Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 26 - Seva (Service)

Deutsch: Flagge des Roten Kreuzes English: Fla...
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How did you serve in 2011? Do you plan to volunteer in 2012?

I missed a bunch of reverb11 posts. Last-minute holiday preparations and 2012 business planning got in the way. I might go back and write the missing posts. I might not. But losing momentum doesn't mean I have to come to a complete stop. Instead I just need to start where I am and push forward again. And the subject of Monday's prompt has been on my mind over the last few months, so it's a good place to push forward from.

In December 2010 I became the newsletter editor for the Schroon Lake Association, our local watershed conservation organization. I took over for the association's president, who had enough on her plate and needed to delegate. My schedule isn't flexible enough to go to meetings and serve on committees, but this was something I could do when I had time available.

2011 was the Schroon Lake Association's 100th anniversary, so it was a special honor to create the celebratory newsletters this year. This is from a piece I wrote for the newsletter:

Treading water to keep our heads in the pocket of air under the overturned canoe, my brother and I laughed until the echoes made our ears ring. Now, nearly 40 years later, my children play in the same clean, safe lake that we enjoyed. 
As we honor the past 100 years of Schroon Lake Association achievements, we must also look to the future. A century of foresight has saved the watershed and its ecosystem for us. Now it is our job to look ahead, so that we may leave our grandchildren with the same clear water and green mountainsides we enjoy today. 
My grandfather, Al Jacob, former SLA Vice President, was one of those forward thinkers. My aunt, Nancy Belluscio, and my mother, Linda Milsom, are part of the current SLA Board, whose watershed management plan is a roadmap into our lake’s healthy future. 
I am honored, in this special year, to be a third-generation SLA member, and I am proud to be part of the continuing legacy of lake stewardship, to protect this place which brought joy to my childhood and continues to enrich my life every day.
The Schroon Lake Association is important to my family, and I felt I was doing good by serving them. Then Tropical Storm Irene blew through the Adirondacks. Schroon Lake was spared the worst of it, but nearby towns were devastated by the flooding. I wanted to help, but only Red Cross volunteers could work the shelters. It was frustrating to watch from the sidelines, but I had to keep my home and business running and couldn't drop everything to attend the hours of volunteer training in time to be of assistance.

So I could not do much to help in 2011. But I am ready for 2012. I've joined the ranks of Red Cross volunteers and will soon be training to be a disaster services volunteer, slowly, when my schedule allows. Hopefully I'll never be called on to respond to another disaster like the aftermath of Irene, but I can help my community by responding to house fires, localized floods or anything else that disrupts lives.

In addition, I'll work at blood drives when I'm able and hope to become certified to teach the CPR courses.

There are many, many ways to serve this world. I often wish I had more time to give. But I can't go to Haiti or Japan or even New York City at this time in my life. All I can do is serve where I live. If we all did that, it might be enough.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

December 17 - Bhakti (Devotion)

Jai Uttal @ Yogamaya, Oct 24 2010
Image by Mat McDermott via Flickr
What did you devote yourself to in 2011? How will you devote your energy in the coming year?

Oh, Michelle at Yoga Freedom used on of my favorite yoga words! Some Sanskrit words feel good in my mouth. My students will tell you I teach the half moon balance just because I like to say "Ardha Chandrasana." "Bhakti" is another word I like to say. I like it even better when Jai Uttal says it when he's leading kirtan. It's a feel-good word.

This year I devoted myself to my new yoga studio. I poured energy into bringing yoga to an expanding group of students in comfortable, sacred space. I tried to work in devotion to my family, friends, volunteer work and home, but I know the studio got most of my attention in 2011.

I've already given a good deal of thought to the coming year. The yoga studio will continue to be a priority, as will incorporating my new personal training business into the studio's services. But I am striving for a better balance in 2012. I've spent time with my schedule to make sure I have time to spend with my family. Giving back to the community which supports my business is important, so in addition to the work I do for the Schroon Lake Association, I've signed on as a volunteer with the Red Cross and will be training to respond to disasters.

My half-ironman distance triathlon goal has already been mentioned in an earlier post. I've picked a race in early September and set up my training plan. I plan on devoting a good deal of energy to making my body as healthy and strong as it can be. When I turn 45 later this year (on the day of the Adirondack Distance Festival Half-Marathon, coincidentally) I want to be in better physical shape than I've ever been.

Mid-life crisis? Maybe. But it's healthier (and less expensive) than remaking myself at the mall.

And I think I'll say "Bhakti" lots and lots in 2012. Try it. I bet you can't say it without smiling.
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Friday, December 16, 2011

December 16 - Viaje (Trip)

Where did you travel this year? What was your best trip?

It is not down in any map; true places never are.
~Herman Melville

I was going to skip this reverb11 prompt because I don't travel. My only vacation this year was the weekend trip to the Wanderlust Festival in Vermont, which was a two hour drive from home. And I've blogged about Wanderlust ad nauseum, so I'll spare you more.

To be fair, I live in a place that people travel to. I don't have to pack my bags to go to the lake. Or to the mountains. I can do everything I like to do within a few miles of my front door. I don't fight traffic and teaching yoga isn't really a high-stress job. I have nothing to take a vacation from.

It's not that I wouldn't like to see new places. It's just not in the cards right now. And that's okay.

Sometimes the best trips last for hours instead of weeks. Sitting in the passenger seat while my teenage daughter negotiated a highway on-ramp for the first time, on our way to visit a college she was considering, and finding music on her iPod we both liked, made a few hours in the car memorable. The next time my daughter and I travel together she'll be moving into a dorm room.

Part of the adventure of hiking with my son this past summer was driving around, trying to find the trailheads. We were less than an hour from home, but we explored many back roads and got to meet many people when we gave up and asked for directions.

