Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain

By Baxter Bell

I was pretty excited to see the results of a recent study Yoga as Good as Physical Therapy for Back Pain. I even had a chance this spring to hear in person the study’s lead researcher, Robert Sager, MD, talk about the preliminary findings of the study.

This study was looking to see if yoga was as effective for those with chronic low back pain as physical therapy.

We know from multiple earlier studies that yoga can lower pain, decrease pain medication use, and improve function in those with chronic low back pain. However, physical therapy is considered the gold standard physical modality for those with chronic back pain, meaning that it has been studied and proven to be effective at lowering pain and increasing function, and is widely accepted for use for those with this condition. Apparently, family doctors refer about 20% of their patients with chronic low back pain to physical therapy as an adjunct to their treatment plan. One drawback of this approach is that physical therapy sessions can be expensive, and if you don’t have insurance, it’s unlikely you will actually go to see the therapist. Yoga could be a good low cost alternative, if it measures up to the effectiveness of physical therapy.

And this is why I am excited: this study says that it does indeed measure up!

Yoga was found to be equally effective to physical therapy.

Yoga for Chronic Lower Back Pain

The study compared 320 participants, who were divided into three groups: those who did yoga, those who did physical therapy, and those given educational materials. Also of interest was that the study group, who were all low-income, low-education, and non-white residents of Boston, Mass., represent a large portion of the population that could use an effective, low-cost option for improving their back pain. And in some areas the researchers looked at, yoga may be superior to physical therapy, such as pain reduction.

My takeaway from this study, (which like all such studies has some downsides, too, which the article highlights for those interested), is that we now have evidence that yoga is on equal footing with physical therapy as an adjunct treatment option for generalized (low back pain with no definitive diagnosis, such as spinal stenosis or ruptured disc, as the underlying cause) chronic low back pain. I’ll be encouraging my students who are able to take advantage of physical therapy referrals by the docs to continue to take advantage of that proven treatment option.

However, I will also now feel more confident than ever to have them add yoga to the mix when back pain is chronic.

If you decide to give yoga for back pain a try and you are also seeing a physical therapist, it is important to let your physical therapist know that you are doing yoga, so everyone knows what you are doing to address your condition. And for those who, for whatever reason, are unable to do physical therapy, I’ll suggest trying an appropriate back care yoga class or scheduling a yoga private with an experienced teacher or yoga therapist to develop an appropriate home practice. Thank you, Dr. Sager for your important contribution to our understanding of yoga’s benefits compared with physical therapy.  

Caution: if you have a newer case of chronic low back pain and have not seen your doctor to have it evaluated, it would be a good idea to do so before initiating any yoga program to rule out more serious causes of low back pain.

Yoga for Chronic Back PainJoin Baxter for his upcoming workshop at Namaste, Yoga for Back Pain, on Saturday, September 14.

*This post was originally published on the Yoga for Healthy Aging Blog.

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Three Activities to Help Heal a Bereaved Heart

For many years, Ken Breniman has had the honor to hold space for hundreds of people in his Yoga for Grief workshops in the SF Bay Area. In addition to yoga, Ken also serves as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, clinical supervisor and a private practice yoga therapist in the Bay Area.

Ken shares:

I added this subtitle to my Yoga for Greif workshops –Healing Hearts, Healing Bodies – because the grieving process is unique for each one of us and there are a variety of places within our being that unhealed energies or emotions can get stuck. I found that by offering a yoga practice that participants were able to release emotions that had become stuck in the body and helped them move through some very difficult mind states. I also always knew that just a half day of yoga or a 6 week series of yoga sessions could be a safe and supportive space for grieving yogis and yoginis but that it could not ‘cure’ the bereaved heart.   

So what might one do to patiently tend to a healing heart during an extended time of grief?   In my own personal journey and in hearing from participants of these gatherings, I have found that the following three activities have been helpful during the darker days of loss to channel the pain and anguish, and assist in working through the numbness.  These three activities also provide a safe go-to place even after the acute grief response has subsided and we come to realize that there will be waves of grief in the days, months or years to come.   

