Category: Mindfulness

emotional agility-mindfulness

Emotional Agility

 

I recently came across a Ted Talk video, presented by Psychologist Susan David.

I really resonated with it. She says, “You don’t get to have a meaningful career, or raise a family, or leave the world a better place, without stress or discomfort.”

Too often we feel shame for experiencing “negative” emotions and try to force ourselves into false positivity. However, most of these “negative” emotions are within the range of normal human experience.

I say we stop labeling emotions as good or bad and learn to accept what we are feeling, knowing that it will pass with time.

All that is worthwhile does not come to us if we are not willing to experience some disappointment, failure, discomfort or fear along the way. Stress is an inevitable part of life.

I shared the video with my own soapbox spiel on social media and got an overwhelming response, which told me that other people strongly agree. Apparently, I am not alone in feeling like we have been conditioned to struggle against any emotions that are seen as negative. I’ve personally come to believe that “undesirable” emotions are not inherently bad or wrong — they just get us hooked.

In David’s book, Emotional Agility, she outlines the feelings that so often get us hooked. She lists things like self-doubt, shame, sadness, fear and anger and notes that these feelings can often steer us in the wrong direction.

She states that emotionally agile people aren’t immune to stresses and setbacks, instead they adapt. In essence, they unhook. They align their actions with their values and make small but powerful changes that lead to a lifetime of growth.

She goes on to say, “Emotional agility is not about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts; it’s about holding them loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to bring the best of yourself forward.”

I can really get behind her ideas because these are also some of the key components underlying my mindfulness-based approach to therapy.

It’s also the underpinnings of Buddhism (the original masters of mindfulness). So, in short, these concepts are not new. However, they are not very well understood or utilized in our current society.

There is a cultural conditioning that tells us we should seek out pleasure and avoid displeasure, no matter the cost. We are on a perpetual wheel, seeking happiness and joy as a constant state.

emotional agility-mindfulness

The reality is, all emotions are just passing states. We struggle when we try to cling or hold on to any one emotional experience. As a society, we value certain emotional experiences over others.

The good news is this doesn’t have to be the case. We have the power to choose. We can choose to suffer and fight against what is, or we can adapt and align our actions according to our own values.

I think that Susan David’s work on Emotional Agility is highly relevant to us as a society now. It is based in science and is comprised of over 20 years of her research and experience. It also speaks to those of us who are driven in ways that Buddhist monks simply were not.

She looks at how Emotional Agility contributes to success, rather than takes away from it. She says that, “no matter how intelligent or creative people are, or what type of personality they have, it is how they navigate their inner world – their thoughts, feelings, and self-talk – that ultimately determines how successful they will become.”

In conclusion, I am in full support of dropping false positivity and instead celebrating ALL of the feelings that accompany every meaningful success or life experience. I am releasing the need to struggle against my feelings, and I am embracing acceptance at the highest level.

Are you with me??

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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness Explained

I often get asked, “so…what is mindfulness?” Mindfulness has become a buzzword over the last few years, but what it actually is still remains unclear. I’ll begin with the basics.

The Origins

Mindfulness is a way of life derived from Buddhist teachings and philosophy. Buddha believed that pain is unavoidable and inevitable in life, but suffering is optional. The teachings compare suffering to two arrows. The first arrow is pain and stress. It is a part of being human. No one is exempt from it. The first arrow’s pain can be felt from things like natural disasters, death, loss, aging, betrayal, etc. These are all things that are out of our control.

The second arrow, however, is the one you shoot yourself in the foot with when you ruminate about the painful event or circumstance. You are, in essence, creating your own suffering when you rehash the thoughts and feelings again and again. You beat yourself up for the way you are feeling. You don’t want to feel the stress associated with loss or change. Therefore, more suffering ensues.

Core Concepts

The idea of mindfulness is to be open to feeling your feelings; the full range of them. When you struggle against what is, you suffer.

Mindfulness is about acceptance at the deepest level.

Even if you are not able to come to full acceptance of something, you can at least learn to tolerate difficult feelings and emotions better. Thus, you will suffer less and you will struggle less against unwanted reactions to events outside of your control.