The best trip with my husband was into the backyard to recline in the lawn chairs and look up at the stars in the big Adirondack sky. Someday I may travel the world, but there is no truer place than next to my soul mate.
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December 15 - Acharya (Scholar)

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What did you study this year? What did you learn? What did you teach?

This is an easy prompt, since I spent most of the year studying for the Ace personal trainer exam, which I will be taking in one short month. I studied exercise physiology, anatomy, the psychology of change and fitness progressions.

I learned that aging has not been kind to my memory. Back in high school and college I retained everything I read. Now I can barely remember breakfast. Thank goodness for my volunteer "clients" who have allowed my to practice what I studied. I remember it all much better when I apply it.

I also studied the Chakra system, to write a series of blog posts and to prepare for the Advanced Chakra workshop I taught last month. Each time I reexamine the Chakras I learn more and get a bit more insight into myself. This year I finally wrapped my head around the seventh Chakra.

I taught yoga. I taught my yoga students how to align themselves in asanas and how to breathe deep. Those are the things I studied a few years ago. What I hope I taught was self-awareness and self-acceptance. That's something I learn more about every day.
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December 14 - Jnana (Self-knowledge)

American musician Michael Franti
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Name something you did that was completely out of character. How did it feel?

This reverb11 prompt had me stumped for awhile. I don't do anything out of character, do I? Then I remembered the rainy weekend at the Wanderlust Festival in Vermont, and the Off the Mat, Into the World benefit class with Seane Corn and Michael Franti. And I remembered doing something that quiet me would never do.

I screamed.

It started at the class before, chanting and dancing with Suzanne Sterling, one of Seane Corn's partners in the Off the Mat, Into the World charity. I love to sing despite having a terrible singing voice, so I cherish the opportunity to chant with a big group. I feel high when my fifth Chakra opens. I was walking on clouds by the time I unrolled my mat among the hundreds on the floor in the OTM benefit class.

To practice yoga with Michael Franti singing live in the front of the room was incredible. We weren't really holding poses as much as dancing in them. Then Seane called for Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel pose). I lifted up off the floor, my head dropped back and my throat opened. And all the energy built up in my body flowed out in the form of a scream.

It wasn't an everybody-stopped-to-stare-at-me scream. The music was loud and Seane was yelling into her microphone to be heard. My scream blended into the din for everyone except perhaps those right next to me. But I knew I'd screamed. It was still buzzing in my body when I lowered myself back to the floor.

Michael Franti sang us into Savasana and I drifted into bliss.

One of my yoga students commented that, since coming back from Wanderlust, my Oms have really resonated. Perhaps my fifth Chakra is a bit more open now. Maybe the next scream won't be out of character at all.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 13 - Sabio (Wisdom)

What lesson or piece of wisdom did you learn from a child this year? Did it surprise you?

There isn't enough chocolate. No, that's not what I learned. I'm just pointing out that there isn't enough chocolate to get me through this crazy week. I've been very busy and accomplished lots, but I'm behind on my reverb11 posts.

I'm also behind on my Christmas shopping, but that's a whole different story.

The reverb11 questions are getting more challenging. I was glad to have a few extra days to think about this prompt, because if I had gone with the first thing that popped into my head it would have been lame and superficial, and wouldn't have honored the little boy who teaches me something every day.

A couple of months ago, my son and I were standing by the front door watching for the school bus. While we peeked sideways through the glass, trying to see the bus coming down the street, my son told me that the day before he had been pushed off the bus seat by a classmate. He was unhurt, but momma bear's spirit rose in me and I started to growl about not letting kids pick on him. I was ready to tell him to punch the offending kid when I caught myself and stopped.

My son is not a fighter. He's not weak (you should see his 8-year-old-rock-climber biceps) but he's sweet and sensitive. He's the kind of boy who finds a bug in the house and, rather than smash it, will give it something to eat and gently take it outside. He reads and draws and creates amazing things with Legos. He hugs. He doesn't push and he doesn't punch.

While I was biting my tongue I realized that by telling my son to do something out of character I was asking him to stop being himself. I'd spent my adolescence and young-adulthood trying to be someone I wasn't and it has taken years of hard work to finally be okay with simply being me. Asking my son to be anything but who he was would start him down the same path of self-loathing that I'd traveled. The best thing I could do was support him as he worked through life's challenges in his own way.

Standing there wearing his coat and backpack, my son looked up at me and in that instant I learned what it means to truly accept someone. As the bus pulled up, yellow lights flashing, I gave him a hug and said, "I love you just the way you are." And I meant it. Then he was out the door and running down the driveway.
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Monday, December 12, 2011

December 12 - Libro (Book)

Cover of "Breathing Space: Twelve Lessons...
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What book did you read in 2011 that was most inspirational? Why?

Hmmm... The Fitness Professional's Guide to Musuloskeletal Anatomy and Human Movement isn't really inspirational. Neither is Exercise Physiology for Fitness Professionals or Ace's Personal Training Manual, but those are the books I've been reading this year. Hey, I've been studying for the personal trainer exam, so I haven't had much time to read other stuff.

I did read one book over the summer which had the potential to be inspirational, but I hated the end so much I can't even bring myself to mention it. I also squeezed in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo triology this year, which was entertaining but not particularly inspirational, unless you're a hacker.

I have to reach way back to the beginning of January, before the study guides arrived from Ace, to find a book that was inspirational. I brought this book home from Kripalu when I was there for a workshop in October 2010 and finally got to read it after the new year. The book is Breathing Space:  Twelve Lessons for the Modern Woman, written by yoga teacher Katrina Repka and Alan Finger, the founder of ISHTA Yoga.

The book is a series of pranayama (breathing exercise) lessons interspersed with stories from a year of Katrina's life during which she moved to New York City and attempted to change her life. While trying to find herself she discovered Alan Finger's yoga class and, with his help, learned to breathe. In the process, she also learned about the thoughts and behaviors that had been holding her back.

