The Slow Path is the Best Way

One of my favorite mantras, or quotes that I live by is, “The slow path is the best way.” For me, this speaks to the value of doing things consistently over time for lasting, optimal results. I see the slow path as a lifestyle; a commitment to staying on course rather than expecting immediate results. 

The slow path (evolution) takes time. 

It took me a while to appreciate the slow path. When I started on this journey over twenty years ago, I was attracted to physically demanding dance, yoga, and martial arts practices.

I didn’t have much patience and the thought of meditating made me nervous. I could only manage to meditate for a few minutes after I’d exhausted myself in a power yoga class. Occasionally, I injured myself due to a lack of awareness of my body and improper form.

In 2004 I moved from New York to Boulder, Colorado. Even though I didn’t know anyone there, I felt that this move was important for my evolution. I began studying Tai Chi which became my formal introduction to the slow path. 

In the movie The Matrix there are different scenes where time slows down. Learning Tai Chi was a similar experience, as it felt like everything slowed down. I became aware of every single pedestrian movement and layers of body armor started to melt away. 

I had no idea how much stress I was holding until I slowed down.

Studying Tai Chi helped me discover new ways of tuning into my body. While I still enjoyed pushing myself physically, my internal awareness increased significantly. For the first time I was able to settle into meditation. 

A few years later I was awarded a modeling scholarship by the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. Rolfing is a form of intensive bodywork that involves manipulating the body’s deep connective tissues for enhanced structural alignment. It’s a form of non-invasive reconstructive surgery.

Since I was actively involved in yoga community, the Rolfing school was interested to see how I would respond to the Ten Series. The Ten Series consists of ten, 2-hour long sessions that focus on freeing restrictions or holding patterns in particular regions of the body.

Rolfing is incredibly intense work, and I would leave each session feeling so exhausted that I would have to lie down for an hour afterwards. The work was targeting various imbalances in my body due to a mild scoliosis, many of which I had never been aware of.  

Much like the effect of Tai Chi, everything slowed down. 

Experiencing the Ten Series showed me how the scoliosis had affected various parts of my body. As I walked through the grocery store after having my feet worked on, I realized that my right foot had been always been partially supinated (when your foot rolls out). 

It felt like I was learning how to walk all over again.

By the end of the series my posture had improved and I even grew a little taller. My yoga practice slowed down and I was able to tune in on what was happening in each pose with greater clarity. Forward bends like Downward Dog became increasingly therapeutic.

This experience opened the door for me to establish my Qigong practice. In 2014 I moved back to New York where I began learning this form of internal martial arts. Standing qigong involves holding postures for 30-60 minutes at a time.

Through consistent practice, I’m able to use this technique for maintaining my spinal imbalances. It took a lot of patience to get to this point. It also helped me navigate the challenges I faced when I moved back to Colorado.

I am very excited to share the next evolution of my journey on the slow path. The best way to stay up-to-date about these new developments is to join my newsletter.

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Mind Your Feet

Artistic Statement: Dance – Emily Seymour

I view dance as a medium for life force energy cultivation; it is a matrix for various movement technologies. This feeling of heightened awareness is like an electrical current moving through my body. I have experienced this sensation through movement, music, meditation, and while observing dance.

I’ve been aware of this phenomenon since my early childhood. My father is a musician, and so I asked him why I had goose bumps when I listened to music. He explained that it was an effect of the aesthetic sense, but that felt like only part of the answer. I went searching for more answers, which I discovered through dance, yoga, and martial arts.

The common denominator that wove these modalities together has many names: àse, chi, prana, mana, and pneuma are all used to describe this concept of vital energy.

I was blessed to connect with teachers who furthered my understanding of the conductive nature of dance. One of my primary teachers was dancer, choreographer and anthropologist Arthur Hall. I also completed immersive studies with Yogi Nataraja Kallio and Dr. Avi Ginsberg.  

I dance because it recharges my human battery. For me, the effects of dancing extend beyond the benefits of exercise, lifestyle and diet. This nourishment has sustained me through some of the greatest challenges in my life. It is alchemical, meditative and therapeutic; it is a taste of freedom that I aspire to share in my service as a teacher.