The Role of the Amygdala

When you do find yourself in a place of stress, there are a range of physiological reactions occurring in the mind and body.

In this post, we will focus primarily on what is happening in the part of the brain called the Amygdala. The amygdala is the middle part of the brain that is always scanning for threats in the environment (or even in your own emotions). Its job is to sense a threat and then sound the alarm to initiate the fight-or-flight response in the body.

Now, the amygdala is very important (it’s not all bad!). It keeps you safe from real dangers. We would not have survived as a species without it.

The problem with out modern day lifestyle is that even things that are not truly dangerous or life threatening are seen as dangers by the amygdala. Things like being in traffic, running late, or having a lot of work to do. The body reacts to these stressors in much the same way as it would an attacking lion. Thus, we find our amygdala’s often end up highly sensitive and highly reactive, causing a cascade of physiological issues. The body and the nervous system become very dysregulated over time. Things get out of whack and out of balance.

Mindfulness is both:

  1. A way of life

  2. A skill

Mindfulness as a Way of Life

When I talk about mindfulness as a way of life, I am referring to the set of values inherent in mindfulness. These are values such as openness, non-judgment, non-attachment, compassion, and acceptance.

The idea is to be open to the present moment without judgment; to allow yourself to experience the range of thoughts, feelings, and sensations without being attached to them (merging with them) or pushing them away.

The intention, then, is to experience the thoughts, feelings, and sensations with compassion and acceptance. You accept reality as it is, without clinging to it OR trying to change it in any way.

This is where I lose some people with the concept of mindfulness. I mean, if something were bad, why WOULDN’T you try to change it? Great question! (And it isn’t the point).

What we are talking about here is things that aren’t in your control (truly). You can’t change certain events or circumstances, but you can change your response to them. And THIS is what mindfulness is really about. It is about the choices you make in each and every moment, when you are truly present and grounded in what is.

You can choose openness, non-judgment, non-attachment, compassion, and acceptance in any moment.

Mindfulness as a Skill

This brings me to my next point; that mindfulness is a skill. When you learn to quiet the reactivity of the amygdala, then you are better able to think and function in any given moment. You are able to respond with clarity and calm, rather than reacting to a never-ending set of perceived crises.

With practice and over time, the amygdala will become less reactive to stimuli (including your own inner states). You are effectively wiring the brain toward greater resiliency and less anxiety.

Your stressful thoughts and feelings will become more manageable. You will be less inclined to fight, run, or freeze up under pressure. Life becomes SO much more enjoyable when you are not fighting against it.

What I love

As a therapist, I strive to be inclusive. What I love about mindfulness is that is it is applicable to people of all ages, races, physical abilities, and religious or spiritual beliefs.

This, my friends, is mindfulness explained in a (little) nutshell. There is much more, and that’s the beauty of it. It is a simple concept, but offers us a deep well to explore and seek nourishment from.

Looking to learn mindfulness for self-mastery? Click here to learn more.

Need mindfulness explained one-on-one? I am happy to chat. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation you can schedule here.

yoga-benefits-mental-emotional-physical

Why Yoga? How Yoga impacts physical, mental and emotional health.

The latest research is showing us that yoga benefits mental, emotional, and physical health greatly.

Sometimes, when we think of yoga, we think of super flexible people bending into crazy contortions. However, the most therapeutic forms of yoga are very far from this.

To me, the real benefits come from moving the body in a healthy manner and learning to connecting to the core aspects of oneself.

There are infinite definitions of yoga. However, Bija Bennett, author of Emotional Yoga, explains it simply when she says:

“Yoga is the art of linking to all parts of yourself – your body, your thoughts, your awareness, and your emotions. Each time you attempt to link with any aspect of yourself or your world, you are doing yoga.”

Yoga connects you to every aspect of your being through the vehicles of breath, movement, and meditation. Cutting-edge research in neuroscience is confirming what ancient yogis knew; yoga is a complete system that allows you to shift habitual patterns in astounding ways that can profoundly impact your thinking and your physiology.

Yoga has been shown to regulate hormones, restore natural circadian rhythms, increase heart rate variability (a key indicator of health), and rewire the brain. This is no small feat.