In addition to breathing exercises which I could use in my own yoga practice and when I teach, this book gave me some insight into my own behavioral patterns. The story is easy to read and I related well to Katrina and her struggles. It was a reminder to me of how transformational the practice of yoga can be. My yoga practice has empowered me to do many other things. I'm glad I teach so I can share that empowerment with other women.

After a year of studying I'm hoping to, finally, take the personal trainer exam in January and get to read something inspirational, or even just entertaining, in 2012.

Meanwhile, did you know that there are ten muscles in the thorax just to elevate and depress the ribs while you take those big, deep breaths?
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11 - Gracias (Thanks)

New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto o...
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Appreciation and acknowledgement are corner stones to building trust and deepening relationships. Write a thank you note or poem to someone who impacted your life in 2011.

Back in April I wrote a long thank-you post for everyone who helped me create the True North Yoga studio. Each one of those people impacted my life in a very positive way.

There are so many people who deserve my appreciation and acknowledgement that I cannot chose just one. Instead, allow me to present everything they've done during 2011. For these things I am grateful...

Listening to me vent when I faced obstacles, and supporting me while I worked through them.

Leading me by example to be the kind of mother my children deserve.

Making me laugh.

Holding my hand, figuratively and literally.

Dancing in the street with me.

Building steps to keep my feet out of the mud.

Keeping a bedroom clean every day.

Sitting on a rectangle mat and listening to my voice.

Challenging me to do better even though you're not trying to compete.

Keeping me warm.

Being generous.

Loving me for who I am even when I'm not acting lovable.

Sharing stories of day-to-day life.

Walking by my side while I follow my own twisty-turny path.

Choosing just to be.

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December 10 - Ananda (Joy)

A positive frame of mind is a habit. How have you silenced the propaganda factory of negativity with positive thought and behavior in your life in 2011? How has this changed your day-to-day being?

I learned a long time ago about the power of positive thoughts. For the most part, thinking positive is a well-established habit, although I occasionally sink into negativity. When I do, I have tools to help me get out of it.

I find affirmations to be a really useful tool. When I write an affirmation I pound it into my head in various ways. I write it down, then I write it down again. Sometimes I write it in fancy print and decorate it. I write it on small pieces of paper and leave them where I can see them during my day. And I say it over and over and over.

In January I took part in the Inside Out e-course* led by Shannon Kinney-Duh of Free Spirit Knits. In addition to lots of affirmations, my favorite things, I learned how to do art journaling. We played with paint, which was a new thing for me. I loved it! And I felt very creative. Giving myself permission to try things on a journal page without a care for how it looked at the end was very liberating - and very positive.

Positive energy attracts others with the same kind of energy. A group of people with positive energy can manifest anything they dream of. When others support my dreams it is easier to act on them. Positive energy makes things happen.

* Shannon has another session of Inside Out beginning on January 23rd. Check it out here.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

December 9 - Listo (Resourcefulness)

Angus MacGyver
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Welcome to my ninth reverb11 post, where Michelle at Yoga Freedom asks "How resourceful were you in 2011? What new ways could you incorporate resourcefulness into 2012?" But wait, there's more! If you keep reading you'll find an unbelievable cat and yogini video. But that's not all. There's also a recipe for an old school backpacking snack that's become my post-workout recovery favorite. So, read on...

Resourcefulness may be a requirement for living in the Adirondacks. Our growing season is two months long. Winter seems to take up the other ten months. It gets cold (really cold) in the middle of those ten months. There aren't many businesses, so folks need to come up with jobs for themselves. Those of us who don't know how to drive a snowplow have to be very resourceful.

My husband is a master of creatively overcoming difficulties. It seems that almost anything can be fixed if you have enough wire coat hangers and duct tape. Resourcefulness doesn't come as naturally to me, but I'm learning.

Money was tight during 2011 and household cleaning supplies were eating into the food budget, so I set out to find homemade replacements. I no longer buy sponges because I knitted a good supply of dishclothes and scrubbies. I've replaced brand-name window cleaner with a combination of white vinegar, cornstarch and water and replaced paper towels with clean rags. My mirrors have never looked better.

During 2012 I plan to look for new ways to use what I already have. I also intend to expand my vegetable garden and make better use of what I grow.

And come up with a really creative way to get a road bike with more than 10 speeds. (Just thought I'd put that out there in case someone has an idea.)

* * * * *

I first saw this video on YogaDork's Facebook page. Watch it, then I'll tell you what happened after I watched it.

Wow, right? I have to admit that the first time that I watched it I focused on the cat, wondering how she made it through a whole Sun Salutation without stopping to remove the cat's claws from the skin on her backside. Because that's where my cats sharp little claws would have been, especially when I started to stand up.

There was something that made me watch it again, and the next time, instead of watching the cat, I watched the yogini. I liked the way she moved through Surya Namaskar, taking her time, coming fully into each asana before moving on. And I started to wonder if I had a different cat (one that was a little calmer and perhaps fully declawed*) if I could keep the cat on my back.

Since seeing the video I have been practicing slow, deliberate Sun Salutations, as if there was a cat on my back. I set the intention to make each movement fluid, without any jerky shifts in weight. I discovered that I could move smoothly from lunge to down dog if I lifted my front foot off the floor before I shifted my weight back and raised my hips. I found I could bend deeper into cobra or upward-facing dog if I moved from the heart. I experienced my deepest forward bend when I lifted my tailbone and brought my weight forward slowly, all to keep the imaginary clawless cat from sliding off.

Yes, a cat video changed my yoga practice. Now where's that Yoga Bear?

* I'm joking here. I would not actually have a cat declawed.