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A Yoga Joes Holiday Salute

Just for fun, a client gave me a set of Yoga Joes for Christmas.

(It made my day)

By sheer coincidence, I discovered them a week ago. I saw an ad and my immediate thought was:

I want those!

I didn’t know anything about Yoga Joes, I just thought they were great. Turns out they were a Kickstarter project.

Dan Abramson created Yoga Joes to help promote yoga practice, especially among people who might not be likely to try yoga. He hopes to inspire beginners, men and veterans. In one interview, he explained:

Because yoga is for everyone, it reaches far beyond the cliche of a skinny, pumpkin spice latte white girl. All kinds of people can benefit from the strength and focus that comes from a good stretch, and I hope people who look at this toy, will consider giving it a try.

It’s the sort of thing I’ll never buy for myself, so it was a perfect gift. I received the original Yoga Joe set, with Headstand, Meditation (a.k.a. Easy) Pose, Cobra Pose, Warrior One, Warrior Two, Child’s Pose, Tree Pose, Crow Pose, and Downward-facing dog.

I really like the attention to detail. And I appreciate the accuracy of the poses, such as how the foot is placed above the knee in Tree Pose. The body type of the models is true to form (observe the shoulders in Child’s Pose:)

It was one of many gestures of kindness from all of the amazing people that I’m blessed to work with. To express my gratitude, I put together a little Yoga Joes salute in their honor.

I had so much fun playing with my new toy. They’ll most likely travel, but these are their starting points.

From our home to yours, wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

 

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Intro to Pranayama Training Course

“When the breath wanders the mind is also unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still and the yogi achieves long life.” – Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Excerpt from the Intro to Pranayama training course:

My Story

I started practicing pranayama ten years ago. I spent two years studying the techniques and theories. Before then, I’d received a very brief introduction to pranayama through drop-in yoga classes. The intricate breathing practices were interesting, but I was much more attracted to the physical practice of yoga.

When I decided to become a yoga teacher I started learning basic pranayama techniques. Honestly, I didn’t want to do it! I didn’t have much patience and foolishly thought it was too easy for me.

The truth was that the idea of meditation was a little terrifying. I had been working with an anxiety disorder and the suggestion to sit quietly with my own mind seemed impossible.

[Recommended Reading: Up to 67% of People Would Rather Receive an Electric Shock than Meditate]

There’s a saying in yoga: That which you resist is the thing you need the most.

Hindsight being 20-20, pranayama was exactly what I needed. As a kid I was diagnosed with asthma, so my lungs were already weak. A solid pranayama practice would have helped immensely. But my ego was getting in the way of my ability to take care of myself…

My yoga teacher could see that I wasn’t breathing properly. He insisted that I learn the basic techniques. I went on learn the more advanced techniques and over time the theories began to take root. Eventually, I began to experience the more profound, subtle effects of pranayama.

What did I learn?

Pranayama training gave me a great appreciation for internal yoga practices. I also respect the many health benefits of asana practice. Americans have explored this facet of the yoga diamond extensively, due to our appreciation of the athleticism of the human body.

But I will say this…

If you never go beyond the physical practice of yoga you are shortchanging yourself.

The best analogy I can offer is:

If you take a bunch of vegetables, cut them up and put them into a pot, pour water over them but never turn on the stove… and somehow, you’re expecting that it will transform into soup.

Obviously, that’s never going to happen.

The way to light the fire of yoga practice is through comprehensive application and cultivation of the internal practices. It’s absolutely essential to have a well-rounded understanding of all of the branches of yoga in order to make real progress.

There’s a popular misconception that yoga can be anything to anyone, which is simply not true. Not in the traditional sense of what yoga is – a path to Self-realization and union with the divine.

So let’s begin…

For more information please visit: Personal Yoga: Intro to Pranayama Training Course

 

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Asteya: Yoga’s Answer to Hungry Ghost Syndrome

I met a hungry ghost at a dinner party. I know the type, but had never met one who was so far gone. We had an eye opening conversation that got me thinking.