Yoga also works to help rebalance both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. By doing cross-lateral movement, you are repairing functioning to your brain and improving communication between both hemispheres.

The practice of yoga, breathwork and meditation helps shift the mind from rumination and fear into clarity and calm. Therefore, yoga provides an effective means for addressing depression, anxiety, PTSD and the chronic stress that is so prevalent in our modern society.

Yoga benefits us on the physical, emotional, mental, energetic, and spiritual levels to effect lasting change. As you connect and link to all levels of yourself, you are internally facilitating powerful mind-body communication that can radically change your life. You may discover that you sleep better, find more balance through life’s ups and downs, and feel more fully alive than ever before.

Additionally, your emotional life will reap the benefits. Bija Bennett says:

“As you connect with your emotions, you begin to accept them for what they are, instead of resisting them. You begin to explore your perception of reality – the fears and habitual responses, which you believe to be real. This exploration initiates a shift from a defensive reaction to a more conscious action.”

Overall, you will find that a consistent yoga practice provides a sense of internal spaciousness. This spaciousness will leave you feeling both calm and empowered, knowing that you have the always have the ability to make choices for yourself and your relationships. In turn, this can help you be more proactive, productive and effective in your daily life.

Most importantly, yoga benefits can be for everyone. One of my teachers, Amba Stapleton, says:

“If you have a spine, you can do yoga.”

Even if you are simply watching your breath as it enters and exits your lungs, you are doing yoga.

Certainly, not all types of yoga are appropriate for every person. There are many different styles of yoga out there, and some are more conducive to therapeutic work than others. When choosing a yoga class, be sure to choose something that is a good fit with your physical ability level and accommodates to any special needs you may have. Chair yoga is surprisingly effective for many people, whereas other people require a highly rigorous practice. Whichever style you choose, know that a properly suited yoga practice can benefit your entire system.

You are never without choices. With careful attention, you can shift your physiology and emotional responses over time to discover a life that is more deeply fulfilling and enjoyable. Now that you know how yoga benefits mental, emotional, and physical health, there is no reason not to give it a go.

Yoga is a cutting-edge approach to mental and emotional health. If you have tried other approaches and are interested in experiencing something different, please reach out. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation so you can see if yoga in therapy is a good fit for you.

Ho’oponopono: A mindfulness meditation to heal the thoughts.

Ho’oponopono is a powerful meditation practice, based in Hawaiian spiritual tradition.

As humans with active minds, we can be extremely harsh with our self-talk and inner dialogue. We may say cruel or hurtful things to ourselves, or we may think negatively about others

As a species, our brains have become more efficient over time by learning to categorize and label.

However, inadvertently we have also become trained to judge and compare. It’s a natural reflex.

It’s a tendency that has been helpful in our survival, but it can do great damage to our psyches. Being overly judgmental is a corrosive stance that can eat away at you over time.

Just as we blame ourselves for not being better or doing better, we blame others for not doing better or being better.

Often, if a client is having a hard time practicing mindfulness and becoming aware of his or her thoughts, I will teach them the Ho’oponopono Meditation Practice.

This practice provides a concrete “protocol” for becoming aware of negative, hurtful, or judgmental thoughts and then shifting your thinking.

Generally with mindfulness, the idea is to notice the thought, acknowledge it, and then let it go.

However, this meditation takes it a step further by offering an opportunity for healing the thought or thoughts.

It works on the mental, emotional and energetic levels.

There are 4 simple steps to this Ho’oponopono practice. If you find yourself having a negative or judgmental thought (about yourself or others), then give this a try.

It goes like this:

In your own mind, say to yourself:

  1. I’m Sorry
  2. Please Forgive Me
  3. Thank You
  4. I Love You

This is powerful stuff! First of all, just saying “I’m sorry” (even to yourself) can help you shift away from blaming yourself, trying to justify your actions, or looking for evidence about how others may have caused your actions. When you say, “I’m sorry,” you are acknowledging and accepting responsibility for your part, without judgment.

“Please forgive me,” helps solidify the apology into a concrete act. It’s a direct request to move on from it.

“Thank you,” is an acknowledgment and acceptance of the previous steps. It allows you to move forward in gratitude.