* * * * *

Back to being resourceful. As much as I'd like to buy Luna bars by the case, they are beyond what I can afford on a regular basis. After a workout, when I need a quick hit of protein and calories to help me recover, I've been snacking on an adaptation of a recipe in an old Sierra Club book called Simple Foods for the Pack. The recipe, called "Peanut Butter Fudge," was meant to be eaten to refuel while hiking. I changed the recipe to use up a giant jar of vanilla protein powder that someone gave me because they didn't like it and discovered my new power food.

1 cup peanut butter (you can use crunchy peanut butter and omit the additional peanuts)
1/2 cup of your favorite protein powder (the original recipe calls for powdered milk which you can also use if you have it)
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/8 cup wheat germ
1/8 cup honey

Mix all the ingredients together until they are thoroughly combined. It works best if you use your hands.

I press the mix into a square lidded container and break off pieces as needed, but you could also cut it into squares and wrap them individually.

My teenager loves this stuff, but she keeps hinting that chocolate would be a good addition. If you are really fond of chocolate and peanut butter you could use a chocolate-flavored protein powder or add in some chocolate chips. It would make my teenager happy if you did.
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Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 8 - Dharma (The Path)

Wandering can be good for the over-focused creative. How did you wander well this year?

Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come.

Today's reverb11 question wandered around my head all day. Wandering, like Rumi calls for in my favorite quote, is my heart's truest desire. To leave my calendar and my to-do list behind and go off on an adventure, even a small one, appeals to me. I am not a world-traveler. I have no desire to sit in an airplane seat. I just want to walk away into the woods with a backpack and a journal.

Did I wander this year? Every Wednesday this summer my young son and I put our journals in our backpacks and hiked up a mountain. Step by step we explored the Adirondacks. Each week's journey changed us and our parent-child relationship. He started third grade a more confident kid, proud of his summer accomplishments. We had long talks on the trail and he still talks to me now, telling me about school and third grade girls and books he's read.

I vowed to continue hiking in the fall, but the start of the school year always seems to dampen the desire to wander. School days require a more domestic focus; clean clothes, lunches and homework take up time. But the trails will be there when I wish to wander again. Come, yet again, come.

Someday I would like to try the ultimate wander on the East Coast - the Appalachian Trail. Now that would be wandering well.
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 7 - Tranquilo (Calm)

English: Full moon seen through an opening in ...
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Sometimes the most beautiful, memorable moments are also the quietest. What quiet, beautiful moment do you recall?

As the moon waxes towards fullness this weekend, I recall gazing at a summer full moon. I had unrolled my yoga mat on the sand at Schroon Lake's town beach and honored the moon's fullness with round after round of Chandra Namaskar, yoga's moon salutations. The beach was quiet while I flowed through the feminine, hip-opening movements; the sun-worshipping beach-goers had settled into their vacation homes or one of the local eateries for the evening. As I repeated my vinyasa, the moon rose over the mountains.

When my asana practice was complete, I sat on my mat and focused my gaze on the moon and the clouds that slowly drifted in front of it. For many minutes I got lost in the moon's light glittering on the lake. The lake is busy during the day, full of power boats and jet skis, but under the full moon the lake was quiet. The only sound was the gentle lapping of the waves on the beach.

Summers here are busy, even a bit chaotic, making quiet moments all the more meaningful. I thank the moon for sharing it's beautiful energy in a rare moment of peaceful quiet.
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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 6 - Salud (Health)

Fresh Swiss chard
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What did you do for your body's benefit this year?

Over the past five years or so my body has become one of my priorities, so I can honestly say I did lots for my body's benefit this year. I can also honestly say that there is more I could be doing, but I have other priorities that need time and attention as well.

Balance is the key.

This year I was very focused on taking care of my knee so it wouldn't hurt. I got some massages, tried to be more mindful of it while I was running and incorporated more stretching into my daily routine. (Yes, I know I'm a yoga teacher and I stretched all the time, but these were very specific, targeted stretches.) My knee isn't perfect, but it's much better than it was this time last year.

I started taking vitamins regularly, including vitamin D, which my body desperately needed.

Earlier this year I gave up meat (again). After a summer of eating way too much take-out and potato chips, I refocused on feeding my family healthy meals. I just completed a week-long cleanse which reminded me that I need more leafy greens in my diet.

I tried very hard to be fit, while accepting that my fit body might not look the same as another's fit body.

I drank lots of water.

And I ran a half-marathon.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

December 5 - Sueno (Dream)

What was your dream come true in 2011? What is your wildest dream for 2012?

Ah, my dream come true is easy to pick out. Last spring I moved a pile of yoga mats out of a church basement and into a rented storefront - my very own yoga studio. It had been my dream for 2011 to find new space to teach yoga, space that was mine, decorated as I wanted it to be. And I did it.

My wildest dream for 2012? That's tougher. The universe has been pretty kind to me the last few years so I know if I put something out there it just may happen. That means making sure my wildest dream is something I really want.

Okay, here it goes...

My wildest dream for 2012 is for the Adirondacks to get a sudden influx of yoga teachers, one or two of which will settle in Schroon Lake and teach at my studio. More teachers would mean more time for me to focus on private clients and personal training, spend time with my daughter before she goes off to college, and train for a wild dream from 2011 that didn't happen because the yoga studio dream came true - a half-Ironman distance triathlon.

There, I said it. It's out there. On mile 40 of the bike, when my legs feel like they're going to fall off, I'll remember this post...
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Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 4 - Guru (Teacher)

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What was the most important lesson you learned about yourself in 2011? Was it a sudden epiphany or a gradual realization?

My inner guru had many lessons for me in 2011. The one that was most important was not new material. The teacher in my head has been saying it over and over for years. Which goes to show that even when the message starts inside my thick skull it still takes time to sink in.

Clarity came while I was standing at the kitchen sink, washing the paddle from my electric mixer while gluten-free Black-Bottom Banana Bars baked in the oven. What came was not a recipe alteration or a better way to wash, but a realization that the reason I had time to bake banana bars on a Sunday afternoon between yoga classes and a get-together with girlfriends was something I had resisted my entire life - discipline.