1. Journaling.

Healing Grief | Journalling

I started journaling when I was a teen and about two years before my mom became ill.  Journaling literally saved my life while I was trying to make sense of my mom’s sudden death. I look back at those journal entries and they were riddled with questions I still don’t have the answers to, but allowed me a space to let my heart’s voice be heard rather than shut down. Over the years, journaling has become my free (and always available) therapist and I continue to write in a journal on a regular basis.  Of course, there are times when the journal sits at the bed side for weeks but for me it has become one of the best tools in times of loss and grief and I highly recommend checking out this website on grief journaling.  

2) Tonglen Meditation     

This can be a powerful practice when done on a regular basis. Tonglen meditation is a Buddhist technique that helps a grieving person find a way to sit with the suffering using the in breath to find a way to release the pain, suffering, despair, anger or other unhealed energies so that we can open our hearts to feel relief, joy, forgiveness, and other healed emotions through the out breath.  Pema Chodron, a great Buddhist nun, has a graceful way of teaching Tonglen.  Check out Pema’s teaching here.

3) Creating an Altar in your home

Healing Grief | Making an AltarAdmittedly, this was the hardest one to begin for me because I somehow thought that a nondenominational eclectic animist like myself who didn’t have any lineage or tradition, didn’t have a foundation for building a sacred space in my home.  Then it dawned on me, that is all the more reason to build one!  No matter what your beliefs or non-beliefs are, if you are mourning the loss of a beloved person, pet or the loss of some thing, (i.e. a relationship, a job, health) you deserve to have an area in your home that helps to ground and center you!  And even though it took me years to find out how powerful my tiny little bookshelf altar would be in my healing journey, I laughed out loud when I searched the web for a ‘how to build an altar in your home’ and found the simplest of instructions. Check out these three steps to creating an altar!

I am prone to borrow Mae West’s wisdom at times like these: “I didn’t say it would be easy, I did say it would be worth it.” I hope you find these tips helpful and if you have any healing tools that you would like to share or if you have any questions on how to deepen your healing practice, please email Ken or share in the comments below!

One final practice I can share is this sweet yoga Swan Dive with Intention.

Swan Dive with Intention

A short practice with Ken Breniman for when you are confronted with grief.

Posted by Namaste Yoga + Wellness on Monday, December 3, 2018

 

From my healing heart to yours, I wish you solace and peace in your healing journey. Please join me for my next Yoga for Grief workshop on Saturday, July 20.

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5 Benefits of Yoga + Mindfulness for Teens

Resilience is like a muscle. Strengthen it! Yoga and mindfulness can create healthy habits that help girls as they grow into strong women. Using yoga and meditation builds the mind-body connection, and positive psychology helps to find our strengths and bolster our ongoing “I’m good enough” practice.

“Do not feel lonely.  The entire universe is inside of you.” –Rumi

5 Benefits of Mindfulness and Yoga Practices for Teens:

  1. Stress Management: Several studies have proven that teenagers who practice yoga are less stressed and perform better than their counterparts in academics. Working with mindfulness tools and breathing practices to reduce anxiety comes in handy in the pressure-filled life of a high school teen. Find the details of one of these studies here.
  2.  Build Strength: In adolescence, bodies are changing. Yoga builds physical strength from the core out. As if that is not enough, the auxiliary benefit is that feeling strong in the body will translate to strength and confidence in the mind.
  3.  Expand Attention Span: Mind-body practices teach focus and concentration and remind us to bring the focus back over and over. Learning skills like these can translate into increased concentration in all areas of life.
  4. Emotional Resiliency: Mindfulness helps with critical thinking and executive function. There are no better skills for your teen to learn than how to make good decisions and think for themselves. Those are skills that can be applied to all of life.
  5. Community: Let’s not forget that yoga classes create the opportunity to meet like-minded friends. One of the tenets of Buddhism is Right Friends.  Finding people who support you and want to see you succeed goes a long way in building confidence.
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How to Inspire Your Afternoons

You know that bit of the afternoon when time slows to an astonishing pace . . .

and the afternoon drags on and on . . . We have the perfect medicine: The Noon Class.