“I love you,” is setting the path for the new direction. It sets a tone of a peaceful, happy heart. This energy undoubtedly radiates out to others, and generally is received and reciprocated.

Doing these 4 steps in the Ho’oponopono can work wonders in your life. The key is to practice it very regularly (as much as possible!).

Blaming yourself or judging others does not make us feel good deep down. Even though many people do it in an attempt to feel better in the moment, it usually has a negative effect over time.

This meditation practice has the power to help you develop self-compassion and forgiveness.

Thoughts have the power that you give them. Why not use your thoughts to build yourself and others up, instead of tearing down.

I also want to note that this meditation is not intended to shame you for having negative or judgmental thoughts. We all do — it’s okay! It’s normal and natural, and it happens to everyone.

This meditation is also not intended to “push away” the so-called bad thoughts or feelings. Instead, it is a spiritual process of noticing, acknowledging and attending to the thoughts in a mindful way.

Want to learn more practices like this one? Contact me about individual work. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation to see if mindfulness-based therapy is right for you.

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Ten Questions for Making Empowered Life Choices

We all make choices everyday.

Debbie Ford, author of The Right Questions, says:

“Choice might just be our most precious gift”

In my work as a mindfulness-based therapist, I would have to agree. Much of what I talk about in session is around choice. Part of the work is shifting perspective from a place of choice-less-ness into choice-full-ness.

With that comes a great deal of responsibility. It is with a sense of choice-full-ness that one must own their actions completely.

When you own your choices, actions, and outcomes, there is little room for blame or other avoidance strategies.

You accept that you can make choices that support and affirm your being, or you can make choices that disempower and derail you.

You can make choices that enhance your vitality, or you can make choices that increase your suffering.

It’s really up to you.

Inevitably, some discomfort will arise when you are making decisions about matters that are close to your heart. And thats okay — it’s part of being human! Discomfort can be a sign that you are fully alive. It’s an indicator that you are getting out of your comfort zone and taking a risk.

Maybe you find yourself at an important life crossroads. Or maybe you are just trying to make decisions today that will improve your tomorrow.

Either way, I recommend asking yourself these questions anytime you are faced with a choice.

These questions are from Debbie Ford’s book, The Right Questions. You can use them to get clear on your motivations for making a certain choice, or you can use them to clarify if a certain choice will support your best interest (or not).

Here are the ten questions:

  1. Will this choice propel me toward an inspiring future, or will it keep me stuck in the past?
  2. Will this choice bring me long-term fulfillment or will it bring me short-term gratification?
  3. Am I standing in my power or am I trying to please another?
  4. Am I looking for what’s right or am I looking for what’s wrong?
  5. Will this choice add to my life force or will it rob me of my energy?
  6. Will I use this situation to grow and evolve or will I use it to beat myself up?
  7. Does this choice empower me or does it disempower me?
  8. Is this an act of self-love or is it an act of self-sabotage?
  9. Is this an act of faith or an act of fear?
  10. Am I choosing from my divinity or am I choosing from my humanity?

You can use any (or all) of these questions when faced with a choice. Some of the questions may apply to certain situations more than others, or some of the questions may not resonate with you at all.

My advice: use what works for you.

I personally find all of these questions to be powerful opportunities for reflection. I have also found that when I check my choices against these questions, I end up feeling more empowered and less uncertain. These questions help reduce my anxiety while propelling me toward what I really want.

I hope that these questions will serve you well as you work to build your ideal life. May they guide you to an inspiring future.

Still need help making some big life decisions? I can help! Whether you are thinking about a career move, ending a relationship, or making some big lifestyle changes, I am here for you.

Through the process of inquiry, we will get to the bottom of the matter and develop a strategy that will leave you feeling more confident in the decisions you make.

Reach out now.

How to Re-Energize Yourself in Five Minutes (or less!)

I’m about to share with you one of my favorite ways to re-energize yourself and recharge your battery. What I love about this practice is that it can be done quickly. It’s a simple process that only requires one thing: sunlight.

This exercise can be done inside or outside. If you live in a place that is consistently cloudy part of the year, then this may be more challenging. However, even if it’s bright but cold outside, you can still practice this through a sunny window. Ideally, you’ll be able to be outside somewhere in nature, but do what you can!

