 

Cheryl Acheson, RYT. Ever the student, Cheryl's training is primarily Iyengar yoga and Anusara yoga based.  She has studied with many yoga instructors, including Darren Rhodes, Max Strom, and Seane Corn.   She has also apprenticed for three years with Tom Abrehamson, one of the Silicon Valley's most dedicated pranayama and hatha yoga instructors.   With well over 500 hours of formal yoga teacher training, Cheryl is always refining her teaching skills and advising her yoga students that through the discipline and devotion of their yoga practice, they are able to calm the mind and dust off the mirror to reveal the true self as the embodiment of the divine.  Cheryl enjoys teaching yoga to beginners of all ages.

Use It or Lose It – Yoga, Exercise and the Fountain of Youth

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exercise regularly to feel good

By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D., RYT-500 - 

Judith Hanson Lasater, in a recent teleclass on YogaUOnline commented, “People often ask me if it’s necessary to practice yoga every day. I tell them, no, not at all. Just practice whenever you want to feel good!"

Most of us relish our yoga practice exactly for that simple reason—it makes us feel good! But the long-term benefits of a regular yoga practice go far beyond that—and they are encapsulated, of course, in that worn-out adage: Use it or lose it!

You’ve heard that phrase many times. But to truly appreciate its significance, it's useful to take a look at where it derives from.

One of the early studies that alerted medical researchers to the importance of exercise for physical health was the so-called Dallas bed rest study, performed back in 1966. The researchers took a group of five healthy 20 year-old men, measured their cardiovascular fitness on a series of parameters, and then put them to bed for three weeks. The five 20 year-olds weren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom without using a wheel chair!

After three weeks, the men were measured again. At the time, what the researchers found was revolutionary: In just three weeks, all five had experienced a dramatic loss in cardiovascular health and exercise capacity on all parameters measured; the equivalent of about 1% loss of capacity per day of bed rest.

The five men were then put on an intensive aerobic training program, and within an eight-week period were able to regain, and in some cases, exceed, their previous level of physical fitness.

This was one of the original use-it-or-lose-it studies. It alerted medical professionals to the fact that prolonged bed rest might not be the best way to recover from surgery or other illnesses. And, it changed our understanding of the importance of movement and exercise forever.

But that’s not all. After 30 years, the researchers took another look at the aerobic and cardiovascular fitness levels of the original five men in the study, now 50 and 51 years old. What they found was truly astounding.

In terms of cardiovascular fitness and physical work capacity, the men had been more weakened after three weeks of bed rest 30 years earlier than the three decades of aging they had undergone since then! In other words, the completely sedentary lifestyle of bed rest had put them through a time machine, and caused them to age 30 years in terms of key cardiovascular health parameters in just three short weeks.

The men were then put on a six-month endurance training program, including walking, jogging and spinning. The intensity of their workout was gradually increased until they were exercising four or five times a week for a total of about 4-1/2 hours at the end of six months.

As the end of the six months, one hundred percent of the age-related decline in aerobic power among these five middle-aged men occurring over 30 years was reversed.

Obviously, the study has numerous limitations, in particular the fact that it was done one so few subjects. Nonetheless, it speaks volumes about the importance of physical activity to maintain and improve our functional capacity at all ages of life.

The study is a sobering reminder of the risks of a sedentary lifestyle. Even though few people are sedentary to the point of being virtually at bed rest, the general principle holds: Lack of exercise will lead to significant deterioration on numerous markers of health, including cardiovascular fitness.

The good news is that, just as a sedentary lifestyle will make you decades older than you really are, regular exercise can make you look and feel, literally, decades younger. And while the Dallas bed rest study and its follow-up studies focused primarily on cardiovascular health, other studies show similar results on other markers of healthy aging, including muscle strength, flexibility, core strength, balance and coordination, and so on

So the answer to the question: 'How often should I do yoga?" is both about how you want to feel in the short term—and how you want to feel in the long term. The Dallas bed rest study is another reminder that each time you hit your yoga mat, you don't just benefit your mental and emotional well-being in the present. You make a significant investment in your long-term, future health and well-being as well.

For more inspiration for your yoga practice from Judith Hanson Lasater, check out our Yoga U Download Library, which contains numerous wonderful talks in which Judith shares her insights and wisdom about how to deepen your yoga asanas practice and teaching.

 

To Heaven With It!

By Shakta Khalsa -

Two days at home in-between lots of travel, got to truck on up to my retreat in the Shenandoahs. The path on the 20 acres is fairly low on overgrowth now that we are coming into eye-popping fall colors, and that earthy dead leaf smell…..mmmm.  I wonder about that as I walk–good case for vegetarianism, I think.  Do we ever say “love that dead animal smell”?

So the hound is doing his hound thing—nose to the ground, off on his own private adventure that not even the shepherd can follow.  Anyway, she does the shepherd thing–remains loyally close to me, ever watchful, and then reprimands the hound when he returns, by grabbing his ankles in her mouth with a little growl.   He looks at me like, “make her stop.” But I don’t.  That is just the way of the shepherd, the same as his way is to take off for 10 minutes at a time.

He’s onto the trail of something, howling.  Hope he doesn’t go into the road or on the crabby neighbor’s property.  Hope he doesn’t go off for a long time, don’t want to worry about him.  Oh, to hell with it, I think.

Then the thought occurs, ”Well, that isn’t going to help– just dismissing the situation without working through my negativity and worry.  So how about ‘To HEAVEN with it’?”  Yeah, I can get behind that idea.  Give it to Heaven, give it to the Universe.  Let the Universe work it out.  Instant relief.  I’m back on the trail, literally and figuratively speaking. Noticing the lovely smell of the leaves, the colors filling my eyes. And here he comes, happy for the chase, and happy to be back.  And maybe even happy that the shepherd cares enough to bite his ankles.

I am reminded of a quote by Yogi Bhajan: ”Don’t you know that the Divine Intelligence that created this Universe and keeps all planets rotating in their orbits can take care of your routine?
 

Shakta has been practicing and teaching yoga for over three decades, having had the great fortune to study directly with Yogi Bhajan, Master of Kundalini Yoga. Yogi Bhajan recognized her as a teacher of children, and for many years had her answer inquiries he received about children’s yoga. Shakta is an IKYTA certified Kundalini Yoga instructor and teacher trainer, an AMS certified Montessori educator, and an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance. For more info about Shakta, click here.

 

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