The concept of hungry ghosts comes from Chinese Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folklore. Hungry ghosts are lost souls, often depicted as having long, thin necks and huge swollen abdomens. According to tradition, evil deeds such as killing, stealing and sexual misconduct lead to becoming a hungry ghost.

“Defined by a fusion of rage and desire, tormented by unfulfilled cravings and insatiably demanding impossible satisfactions, hungry ghosts are condemned to inhabit shadowy and dismal places in the realm of the living. Their specific hunger varies according to their past karma and the sins they are atoning for. Some can eat but find it impossible to find food or drink. Others may find food and drink, but have pinhole mouths and cannot swallow. For others, food bursts into flames or rots even as they devour it.” – Hungry Ghosts: their History and Origin

This person was a living embodiment of the hungry ghost archetype. I soon realized that I was talking to a black hole of self-despair. I tried helping her but after a few attempts she became hostile so I let it go…

At the end of the night she had a flashback to a past trauma (poverty and starvation). She kept repeating:

“I was so hungry.”

One way she chose to deal with this was by directing her anger at the wealthy class. People she had never met or had any direct contact with. In her mind taxation was the solution to wealth inequality. She admitted that she lives beyond her means and has significant debt.

The interaction left me feeling drained and unsettled. One way I handle troubling situations is through research and contemplation (Jnana Yoga). My reflections led me back to the third Yama of Ashtanga Yoga: Asteya.

The Yamas are the universal ethical practices of yoga. Paired with the Niyamas (observances) these moral restraints form the foundation of Patanjali’s eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.

Asteya means non-stealing. One could say that stealing is a response to a sense of powerlessness which stems from feelings of not being enough.

In this context, stealing extends beyond more obvious forms of theft (examples: pick pocketing, burglary, etc.). Stealing may also include:

  • Other people’s ideas
  • Disregarding personal boundaries
  • Having an envious state of mind
  • Taking up a person’s time or attention
  • Energy (succubi/incubi)
One thing we do know is this: many people who experience interactions with psychopaths and narcissists report feeling ‘drained; and confused and often subsequently experience deteriorating health. – The Psychopath: The Mask of Sanity

She had what I would call a hungry ghost syndrome. Somewhere along the way these people lose their connection to their personal power. It may be a result of abuse, resulting in any number of dependencies.

Asteya is a reminder that we are enough. Learning how to cultivate our personal power is an excellent way to reverse the mindset of hungry ghost syndrome. Building our energy reserves allows us to feel balanced, strong and healthy when we go out in the world.

Some ways to do this include: meditation, taking care of your body, self-love, and alone time. In my Intro to Pranayama course I teach people how to access their own complete, full source of energy.

Final thought from the Yoga Sutras:

Once non-stealing has been permanently established, all riches will be available.

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Practice, Practice, Practice Alone

Sensory Deprivation Tanks – Pratyahara for Modern Day Life

Finally!

I’ve wanted to try a sensory deprivation tank for years. It’s been on my bucket list after hearing friends swear by them.

As luck would have it, Parker is home to the largest float spa in Colorado. I was delighted to find a Groupon deal for a 90 minute session at the Astral Float Spa.

…invented by John Lilly back in 1954, it is a lightless, soundproof tank inside which subjects float in salt water at skin temperature. The tanks are now also used for meditation and relaxation and in alternative medicine. The best thing you can do for your mind, body and soul. The only environment like it is in space or back in the womb. – Astral Float Spa

DEETS

  • The interior of the tank is about 4′ wide by 8′ long.
  • The water is approximately 10″ deep.
  • Each tank contains 800 pounds of dissolved medical grade Epsom salt.
  • The high salt content gives the water a soft and silky consistency.

So why would anyone do this? Modern day living has many people feeling desperate for relief. Our senses are bombarded constantly. The need to unplug is strong but few of us are able to get off-grid.

Sensory deprivation tanks can be an oasis for an over-stimulated nervous system. Modern day yogis can use them for practicing pratayahara, (sensory withdrawal) the fifth limb of Patanjali’s eight-fold path. According to Yogapedia:

Pratyahara is considered important in yoga because it forms a bridge between the external focus of the previous limbs of yoga and the internal focus of the subsequent limbs, which move the practitioner into concentration, meditation and, eventually, to the goal of samadhi (union with the Divine).