Here’s how it goes:

  1. Plant your feet on the ground and stand up tall.
  2. Feel the support of the surface beneath you.
  3. Take in three slow, deep breaths while feeling the soles of your feet.
  4. Begin to feel the sunlight on your face and body, letting it warm and comfort you.
  5. Imagine that you have an empty column or battery-like shape in your core. This column runs along your spine from your tailbone up the top of your head.
  6. Now imagine that with every breath, the sunlight begins to charge up this inner battery, from the bottom up.
  7. Keep breathing and using your imagination, allowing the sun to power you up until your “battery” is full.
  8. Once you feel fully charged, take in a couple more deep breaths to soak up the energizing effects of this practice.
  9. Allow your eyes to open, and go about your day.

I hope you find this exercise useful. I’d love to hear about your experience in trying it out!

Health Kick or Eating Disorder?

An article in the UK-based Independent outlined 6 warning signs that your health kick might be an eating disorder.

The six signs are:

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with food thoughts?
  2. Do you have rigid rules around food?
  3. Do your rules affect your mood?
  4. Do people close to you notice your extremity?
  5. Do you categorize foods as good and bad?
  6. Does food dictate what you do socially?

When I first saw this article, it really hit home because I have experienced all of these warning signs. What is scary about this kind of eating disorder is that it’s easy to fool yourself (and others) into thinking that you’re doing something healthy.

When I was in my early 20’s, I went on a slew of health kicks. It began innocently enough as I was trying to resolve some diagnosed health issues. I believed that I could greatly improve my health through my diet. (I still 100% believe that diet and nutrition are critical parts of health — mental, physical and emotional).

I tried raw, vegan, and “clean” eating. While I felt better at first, I began to rapidly feel worse. I lost a lot of weight. I made an emergency visit to the doctor because I thought something was terribly wrong with me. In hindsight, I was having a panic attack, but didn’t know it at the time. My health habits were causing a high amount of anxiety.

They took my weight at the doctor’s office and I weighed 105 pounds (I am 5’6” so that is definitely too low to be healthy). I had just come off a 5-day juice cleanse. I my mind, it was something to be proud of. I was taking control of my health. When I told the doctor, she was critical and suggested I put on more weight by lifting my restricted way of eating and adding in more variety of foods. I wrote it off under the guise that Western doctors don’t know what real health is. I thought they were all just brainwashed to believe in the merit of the standard american diet, while I knew better than that. I left the doctor’s office feeling frustrated and misunderstood.

As the months went on, I noticed that I had stopped with a lot of my regular social activities because I felt people didn’t understand (or support) my way of eating. I didn’t want to have the pressure of being around “bad” foods, so I just opted out of social events or dinners with friends all together. I was lonely. People began to express concern, but again I ignored it because I thought they just didn’t understand.

This loneliness eventually led me to binge on the “bad” foods in private. I would obsess over obtaining the object of my craving. Once in hand, I would start eating it and couldn’t stop. I had all sorts of justifications and rationalizations for this, including, “if I finish it all tonight, then I won’t have any tomorrow (or ever again).” This kicked off a whole cycle of guilt and shame. Many of you reading this may know this cycle well.

However, once I was able to recognize that the stress, shame and guilt began to outweigh the benefits of my health kick, I knew it needed to change. It didn’t happen overnight, but I am fortunate that I had the tools, resources, and support to shift my habits. I slowly began to ease back into an more balanced approach to eating again. However, it wasn’t until years later that I realized that my “health kick” was really a form of an eating disorder.

My advice: check out this list and see if anything strikes a cord. If you recognize some of these warning signs, be really honest with yourself about where you’re at with it.

If you notice someone you care about displaying some of these, then it may not be easy to approach that person about it. Likely, they will defend their choices in the name of health. However, keeping an eye out and letting them know you are there is a great starting point.

Disclaimer: I would never want to discourage people from eating more cleanly and avoiding processed foods (for the most part). I think it’s always a good idea to add in more organic, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as high quality meat (if you eat meat). I would also never want to encourage friends or family to judge someone’s healthy lifestyle as “disordered” without having a clear understanding of what an eating disorder looks like. Sometimes it’s hard for people to develop healthy habits because of a lack of support. I would not want to contribute to this lack of support for a healthy lifestyle by writing this article.