I could say my lack of discipline is a reaction to a twenty year stint in regimented corporate jobs, but when I'm honest with myself I know it goes further back than that. Making commitments and sticking to them was never a strong point. I blamed my inability to learn to play an instrument on lack of talent instead of admitting that I never made time to practice. It was the same with sports. I focused my attention on the things that came easily and never pushed for those that didn't.

You should have been there earlier this year for the conversation with the dentist that finally got me flossing my teeth regularly.

I learned quite a bit about discipline during yoga teacher training, since I wrote a paper on it. I struggled then with applying it to my life. I still struggle.

When I decided to train for my first triathlon, I had to make a loose alliance with discipline. When I started I hadn't run in over ten years, I hadn't swam laps since high school and my bike saw the light of day just a few times each summer. (I'm still not sure why a brief mention of triathlons made me think they were something I should be doing.) Without a commitment to a training plan, I was going to embarrass myself.

I didn't stay committed before my second race. I embarrassed myself, although I managed not to take last place.

Now, with a few years of racing under my belt, I know how important sticking to my training plan is. I've become more disciplined about training. And discipline is starting to spill into the rest of my life.

By creating small routines for housework and sticking with them, my house stays clean. By scheduling time for regular blogging, podcasting, doing volunteer work and studio bookkeeping, I can get them all done.

But the real blessing of discipline is that by getting all of those things done when I committed to doing them, my free time is truly free. I don't have to frantically clean the house on a Sunday afternoon between yoga classes and a get-together with girlfriends. Instead I can relax, my way, in my kitchen with a mixer and mashed bananas.

In that moment of clarity at the kitchen sink, I learned that I can be disciplined. And free.
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Saturday, December 3, 2011

December 3 - Anicca (Impermanence)

A river of melt-water running down the slope o...
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What did you let go of this year? Whom did you let go?

Perhaps it was yoga that taught me to accept change. Perhaps I was born knowing that everything is temporary. Perhaps life itself taught me how to adapt. In any case, change does not scare me too much. I grieve losses, but I can let go. At least, I think I can.

2010 was a tough year that forced me to face the idea that my parents won't always be here. There were funerals for two of their close friends, people I'd grown up calling "aunt" and "uncle." Later that year my father underwent cardiac bypass surgery. I struggled with fear then. Through all of life's craziness my parents have always been there, to pick me up and stand me on my feet or to lift me up and stand me on a pedestal.

2011 was better. My dad recovered and is doing well. The cardiac event prompted both of my parents to pay more attention to their health and wellness. They were there for me while my life went through some less drastic changes and supported me when I took some risks. Then, just a couple of months ago, another friend was gone, suddenly. Within a few weeks of receiving a diagnosis of cancer, the man who was my "second father" during my high school years had passed.

The hardest thing to remember when we are grieving is that change isn't just an outward flow. While we are letting go, something new is flowing in. After the funeral, eating Chinese take-out in a motel room, I opened a fortune cookie with the message "old friends who were lost will return to you." It was an interesting sentiment to receive after seeing lots of people I hadn't spoken to in nearly a decade at the funeral.

A week after the funeral I received an email from my best friend growing up, which was a huge relief since I'd lost her contact information when my computer crashed early this year. Then, just last week, I had the opportunity to reconnect with a friend I'd left behind in New Jersey. Oh, and yesterday my teenager was texting with the grandson of the man who'd passed, someone she played with as a toddler but hadn't seen for years before the funeral. I'm not interfering, but I can't help but wonder I will someday have another link to a family full of old friends.

Things flow out and things flow in. All we can count on is the flow.
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Friday, December 2, 2011

December 2 - Sangha (Tribe)

The Adirondack Mountains
Where have you discovered community in 2011? What are the defining characteristics and essential qualities of your tribe?

One thing I have always trusted is that my tribe will find me. Even in a small town in the Adirondacks, which in the off season seems to be dominated by camouflage-wearing conservatives, they found me.

My tribe is an open-minded bunch. They like to spend time outdoors. They plant vegetable gardens and watch the wildlife feast on their hard work without (too much) resentment. They eat mindfully, preparing food that tastes good without compromising their health. They don't look at me funny when I say I'm a vegetarian.

My tribe likes to laugh and finds the humor in what can be a difficult life. Many, like me, had taken a risk to live here, leaving behind steady paychecks, gigantic food stores and Barnes and Nobel for homes in the mountains. They are strong people who decided what they wanted out of life and went for it, even though it wasn't what the television was telling them they ought to want. Some don't have television now.

My tribe is creative. They are writers and artists and crafters and musicians. Most create for themselves, or to give, although some are making a living by selling their work. Even those who sell their wares continue to create because they love to do it.

My tribe is full of healers. Some, the bodyworkers, life coaches and yoga teachers, heal others. Others have practices to heal themselves. They are self-aware and continually exploring new paths to holistic wellness.

Throughout 2011 my tribe has been finding me. They found me at monthly potluck dinners with a great bunch of people, when I attended or volunteered at various events and through some local organizations. I also have an online community through blogging, Facebook and Twitter. (I even got to meet some of them in person at Wanderlust last June.)

One part of my tribe that had been missing was triathletes and runners. This year both found me and I have some people who give me support and encouragement (and a bit of friendly competition).

To be honest, I didn't have to do much looking to find community. Most of the newcomers to my tribe knew where to find me. They just had to walk in the door of my yoga studio.
Would you like to participate in reverb11? Find the prompts at Yoga Freedom.
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 1 - Palabra (Word)

Garden flower
Image via Wikipedia

Encapsulate your 2011 in one word. Why that word? What would you like your word to be for 2012? Why?