Fear Factor

To be honest I was a little apprehensive. Mild claustrophobia and concerns of being too cold crossed my mind. I wasn’t about to let fear stop me so I worked through my reservations.

This may sound morbid, but we all die eventually. I figured that a 90 minute savasana was a good way to practice for the big event. That’s what “Corpse Pose” is for anyway.

My fears dissolved the moment I stepped into the tank. The darkness was inviting and the water temperature was comfortable. The parts of my body that were exposed to the air were surprisingly warm.

Effortless Floating

The high concentration of Epsom salt made my body super-buoyant. I positioned myself in the center of the tank and moved into stillness. The only sensory input was from occasional contact with the walls or a random droplet of condensation.

I focused on my breathing and started to relax. Knots of tension began to unravel. First my sacrum, then my right femur, left shoulder, fingertips…

As the layers of modern day body armor began to melt a wave of sadness rose up my back (the storehouse of past memories). Much like the effect of healing bodywork, floating helped me release some grief.

Once the daily headlines and life soundtrack ran their course, past memories of floating began to surface. These dreamlike images of swimming or soaking all shared a similar feeling of freedom. I drifted farther into a state of bliss when all of a sudden…

BLAM

With uncanny precision, a single water droplet exploded between my eyebrows. Chinese Water Torture on my third eye. A current of awareness traveled up my forehead and the crown of my head began to pulsate.

After an hour of stillness I wanted to move again. I discovered that when I secured my heels against the floor I could slide back and forth, creating wave patterns with my spine. My joints cracked open as my hair floated around me like long strands of seaweed.

Aftermath

Afterwards I felt hypersensitive, similar to the effects of a two hour yoga practice. I felt disoriented, vulnerable, and eager to retreat from the world. I wasn’t so sure about the whole operating a motor vehicle thing, but I drove myself home.

If you ever want to try a sensory deprivation tank, my advice would be to arrange for someone to pick you up. Also be sure to go when the weather is warm. Best to avoid going into the cold with open pores or a wet head. Stay healthy!

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Practice, Practice, Practice Alone

Practice Alone Do Not DisturbI just completed a month-long Personal Yoga retreat so I thought I’d share a few insights while they’re fresh in my mind. I still had my day-to-day responsibilities to attend to but I managed to raise the bar of my practice. I also did a social media fast (well, except for Pinterest – does that count as social media?)

Taking a month to withdraw gave me a much needed break. And it helped to raise my awareness of the challenges of being a modern day sadhaka. A sadhaka is a Sanskrit term for someone who follows a particular sadhana (a spiritual practice or way of life).

Practice Alone Flowers

According to B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most famous yoga teachers of all time, a sadhaka uses yoga to gain knowledge, light and liberation. It also helps to purify the body and soul. – Yogapedia

Challenge #1: Practicing at Home

Some of the obstacles of maintaining a home practice are a result of, well… being at home. Home isn’t the gym, or the studio, or any other designated place for exercise. So we have to consciously make it into one, which takes work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started my practice only to have a “to-do” flash through my mind.

“Oh I forgot to change the laundry over, put the leftovers away, etc.” 

“Darn it, I meant to turn off my cell phone.”

“Oh man, I really need to shave my legs.”

It can be tricky to navigate the transition from housework or home office work to doing our home practice. My best advice is to stay on your mat. You’ll be able to take care of all of these things afterwards.

Challenge #2: Shared living spaces.

If you have housemates or family members around you may have to work at communicating your boundaries.

“I’m going to be practicing from now until such-and-such a time. Do you need anything before I get started?”

“I’d like to practice for the next hour. Could you please use headphones if you want to watch TV or listen to the radio?”

Challenge #3: This path can be lonely at times.

We may or may not have a community (sangha) of practitioners to support us in our journeys. It’s okay though – you’ll feel far more connected, centered and whole after you practice.