Here’s the invitation:

Step into a healthy relationship with food.

  • A relationship where you don’t obsess or stress over food.
  • A relationship where you don’t need to label foods good and bad.
  • A relationship where you are able to ask your body what it needs and nourish it appropriately.

How to Relieve Anxiety in 3 Minutes or Less

There is an exercise that I often like to use with my clients and yoga students. It’s called “Five Things.” The purpose of the exercise is to bring your awareness fully into the now.

This is very useful during times of stress, anxiety, and even panic. If you ever get to a point where you are overwhelmed and things feel like they are swirling around you, then this practice can be especially helpful.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Notice how solidly they are connected to the floor.
  2. Now, notice 5 things that you notice. The idea is to engage as many of your senses as you can.
  3. If possible, notice one thing you can see, one thing you can hear, one thing you can smell, one thing you can touch, and perhaps a taste in your mouth.

For example, “I notice a white lamp, I notice the sound of people talking. I notice the smell of food cooking. I notice the texture of the shirt I am wearing. I notice a sweet taste in my mouth.”

You get the point…

This is an exercise designed to ANCHOR you in the present moment, even if everything around you seems to be chaotic or out of control.

This can help greatly to calm anxiety and panic, because (generally) when you are fully present, there is no immediate threat in that moment. It also helps you momentarily let go of all the to-do’s that exist in the future.

When you become aware of your immediate surroundings, you tune into what is real in the moment. Most of what we worry about only exists in the future or the past.

Planting the feet is ALWAYS good practice, no matter what the situation. If you are skipping the rest of the exercise and only doing step #1, you are still going to find some benefit.

However, if you are able to do the “5 Things” exercise in it’s entirety, then you are well on your way to finding relief.

Give the exercise a try and comment below on your experience!

What is Somatic Therapy?

Somatic Therapy Defined

The word somatic is derived from the Greek word “soma” which means living body. Somatic therapy combines ancient mind-body practices with the latest research in psychology and neurobiology.

The idea is that many of our emotions and memories are stored in the body, especially with trauma. Therefore, in order to access and heal our emotions and memories, we need to work with the body, not just the mind.

Due to cutting-edge research in these areas, somatic psychology is increasing in popularity as it’s efficacy is becoming more well-known and understood.

Psych Central states that, “According to somatic psychologists, our bodies hold on to past traumas which are reflected in our body language, posture and also expressions. In some cases past traumas may manifest physical symptoms like pain, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, sexual dysfunction and immune system dysfunction, medical issues, depression, anxiety and addiction.”

The Goal of Somatic Therapy

The goal of somatic therapy is to utilize the body in releasing stored tensions. Basically, it all comes down to regulation of the nervous system and the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response gets triggered under stress or perceived threat, such as being late, reaching a deadline, or getting cut off in traffic. This occurs DAILY for many people, resulting in chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. jenna-griffith-somatic therapy-yoga

There are many forms of somatic therapy. If you have been in therapy before, you may recognize it. A somatic therapist will often ask a client, “where do you notice that in your body?”

In my practice, I often focus on breath work and yoga as a way of releasing tension and restoring balance in the nervous system.

Tai chi, qigong, and other forms of mindful movement are equally effective.

By practicing mindfulness through somatic (body-centered) approaches, you are:

  • Re-wiring your system toward increased balance
  • Creating an internal clarity and calm
  • Learning to stay present and keep breathing, even under pressure
  • Becoming less reactive.

These skills continue to strengthen with regular practice over time, and can have a significant impact on reducing stress and increasing health in the long-run. This is why many people are turning to somatic psychotherapy as a form of treatment.

I highly recommend trying out some mindful movement (ideally with an experienced practitioner) as soon as you can.

You can also check out my introductory blog post on the benefits of yoga for mental, emotional, and physical health.

Want to speak with me directly to see if somatic therapy is a good fit for you? I offer a free 15-minute consultation. Click here to schedule one today.

 

 

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Emotional Agility

  I recently came across a Ted Talk video, presented by Psychologist Susan David. I really resonated with it. She says, …

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