At the end of December 2010 I decided that 2011 was going to be my year to coalesce. Yoga, triathlon, creativity and family were all going to come together to make me one complete being. The plan was to make everything I loved fit into my life. Looking back, I'd say I made quite a bit of progress toward my coalescence.

I started 2011 with a secret goal – to move True North Yoga out of the church basement and into its own space. When that came to pass I had to abandon my triathlon plans to devote time to renovations, but things settled down in time to train for the Adirondack Half-Marathon. My creative side got caught up in paint colors and window decorations, then faded into the background while I devoted time to business.

My son and I climbed one mountain a week over the summer, my daughter and I went rock climbing and my husband and I played at Wanderlust. Wanderlust fired up both my yoga practice and teaching.

I am heading into 2012 feeling much more whole, like more of the pieces are fitting in. I have a solid foundation to build from.

During 2012, there are things that I have begun which need to be completed. There are ideas that need to become something real. I'd like my 2012 word to be manifesting. May it be the year when the seeds I've planted blossom into something beautiful!

Would you like to participate in reverb11? Find the prompts at Yoga Freedom.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Having the Heart to Go Faster

Pulsometr donnay
Image via Wikipedia
After I abandoned the 10K Turkey Trot I had planned for Thanksgiving Day, I decide to participate in Daily Mile's virtual 5K. We got almost a foot of snow the day before, so my 3.1 miles was on the treadmill. If you've been following my progress, you know the fastest per mile pace I'd been able to sustain on the treadmill is 11:07. Not particularly impressive, but I worked hard for that (or so I thought). My goal for last week was to get below 11 minute miles.

I completed my treadmill 5K in 33 minutes, making my new pace to beat 10:33. Still not particularly impressive, but better.

I am not a fast runner. In fact, I'm pretty darn slow considering I've been working on it for three years. Outside I could blame my slow pace on the Adirondack hills, but on the treadmill there is no excuse. I've just never really challenged myself to go faster.

It's hard for me to judge exactly how much effort I should be putting into my runs. I've been estimating my intensity on how I feel and, honestly, I can be a bit of a wimp.

When I first started my triathlon training I asked for, and received, a heart rate monitor for Christmas. It's been a cool toy to have, but I had no idea how to use it effectively and I ended up just wearing the watch part for the stopwatch.

To prepare for my triathlon comeback year, I decided it's time to stop being a wimp and figure out how to get faster. Most of the training plans I checked out were heart rate based.

Hmmm.... Could it be time to put that monitor to use?

After doing some research, I ended up selecting a plan that combined heart rate training with other skill-building stuff. Just a few days in, I have to admit that I've surprised myself. I can train faster and harder than I believed I could. Yesterday's run included six 30 second strides, during which I pushed the treadmill speed higher than it has ever gone. For the last 30 seconds I ran a 7:36 pace. I had no idea I could do that.

And my heart rate monitor said I still had more to give. Yipes.  
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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Sutras: Unbounded (1.3 and 1.4)

Yellow onions
Image via Wikipedia
Last week I started my study of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras with verses 1.1 and 1.2. This week, as promised, we get to find out why settling the mind into silence is something we want to be doing.

1.3 When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded consciousness.

The big word there is "unbounded." Consciousness without boundaries. Consciousness without limits. Sounds good, right? So what limits our consciousness when the mind is unsettled?

1.4 Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind.

The mind chatters. It creates thoughts all the time. Those thoughts tend to be very mundane and not very focused on the present. Sometimes my mind rehashes the last conversation I had with a friend. Sometimes it reminds me, over and over, of something I need to pick up at the store (except, of course, when I'm driving by the store). Other times my mind comes up with new ideas for yoga workshops or things to blog about. What my mind doesn't do is quiet down.

Underneath all that chatter is knowledge of our essential nature. Which is where things start to get tricky. Isn't it the mind that knows stuff? And if it is, how can I know anything if I turn off my mind?

If you saw the movie Shrek, you might remember Shrek saying "ogres are like onions, they have layers." Our minds are like onions. There are layers and layers of thoughts. The superficial thoughts prompt us to put another load of laundry into the washing machine. Then there are layers of memories. There are math problems and literary themes. And deeper there are reactions to the senses - touch, smell, sight, sound - that create the boundaries that turn clusters of molecules and energy into things. There is a layer of names for these things.

Underneath all those layers, at the core of the onion, is something that is not the mind. People give it different names - the watcher, the soul, the true self - but it is that essential nature that the mind hides. It is consciousness unlimited by the boundaries created by the senses and the associated thoughts. In other words, that consciousness is not constrained by the physical world.

Our true selves don't end at our skin.

When we cease all those layers of thinking, we can experience the limitless soul. That sounds pretty groovy if you ask me. But thinking is in the way. Before we can figure out how to stop it we need to know more about all that thinking that's going on. And that's for next week...
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I am determined to get back to triathlons next year, so I've started mixing some bike workouts into my week's training. (Swimming is out of the question since the lake will soon be frozen and there's no pool nearby.) I've also decided it's time to really dedicate myself to some strength training.

I'm not a big fan of weights, although I do pick up my 2- or 3-pound dumbbells occasionally. What I do like is my resistance bands. They are easily portable so I can do my workout at the yoga studio if I need to, and, unlike dumbbells, don't hurt when I drop one on my toes.

One part of my body seems to resist getting stronger, and that's my quads. It takes four or five days for my quadriceps, and particularly my right quad, to stop being sore after a fast run or a targeted workout. The four muscles that make up the quadriceps, rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and vastus medialis, are responsible for knee extension. They are important muscles for yoga, running and cycling, so I've been trying to get them stronger and better able to recover. Lunges with a resistance band are now a strength-training staple for me.