Challenge #4: Interruptions

It’s very important to choose a practice time when you won’t be interrupted. The people you live with may or may not realize what you’re doing. I’ve had people walk in and start talking to me when I was in a extraordinarily expansive meditation. It’s incredibly jarring to the nervous system to be disrupted when you’re in that state.

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, “Useless Talk” is one of the 6 Destroyers of Yoga Practice.

Hopefully you’ll remember to turn your cell phone off. You can also minimize unexpected guests or workmen by telling people you work from home and can’t be disturbed.

Practice Alone MandalaIf you’re thinking about doing a personal retreat or just want to start a home practice, my very best advice is (to echo the words of the master himself) – practice, practice, practice alone. Try to practice when you won’t be disturbed. You can avoid many of these obstacles simply by making good use of your alone time.

As someone who used to dread the idea of being alone, I can tell you that practicing alone is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself. And when you do your sadhana (translation – good for you) you’ll have more than enough energy to extend to others.

Practice Alone Tea Cup

Personal Yoga Retreats

Personal Yoga RetreatsLast night I trained in a temple of clouds. The gentle currents of air mingled with the sounds of water. I watched two young mule deer peek their heads above the long grasses in the nearby field. In the distance a billowing cumulus tower ignited with flashes of lightning. The blazing sunset warmed my back as I moved and stretched my body.

Summer training season is here.

I love training outdoors. As much as I appreciate the privacy of an indoor space, as soon as the weather allows I like to go to the park, trail or playground whenever possible. In public spaces there’s usually an audience, but most people are nice. Like the elderly lady last night who said, “Thank you for the entertainment.”

Summer training season is a wonderful time for Personal Yoga retreats. These experiences replenish and refuel my whole being. It’s not just exercising – it’s the whole lifestyle. Eating alchemical food, feeling GREAT and laughing a lot.

Have I mentioned that I love my life?

Personal Yoga Retreat QuicheThis is not the kind of thing that you can teach in drop-in classes. It’s means taking a whole day to focus on eating, meditating and training. That’s my life – I create my own personal yoga retreats. I’ve been doing this for over five years now. I just enjoy feeling awesome and is this is how I do it.

It’s definitely possible to do this for yourself. You just have to carve out some space in your schedule and do some basic preparations, such as:

  • Clean the house
  • Clean and groom your body
  • Get your “to-do” list in order
  • Stock the fridge with delicious and healthy food

All of this will help to minimize distractions. Once you’ve cleared your slate start your Personal Yoga retreat nice and slow. Turn your phone off (or just don’t answer it). Cook with superfoods. Take some supplements. Drink lots of fluids. Move in ways that your body and mind enjoy. Rest when you’re tired.

If you’d like some help with designing your own Personal Yoga retreat I’d be happy to speak with you. I offer free no-obligation consultations in person, by phone, Skype or Facetime.

Red Rose Mandala

Self Teacher Study – Freedom Yoga Immersion

Self Teacher Study Freedom Yoga Immersion

I just completed Erich Schiffmann’s Freedom Yoga Immersion on Yoga Anytime. This online platform is “a community of yogis dedicated to the global sharing of the teachings of yoga.”

Erich Schiffmann is an American yoga master who has been called one of the innovators of modern day yoga. When this series came out in 2015 he had been teaching for 42 years and practicing for 48 years. His primary teachers include Krishnamurti, Desikachar, and Iyengar. Schiffmann is one of my yoga teacher’s teachers and his book “Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness” is a personal favorite.

I’ve never studied with Schiffmann so you can imagine my excitement when I saw a coupon code on his Facebook page for a 30 day free trial of Yoga Anytime. I jumped at the opportunity and signed up for his five day immersion. It took me three weeks to complete the seventeen hour course.

The immersion was divided into philosophy discussions, guided meditation and asana practices, as well as Schiffmann’s signature Freedom Yoga practice. I skipped the silent Freedom Yoga sections and just observed the first couple of asana practices (videos are not my favorite learning style for asana).