Namaste has a noon yoga class every weekday at each one of our studios. Our teachers bring their unique flavors, but the outcome of class will always be the same: you will not regret how you spent this hour moving and inspiring the rest of your afternoon. Here is a sneak peek, so you can choose just the right one for your day.

Rachel Heron

Monday noon at Namaste Berkeley 

Friday noon at Namaste Rockridge

 

 

It’s a great re-set for body/mind/heart/spirit. My class highlights the way that yoga is part of Life and can fit into a full day of other tasks.

Focus is on strengthening and stabilizing.

I often pick one area of the body, or a category of poses to emphasize, so that the hour feels both deep and spacious.

We start with movement because i think most folks are coming in with some adrenaline and jittery monday energy. I like to work off a few layers of surface tension before slowing down. About halfway through, we pause to feel and notice the effects of our practice.

Go back into the day with a brighter energy in our bodies, and more spacious presence to engage with the fullness of Life.

In the noon class, I recently connected with a woman i hadn’t seen in 8 years! Her son and my son were in pre-school together, so it was a sweet little reunion, and she told me she’s been receiving my newsletters all that time.

Anj Manitsas

Monday/Wednesday noon at Namaste Rockridge

I try my best to squeeze out every last drop of nectar in our short time together at noon.

We might sweat. We might chant.

Classes are designed so that you may build support and strength while flushing out heaviness and stagnation.

It is my intention that at the 61 minute mark we emerge brighter, clearer, more steady versions of ourselves. And spacious. So spacious. From this place, we greet the rest of our day.

 

Margi Young

Tuesday/ Thursday noon at Namaste Berkeley

My noon class is a joy. I respect that many of the students are doing a quick transition to and fro work, and I am delighted for the sake of humanity that they choose to spend the hour on the mat with their yoga community.

The class always takes on its own shape depending of the students and energy in the room, but we often start with legs up the wall, and I am careful to get people moving as well as give them time to be still.

We breath a lot, sweat a little, connect deeply.

Move consciously and on occasion giggle at the delight of being in  the human form!

 

 

Whitney Walsh

Tuesday noon at Namaste Rockridge

Physically challenging

Kind and playful philosophy

Creative and precise alignment cues

 

Adam Kurzfeld

Tuesday / Thursday noon at Namaste Grand Lake

The vital elements of a modern yoga class are all represented: Pranayama, sankalpa (intention), strong asana with plenty of uplevel/downlevel options, core work, and breath focus throughout.

When I can, I offer hands-on adjustments, and sometimes a little massage during savasana.

Common themes: mindfulness, acceptance, letting go, balance, self love, compassion, being with instead of avoiding…  After all, love is not about what you can get, it’s about what you can offer.

 

 

David Schlussel

Wednesday / Friday noon at Namaste Berkeley

The way I weave in flow, philosophy, biomechanics and fun is a unique combination.

I take people from fixed ideas about what they can and can’t do, towards life as a playful exploration of possibility.

I believe yoga is primarily for relieving the stress we carry as physical tension, so I watch out for it getting too serious and re-activating our habitual stress response.

I like to start slow, mindful and meditative, then build pace to create a mindful sweat, then go deep into whatever action or posture I am focusing on, then drop deeply into meditation.

I had someone come up after class, pointing at his hand, moving his thumb.  He said something like “I haven’t been able to move my thumb since an elementary school injury, until today, in savasana, when you had us relax every joint in our body, and my hand just opened…”

 

 

 

 

Lucid Dawn

Thursday noon at Namaste Rockridge

I cater to the needs of who shows up, listening to their voices, the weather, the news, the moon, the season… we get therapeutic, we flow, we renew and invigorate the day with yogic wisdom and community.

I meet everyone that I can before hand and check in on their needs/ requests.

I give options for levels in almost all poses and flows – opportunities to go further, to pull back, to just be with the breath, to hold still or to flow… i make sure and offer challenge space for more advanced practitioners and space to pull back, breathfull, observe, and feel good about it (“being where you are at is the real yoga”)

I hope my students leave with a sense of inner steadiness and ease, a refresh to their day, a smile in their hearts, a forgiving and wide view of whatever is showing up in life, or the fire to go forth and creatively make change in their world!

We can start the day over with any breath.