To do lunges, stand with your right foot on the middle of the resistance band, holding the ends of the band in each hand with your arms by your sides. Step your left foot back far enough so that your right knee will stay behind your toes when you lunge. You should be on the ball of your left foot. Bend your right knee a bit. Bend your elbows, lift the ends of the resistance band to almost shoulder-height and hold them there.

Keeping your core strong, back straight and chest lifted, slowly lower your left knee towards the floor. Your knee might lightly touch the floor, but don't put your weight on it. Make sure your right knee stays behind your toes and try to get your right thigh parallel to the floor. Then slowly lift up to the staring position.

Do two or three sets of 12-15 reps on each leg. You can build up by increasing the repetitions or switching to a heavier resistance band.

What I didn't resist was doing all of my planned workouts last week. I was on the treadmill or the bike trainer for 4 hours and 11 minutes, running 13 miles and pedaling 12 miles. The week included a run when I ran 11:07 minute miles, my fastest treadmill run so far.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Sutras: Silence (1.1 and 1.2)

Cumulus humilis clouds in the foreground and c...
Image via Wikipedia
Now that I've finished my series on the Chakras, I've decided to spend some time with Patanjali, the father of yoga. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a very short book of verses, has been guiding yogis for two thousand years, but I'll admit I haven't opened it since teacher training. To get me thinking about it, I'll tackle a verse or two every Sunday. The translation I have is by Alistair Shearer, so I'll be using that one, but there are others.

1.1 And now the teaching on yoga begins.

The first verse is pretty straight forward. I can picture yogis of old sitting in lotus, listening to their guru say those words. Pay attention, because here's where the good stuff starts.

1.2 Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.

Right there, in the second verse, is the crux of it. Yoga is silencing the mind. It's not eco-friendly rubber mats or butt-lifting spandex pants. It's not headstands or backbends. It's not even breathing deep. It's simply letting go of the stream of thought so all that's left in your head is silence.

Have you ever laid on the grass and watched the clouds? The breeze moves the clouds, forming them into shapes. Your mind starts to associate those shapes with animals, people or things, giving them names, and it watches for the next shape that looks like something. All the chatter in the mind is like watching the clouds, a constant stream of analysis, naming and anticipating. But what if, instead of watching the clouds, you watched the blue sky? What if your mind didn't have anything to associate with anything else? Focusing on the blue sky and ignoring the clouds is like silencing the mind. And silencing the mind is yoga.

That's all you have to do.

My husband hates it when someone says "that's all you have to do," because whatever is "all you have to do" usually requires a big commitment of time, energy, materials or money. When I say "all you have to do is replace that light fixture," he's likely to spend three weekends rewiring the house. I'm sure he just read "that's all you have to do" and cringed.

If you, like my husband, read the second verse and thought that quieting the mind might not be as easy as it sounds, you're right. It's going to take some major rewiring in your energetic house. And if you wondered why you'd want to silence the mind anyway, well, that's for next week...
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Must Bake Cookies

The rind of a lemon is exceptionally bitter, w...
Image via Wikipedia
In last week's post I admitted that I was on a bit of a baking kick. That might have been a slight understatement. I'm in a baking frenzy. Maybe the snow flurries coming down outside are making it feel like the holidays and that's why I can't seem to bake enough cookies lately. Unfortunately I'm also eating the cookies, so I'll have to keep running on the treadmill.

My baking frenzy is not completely out of control. I have one rule that I've been sticking to - I can only bake with the supplies I have in the house. After cleaning out my cabinets I discovered I've amassed a collection of gluten-free flours and other starches, as well as doubling up on things like baking soda because one box got buried near the back of the shelf. So all this baking is also helping to clean out the cupboards and use up things that might go to waste if left sitting too long.

Thanks to Google, I've been able to find recipes that use only what I had on hand, although I had to adapt some.

Beth Hyzy's blog Delicious Inspiration provied a great gluten-free sugar cookie recipe for Halloween. I had some Halloween-colored sugar and sprinkles, so I used them rather than icing the cookies. The unflavored gelatin means these cookies are not technically vegetarian, but they were really good so I decided to let that go.

I found a recipe for peanut butter and oatmeal cookies that sounded yummy, but when I checked the peanut butter jar it was pretty low. I replaced the peanut butter with cashew butter and the pecans with coconut and they came out great! I think they might be my favorite cookies (until another really good cookie comes along).

A couple of weeks ago I bought a bag full of lemons and didn't use as many as I thought I would. I didn't want the lemons to go bad, so I went hunting for a lemon cookie recipe. Bonnie's blog Bake This. Eat That. Then Move! (Bonnie is my kind of gal)  had a great recipe for Gluten-free Lemon Cookies with White Chocolate. I didn't have any white chocolate chips, so, since I'm not buying anything, I made the cookies without them. They are still good. I drizzled them with a powdered sugar and lemon juice icing to make them extra lemony.

In another burst of productivity I recorded a new podcast yoga class. Since Thanksgiving is almost here and I've been eating all those cookies, I decided to do a core-focused practice. If you've been eating cookies too, grab your mat and click the play button.

Even if my cookie baking frenzy continues through the holidays, I have Kim's amazing and very healthy cooking to look forward to at the Adirondack Women's Empowerment Retreat in January. You could join us there. All the details are here.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No Excuses, Just Do It

A chicken running
Image via Wikipedia
This morning's run was slow, but I'm on day nine of sticking to my training plan, at least in spirit. The plan assumed that I hadn't taken three weeks off due to illness, injury and laziness, so I'm not hitting the speed or distances the plan calls for. What I am doing is getting my feet onto the treadmill every time my calendar says "run."

I even spent an hour on my bike, which is set up on the trainer next to the treadmill, in a basement that's finally clean thanks to a surge of domesticity. I am determined to get back to triathlons next year and figured I would take advantage of my run plan's cross-training days for some bike workouts. It's better than starting from scratch in the spring.