Whenever you’re starting with a new teacher it’s always best to keep an open mind. If the “cup” of our minds is full it can be difficult to absorb new teachings. And when it comes to learning yoga use what works and leave the rest. So let’s start with what worked…

My favorite part was the guided meditations. Schiffmann is an expert meditation teacher. He understands that meditation is the main practice of yoga, and that meditation is what promotes and facilitates the realization of what yoga is about. Some of the meditations were absolutely delicious. I enjoyed his directions to “snuggle” parts of my body into the mat and to “squeegee myself clean” when doing body scans.

Schiffmann emphasizes the idea that yoga is a lifestyle – that it is so much more than “metaphysical P.E.” (love this!) Regarding the asana portion, I appreciated his preference for the “simple stuff.” He describes the asana practice as being very easy although the mindset is very advanced. The sequences are effective at opening the channels (nadis) in a gentle way that is suitable for all levels.

I enjoyed his stories about his yoga journey. He described a turning point of when he felt like he was always doing someone else’s yoga. After years of disciplined practice he said that his yoga felt like a dud. It was only when he learned how to channel lines of energy through his body that he became empowered with his own practice. This marked the beginning of Freedom Yoga.

Goof Off with Purpose

Schiffmann is an advocate of learning how to channel our own practices. He recommends beginning with systems of your choice. The discipline of learning established systems is important as it helps to “get you in the game,” but being dependent on a teacher is kind of a drag. Once you’re trained the practice begins to teach you and that’s when it becomes fun again. Otherwise it can feel like you’re stifling yourself. As you dive deep and allow free form movement to occur eventually it will flower as an intuitive practice.

Getting Online

The main technique (discipline) of Freedom Yoga is listening. Schiffmann describes this process as “getting online” or cultivating an intuitive connection with the infinite. He recommends beginning just by getting curious and presenting the question:

Something’s going on here , … ,

Stay tuned for Freedom Yoga Immersion Part II.

100 Days of Meditation

On January 3, 2016 I completed my first 100 Days of Meditation marathon. It took me three attempts in seven months to finish this challenge. My parameters were to meditate 1-2 hours a day for 100 consecutive days. I used the Insight Timer app to track my progress.

Obstacles Create Incentives.

An Iyengar teacher once told me that whenever life gets busy our personal practice is the first thing to go. Before starting this marathon I anticipated that moving would be my biggest obstacle. After moving eight times in four months it felt like I was constantly trying to get back on track. I was determined to realign with the root of my practice.

In yoga we talk about the necessity of foundation. The root of our practice comes from consistent, comprehensive application. Foundation also relates to our basic survival needs – food, shelter, money, resources. It’s very difficult to commit to any kind of spiritual practice without a solid base to work from. For a practice to mature a good foundation is essential.

But there are times in life when we’re called to step outside our comfort zones and perhaps grow a thicker skin. As easy as it might be to lose track of our routines, these opportunities are the BEST times to practice.

Marathon Highlights

SO much happened in seven months. Just to review some highlights:

This marathon helped me take my practice to the next level. Each time I practiced it was like hitting the reset button of my whole being. My body healed in some extraordinary ways (you CAN be your own chiropractor!) and my mind became more resilient and flexible. Like the saying goes, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” this challenge helped me navigate some really big stuff. I did get shut down a couple of times while moving but I managed to finish in the midst of a week-long moving endeavor.

Good Advice

Now that we’re at the cusp of a New Year and resolutions are fresh in people’s minds, I’ll offer the same advice that I received before starting this challenge: “Just do it.”

And I’ll add my two cents: pick a goal that challenges you in a healthy way. Be stubborn about your goal but flexible in how you go about achieving it. Breathe through the tough spots. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you fall off the horse get back on.

One other tip: if you’re feeling really beat up after a super-long day and still want to practice, try washing your feet and put on a fresh pair of socks. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel.

100 Days of Meditation

To document this challenge I posted mini-milestones of my journey on Facebook. Much like how people will post updates for their runs, cycling routes, or check-ins at the gym or studio, I shared little updates on my progress. You can find these posts on my Facebook page along with the hashtag #100daysofmeditation.

Interested in starting your own meditation marathon? I’d love to chat with you. There are so many different kinds of meditation. We can discuss these options in your free no-obligation consultation: Book Now

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Self Teacher Study – Find Your Yoga

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