“I feel like I have just gone to the spa every time I leave Lucid’s class.” ~ Darya

 

 

 

Olivia Huls

Friday noon at Namaste Grand Lake

High energy, great world music playlists, slow but vigorous.

Work hard, sweat, breathe, smile, get in a great mood and get ready to relax for your weekend.

Basic but hard, simple sequencing and poses with a focus on building muscular strength.

Full body  flow/work out We hit all the major muscle groups to build strength, improve balance and then stretch out what we worked.

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Yoga: It is an Honor to Meet You

Honor Yourself with Rachel Heron

Rewind…October 1992

A rainy day in New York City. I walk into the Jivamukti Yoga Center on 2nd Avenue and 10th Street. The walls of the yoga studio are purple. There is an altar with pictures of Ram Dass, the Beatles, Jesus, and almost every guru in every lineage of every eastern mystical tradition. The heavy scent of Nag Champa incense is in the air. I am transported from the chaotic streets of Manhattan into…I don’t know what. A familiar feeling of recognition and home in myself, a feeling that I am absolutely in the right place…and I have no idea why.

25 years later…

Honor Yourself with Rachel Heron

 

My perspective is this:

Hatha yoga (the physical practice) is a gateway toward the more contemplative practices.

It grounds us in the physicality of being human. We learn to breathe and feel. We learn to tolerate a certain amount of discomfort, not as a value or an attachment to pain, but as an inevitable aspect of life and a way to cultivate our inner witness.

Honor Yourself with Rachel Heron

I teach from a place of honoring.

• I honor myself and what is true for me about the depth of this practice and the related practice of seated meditation

• I honor my students by offering gentle guidance and encouragement to explore their bodies and minds without bias or judgement

• I honor what is profound about embodying presence, and experiencing ourselves in physical form

• I honor the limits of our physical bodies and guide practitioners toward exploring meditation and other contemplative practices

Please join me in this inquiry. I look forward to meeting you, exactly as you are.

Honor Yourself with Rachel HeronRachel Heron will be teaching our upcoming 3-week Intro to Yoga Series.  She teaches from a place of deep intuition and a desire to share the potency of the practice.  “Yoga has given me many things, but one of its greatest benefits has been increasing my ability to tolerate challenge and it’s accompanying uncomfortable sensations.  I believe that when we can stay present in a pose, truly present to the fluctuations of energy, sensation, breath, thinking-we are able to take that experience into our day-to-day lives, and find a more harmonious relationship to the mystery of life unfolding.”

The Intro to Yoga series offers basic instruction of this contemplative movement practice, and the chance to explore the foundational elements of breath and mindful awareness. It also provides a way to become familiar with our studios and guide you toward the appropriate next level of classes going forward.

We’ll create a safe space where you can connect with yourself in movement and meditation, and be able to ask questions of a Namaste teacher (me!) who loves introducing people to this life-changing practice. Please arrive a few minutes early to settle in and lay down your mat. We invite you to have a cup of tea before or after class, and spend some time orienting to the studio.  Learn more about the Intro Series here.

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Yoga for Cancer Support

Yoga can help reduce anxiety and improve physical wellness in our stressful everyday.  The effects can perhaps be even more pronounced when one is in the experience of living with cancer.  Although not a cure, yoga can help soothe the nervous system and encourage the body to relax and heal.  Gentle movements linked with breath can help practitioners cope with challenges and uncertainty.  Try this home practice to help with your journey.

yoga for canceryoga for canceryoga for cancer

You can also catch Poh for weekly classes:

Sun 9 – 10.20AM Yoga for Beginners
Grand Lake
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Yin Yoga vs. Restorative Yoga: Relaxation 101

We all know the feeling of being worn out. Eyelids heavy, brain a little fogged, ambling through the day fantasizing about rest. It’s true that active movement, like a vinyasa practice, can help keep the energy up but when we’ve already hit a wall pushing the body isn’t always the best call.

This is where learning to relax becomes a key self-care practice. Yoga provides a myriad of tools to help us slow down and reset. If you’re healing from an illness or injury, exhausted, overworked, or stressed to the max consider a class that hits the pause button.