This morning I was tired, but I got on the treadmill and walked. After five minutes I got bored with walking and pushed the treadmill's speed up. I did something, rather than staying in bed and taking a risk I might slip back into inertia. I'm noting this so I can come back and read it next time I think about skipping a workout.

No excuses, just do it. This is my winter mantra.

(Please note: the above picture of a running chicken has nothing to do with this post, although the chicken may, in fact, be running faster than I did this morning. It just came up as a Zemanta suggestion and I couldn't pass up a running chicken.)
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Beam Me Up, Brahman

Seventh Chakra, the final frontier...

We've reached the end of our Chakra journey. We've climbed the spine and, in the previous Chakra post, visited the third eye to find Shakira's (and our own) intuition. One more step up brings us to the crown of the head and beyond, ready to boldly go where everyone has gone before, even if they don't know it.

The Sanskrit name for the seventh Chakra is Sahasrara, which means thousand-fold. Sahasrara unfolds like the thousand petals of the lotus flower. Located in the cerebral cortex, of course the seventh Chakra governs the energy of knowing and learning. While book learning fits in there, the real knowing of Sahasrara is that of our true spiritual nature.

The ancient texts called the Upanishads teach that Brahman is the ultimate essence of everything, including the human self. Brahman cannot seen or heard. Brahman's nature can be known only through self-knowledge. When Sahasrara blooms, everything material drops away and we know our true selves. We know that we are Brahman and, therefore, everything.

Try and wrap your cerebral cortex around that one.

When the Chakras are in balance, when we live with passion and heart, when we speak our truths and trust our insight, the energy has no place to go but up. Everything we've practiced to open previous six Chakras has prepared us to dive into the very depths of our beings where we may, for what may be the briefest of moments, discover our connection to the divine source of all existence. When the connection is made, we see all that is physical as an illusion which has been masking our true nature.

So we did all that work to exist on the physical plane, only to discover that we don't really exist on the physical plane? It is, to quote Mr. Spock, "illogical." But there is more to wisdom than logic, and those whose seventh Chakras are shining a bright white light toward heaven are the wisest of us.

Sahasrara's wise energy gives us the ability to take all the information that comes at us every day, process it, and assimilate the knowledge we gain. Those with healthy seventh Chakras are intelligent, thoughtful, questioning and open-minded, while at the same time having an innate sense of connection to something greater. These are the gurus, the masters in any field of study. These are the people whose guidance we seek.

The energy doesn't always balance out, though. When the energy gets stuck in a lower Chakra or comes up against a closed mind, we find those whose beliefs come not from knowing but from simply accepting what they've been told. No matter what additional information they are given, these people won't change their minds. Then there are the cynics, who refuse to even acknowledge any motivation except the self-interest of the bottom Chakras.

Sometimes the scales tip the other way and the energy hangs out in the head rather than flowing through the lower Chakras as well. We see this in the overly intellectual types, analyzing everything to extremes and never really internalizing anything. These are the people we call "book smart;" they can recite the dictionary but never explain a thing in their own words.

Excess energy in Sahasrara can also lead to spiritual addition. Caught up in the search for their spiritual nature, these folks forget that our physical existence has requirements, like dinner. Perhaps they will find a good caretaker to remind them to eat, but these people sometimes fall victim to the those who would happily strip them of whatever physical stuff they managed to amass before they got lost in their heads.

To nurture your divine spirit without losing touch with your physical existence, spend some time learning something new. Explore different religions and metaphysical systems with a questioning, but open, mind. And sit for a few minutes each day to meditate, looking for your true self.

Developing your seventh Chakra is a bit like asking someone on Star Trek's Enterprise to beam you up. When the transporter activates, the physical body fades into particles of light and then nothingness, and you are absorbed into the cosmic stew, part of everything that is. Just make sure you have someone in a red shirt  (or a strong red energy center) to bring you home.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Tending the Hearth

HestiaImage via WikipediaIn the Greek pantheon, Hestia is the most grounded of all the gods and goddesses. She is the goddess of the hearth, which represents the center of the home, domesticity and family. While her immortal brothers and sisters played with lightning, broke hearts and toyed with humankind, Hestia sat on a wooden stool and never let the home fire go out.

I am not always as grounded as Hestia. Sometimes I'm not even close. I go through phases, sometimes lasting for months, when I feel that taking care of the house will get in the way of all the other things I need to be doing - from planning yoga workshops to writing blog posts to workouts.

A few weeks ago one of those phases came to an end, and with the end came a new realization. To snap myself out of my anti-housework mindset, I took a good look at what I was expecting myself to do every day. Then I shortened the list to something much more reasonable.

Guess what I discovered! If I stick with my realistic list and keep up with the house, I have more time. Crazy, right?

I'm back to regular morning workouts. I've been able to clean some of those "I'll never get that clean because I don't have the time" things. I've been reading the personal trainer manual again (I am determined to take that test before a full year passes from when I got the materials). I've organized my pantry, refrigerator and freezer and I have actually been cooking the food we have instead of buying more. (In other news, I've been cooking!)

And I'm baking.

Baking is the activity that most grounds me. But I can't bake in a kitchen where I have to dig for a bit of counter space. Having room to set up my mixer or roll out cookies is essential. An uncluttered counter calms me. Being able to decide to bake and get right to it, without having to tackle a mess first makes my heart sing.

Maybe preheating the oven isn't exactly the same as tending the hearth, but I feel very connected to Hestia when I bake. Producing cakes, cookies, brownies or bread feels like making something very solid, very real. Having all of the ingredients on hand means having enough. To bake is to celebrate abundance.

Wednesday night my son's Cub Scout leader called and said we had to bring snacks to tonight's meeting. Today I baked snicker doodles and peanut butter cookies. Half are going to the meeting. Some are in a container for family snacks. And some went into my newly cleaned and organized freezer, because you never know when you might need a cookie.
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