Classes that fit into this category include Restorative, Yin, Gentle, or Therapeutic yoga. The next question may be, how do you choose? In our new series Relaxation 101, we’ll be breaking down the differences in these ultra sweet and nourishing practices.

What is Restorative Yoga?

The term “adult naptime” is an occasional phrase offered to describe Restorative Yoga. The exciting part is that it is so much more! During a nap, the body and mind fall into unconscious rest, most likely in a traditional horizontal sleeping position. Restorative Yoga provides the same level of rest but helps to build awareness by keeping you mindful of the body. In a Restorative Yoga class, you will experience a small set of poses that rely on numerous props like blocks and blankets to help the body let go and relax. This process gives your body a supported, gentle stretch while allowing the nervous system to relinquish tension and stress built up through the day. Imagine the most luxurious Shavasana possible!

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin Yoga is based on the ancient Taoist concepts of yin and yang. Introduced by Paul Grilley in the late 1980’s, Yin Yoga works synergistically with the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Yin yoga is much slower and gentler than a typically Hatha or Vinyasa class but still challenging in its own way. The focus of Yin is to dig deep into the health of joints, bones, ligaments, and fascial networks. Yin accomplishes this by taking a more active approach to gentle asanas (poses) like forward bends, happy baby, or child’s pose. Yin provides a deep satisfaction of feeling both intensity and relaxation within the body as muscles melt and ligaments release.

What are the main differences between Restorative and Yin Yoga?

Yin Yoga with Sarah Moody

Interested in trying a Restorative or Yin class? Check out our weekly Restorative and Therapeutic class schedule! 

You may also want to get the basics of Restorative Yoga with Sarah Moody this coming June 15! Learn more here.

 

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What does it mean to Embrace Your Shadow?

by Sariah Jiwan Shakti 

Kundalini Yoga is an ancient yogic technology that helps us heal, strengthen, and cleanse our body as well as balance our mind and our Ego. It brings together all of the different branches of yoga into one practice that will quickly and powerfully transform your life. The thing about high speed transformation is that it can often feel uncomfortable and messy. As we heal our nervous system from past trauma, the residual emotions come up so they can be cleared. Sounds fun, right? Navigating this kind of mass clearing might feel daunting and even a little scary. Fun isn’t quite the thing that comes to mind! However, on the other side of that is freedom, clarity, more creativity and joy and those things may seem a bit more attractive, and yes, can lead to fun!

I’m excited to speak about these things because I’ve been there and personally experienced the messiness, freedom, and joy in transformation. But it definitely wasn’t always easy. When I was going through my Kundalini Yoga teacher training I experienced a lot of irrational anger. All of my suppressed childhood anger was coming to the surface with a vengeance my target became my teacher. I wrapped up all of that angst and frustration, stuffed it into a ball and lobbed it right at his Ego. It was perfect. One day I flat out told him that I didn’t like him. As I waited with my foot in my mouth for him to ultimately dislike me back, he said, “Sariah, where there is a bright light, there is a dark shadow.” This comment has always stuck with me and I’ve often shared it with friends and students when they are grappling with their shadow self. It helped me realize that in him was darkness and light as well as myself. I also realized that my suppressed shadow was projecting judgements onto my teacher as away to find some relief. Classic stuff.

As humans we have strong polarities or opposite forces within us with the most obvious being left and right hemispheres of the brain, masculine and feminine, and positive and negative charges. We have acidic and alkaline qualities within us, we experience hot and cold, high energy and low energy, we are awake and then we are asleep, and I could go on. Often times we equate our dark side or shadow self to the negative and the light side to the positive. Our brains often go to this place of negative = bad and positive = good. However, I want to invite you to take on a different perspective as you read through this. Because all of the polarities within us make up our whole self and allow us to function and on this earth plane, let’s allow both dark and light, positive and negative to be a perfect part of who we are, not good or bad, just part of our Is-ness. That being said, why does our shadow self often seem so intense, negative, and something that we want to push away, or has consumed such a large part of who we are, there is no room for the light?

Let’s explore what the shadow really is according to Carl Jung. Jungian psychology teaches us that the shadow aspect of who we are refers to an unconscious aspect of the personality that the conscious ego does not identify in itself. It’s the least desirable parts of ourself and so our conscious mind tends to push those away and make them largely negative storing them away in the subconscious. Jung says, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”Sariah Jiwan Shakti

So the more we push away this often labeled negative part of ourselves and do not give space for it to express in our conscious life in healthy constructive ways, the more destructive it can become taking up so much space there is not much room for the light to get in. This may manifest as chronic depression, addiction, angry rages, or deep internalized anger that contorts the personality. Ultimately, in it’s most extreme form, if this shadow is not expressed, someone may cause harm themselves or others.

When the shadow aspect of ourselves is causing us to self destruct, we become cut off from our connection to spirit, GOD, soul, and our pure creative playful nature – The Light. The good news is that humans are inherently heliotropic which means we are constantly reorienting towards the light. Even in our darkest times with enough digging we can find an ember within us that if stoked will turn into a bright fire. Why? Because one cannot exist without the other. Dark cannot exist without the light and vice versa. So where there is darkness there will always be light.

How can we embrace our shadow, love it, and transmute it into light? What does a healthy relationship with our shadow self even look like? How can we start to cultivate a loving relationship the perceived negative parts of ourselves so we can become more balanced, have more room for our light, and ultimately shine bright, be big, and connected to our soul’s creativity?

1. Practice Allowing All to BE

When you notice that you are experiencing some uncomfortable emotions, thoughts, images, or sensations in the body, give yourself some space experience this energy. Breathe deep into your body, allow it all to be with you instead of labeling your experience as wrong or bad. Recognize that these darker emotions are here to give you information about what you need to improve your experience. As you allow all to be with you, remain open and notice if new, more constructive thoughts, impulses, and ideas come to you. Notice if your body begins to relax and release. Remain open without attachment to the outcome.

2. Play with Your Shadow

Are there some safe, fun, and inspiring ways for you to express and play with your shadow? Perhaps there is a loud, aggressive rock band you want to go and dance to. Maybe a costume or outfit you want to rock at a party that expresses your shadow self. Maybe you go out to a secluded place in the woods and throw rocks and scream obscenities and all of your dark thoughts to release them and ground them in the earth? Creating art and music is a great way to express your shadow self, channel this aspect of your subconscious self into something dark, beautiful, and inspiring for others. Find a friend, teacher, or coach to help you work more constructively with this energy.

3. Practice Yoga, Meditation and Prayer

Yoga and meditation are the fast train to getting into your subconscious mind, clearing out the old, and changing old pattern behavior that does not serve your highest good and your light-being self. Prayer is a way to connect with the God consciousness within you that trumps all darkness and will instantly bring the light. Surrender the destruction of the shadow to God and your Higher Self. Prayer also provides the energetic support you need to pull yourself out of a funk. Yoga will strengthen your nervous system and when you have a strong nervous system, it is easier to take a pause, a breath and be with the shadow so you can metabolize the bad feeling emotions.

4. Celebrate and Shine Your Light

When you notice that your dark energy has shifted to more lightness, celebrate this! A great way to recognize this is if you notice your system has gone from feeling tight to feeling big and expansive. Make it a point to smile at others and say nice things. Share your experience, your grace, and the brightness that is within you. Know that all good things, dreams, goals, and visions come from within you. External circumstances do not get to dictate how you feel. Allow your inner light to shine outward and create all of the good things in the world your unique self is here to create!

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Liberate the Neck and Shoulders

by Poh Teng

Do you have achy neck and shoulders from too much driving?  Me too! Try these easy-to-do yoga postures to create some space in the neck and shoulders and relieve neck and shoulder pain.  I commute four times a week from Oakland to San Jose and these postures are a part of my self-care routine.  Try holding each posture for 5-8 deep breaths.  Remember to practice on both sides of the body.

Neck and Shoulders Yoga with Poh Teng

 

 

1203_nourishyourheart-social-400Don’t miss Poh’s next workshop:

Nourish your Heart with Reba Gray and Poh Teng

Sat Date: Dec 03, 2016 From: 1:00 PM4:00 PM Location: Rockridge

 

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