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FOCUS POCUS NOTE! FocusPocus is now one complete post (art, focus, playlists and announcements) all together on Thursdays! So whether you come to the blog for the art, the information, the music or the latest happenings and offerings, you are in the right place. Every Thursday, you’ll get it all. Thank you so much for being here.

A dear friend of mine had a stroke several years ago. I love spending time with her and witnessing her courage and determination to keep her body moving and to heal. She is positive and optimistic and is grateful that the stroke happened on the left side of her brain so she is able to use her right, dominant hand. Sometimes we talk about how different her life is now. I asked her once what she missed most and without hesitation, she said, “I miss walking smoothing and being able to do things with both hands.”

So often do I take for granted my ability to move through spaces easily, open a jar of tahini, and drive my husband’s big red truck (both hands on the wheel!). Spending time with her reminds me to appreciate the small miracles my hands and feet, and in particular my thumbs and big toes allow me to perform.

As my friend points out, it’s not just one opposable thumb, but TWO that make our daily tasks so amazingly easy. Have you ever had an injury to one hand or thumb and suddenly realize what you are unable to do? I loved this piece about just that.

The thumbs are, of course, the largest finger on the hand and the strongest. It’s how we grip and pull and squeeze. It can also be where we hold tension. Right now, take the thumb of one hand and massage the big muscle at the base of your other thumb. Then give it a shake out and see if you were holding tension there.

Thumbs also are helpful in orienting the upper body. The whole hand is full of stretch receptors which are part of the proprioceptive system which allows us to sense ourselves in space. The thumb is a big part of that system that helps the nervous system to relax by knowing where we are and how to get where we’re going. The orientation of the thumb is also how we shift the orientation of the shoulder joint. You can do it right now by turning one thumb left and right with the opposite hand on your shoulder. Feel that rotation? Pretty cool, right?

Energetically, the thumbs are the nurturing finger. Think of a baby sucking its thumb for comfort and how when hands are in prayer, the thumbs rest at the heart. Focusing on the thumbs gives us a chance to mindfully choose what we want to nurture in this moment.

It’s in my yoga practice that I tend to notice my big toes the most. Balance is challenging for me but pouring awareness into the big toe helps me find and keep myself balanced. Focus on the big toe directs energy down the inside of my leg where it is most stable and roots me strong.

The big toe isn’t just about rooting down. This largest, strongest toe is also about propelling us when we walk and move. Many of us spend most of our time with our feet encased in shoes. So even if you’ve never had a foot injury, it’s likely that your feet have been in “casts” of shoes for most of your life. The restriction that happens when we are in shoes prevents the full range of motion through the toe and foot and that has surprising ramifications.

As this piece from Yoga Journal points out, big toe movement strengthens the arch of the foot and the arch of the foot is connected with the chain of muscles up the back of your leg, so “weak big-toe flexors, the muscles that bend the toe, may change the strength and effectiveness of your largest glute muscle, gluteus maximus.”

Focus on strength and mobility in thumbs and big toes ripples throughout the body. I’d love to hear what you noticed this week in your practice. Leave a comment below and we can all learn from each other!

Here are our playlists for the week. If you’d like to listen to the music, you can find almost all the songs on Spotify (you can listen for free)! As always, please let me know if you have any questions about any of the music we dance to!

There are THINGS happening, you guys! So before the playlists, here is all the details on what’s coming up!

Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water on Thursday mornings at 11am!
Nourishing Movement classes with Susan on Thursdays at 11am ~~ my mix of guided and unguided movement, meditation and creativity! Please go to http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop for the details. Come join us in the trees by the river for grounded, flowing, spacious movement. Second Thursdays are followed by a pot luck lunch! Nourish yourself with movement and bring something nourishing to share! There is space in upcoming classes so please go HERE to sign up!
* The Studio at Dancing Water is at 2370 Old Lynchburg Road ~ detailed directions at http://www.susanmcculley.com and via email when you sign up!

Four Thursdays of Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water in February!
Let the love flow in February! Four Nourishing Movement classes on Thursdays, Feb 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 11am-1215pm for just $40. Put pleasure and movement and yourself on the top of your list. Go here to join us!
http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop/february-nourishing-movement-classes-4-thursdays-for-40

Charlottesville Climate Collaborative Plant-Based Cooking Class on Monday, February 3, 6-8pm ~ CLASS IS FULL ~ GET ON THE WAITING LIST!
This is something I’ve been wanting to do for years: I am excited to be leading a plant-based, whole-food cooking class in collaboration with the Charlottesville Climate Collaborative on Monday, Feb 3, 6-8pm at Bread & Roses at Trinity Episcopal Church off Preston Avenue in Charlottesville! We will be preparing a simple, versatile, delicious, fun, whole food, plant based meal and sharing it together while talking about easy ways of giving plants a bigger place on our plates. Our class will introduce the concept of the Buddha Bowl – a nourishing, plant-based meal that is essentially a little bite of everything. The Buddha Bowl is a one-stop shop for proteins, grains, and veggies. It’s also super versatile – break it down for picky eaters or dress it up with sauces to impress your dinner guests. You can also prepare ingredients ahead of time and then repurpose for multiple weekday meals.
THIS CLASS IS FULL ~ GET ON THE WAITING LIST AND WE MAY BE ABLE TO ADD ANOTHER CLASS!
Space limited to 12 participants so please register by sending an email to andrea@cvilleclimate.org and submitting a $10 donation here: https://www.cvilleclimate.org/donation-page Can’t wait to share a meal with you!

An Extra Day To Play ~ Guest Teaching on Saturday, Feb 8, 9-1010am at acac downtown!
It always feels like a special occasion when I get to guest teach for Anne on Saturday mornings! We’ll explore music and movement, sensation and space around the courageous choice to feel good AND to tolerate discomfort! See you then.

Full Moon Restorative Yoga with Shandoah ~ Moonday, February 10, 430-6pm CLASS IS FULL ~ GET ON THE WAITING LIST (THERE ARE ALWAYS CANCELLATIONS) AND Moonday, March 9, 430-6pm!
Shandoah Goldman returns to The Studio at Dancing Water (2370 Old Lynchburg Road, Charlottesville) to continue the full moon restorative practice! The full moon is a time of completion. The fullness of the cycle lends itself to a practice of non-doing. Join Shandoah for a deeply nourishing practice of restorative yoga. Using props to offer support and comfort, the body is invited to profoundly let go and unwind. Rather than efforting or stretching, this is the practice of releasing and relaxing. We’ll celebrate what is finished and soften into the next cycle. Shandoah is a gifted guide for deep release and is a Shiatsu practitioner offering hands on assists during class. All bodies welcome, no experience in yoga or anything else is needed. Email Susan at sjmnia@gmail.com to get on the waiting list.
Monday (Moonday!), February 10, 430-6pm at The Studio at Dancing Water is FULL and please let me know if you’d like to be on the waiting list.
Monday (Moonday!), March 9, 430-6pm at The Studio at Dancing Water ~ $30, $25 if registered before Feb 28!

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Feb 7 at 11:25am
Nia Freedance is an opportunity to play and tap into the creative wisdom in our body, emotions, mind and spirit. For a full hour we get to dance together with the intention of stimulating our own unique movement creativity. The next Nia Freedance will be at ACAC Albemarle Square Friday, Feb 7 from 11:25 -12:25.

Resetting & Balancing the Nervous System with Mindful Practices & Herbal Nourishment: Book Signing and Workshop with Susan & Heather ~ Saturday, February 29, 2020 ~ 10am-12pm at Nourish Louisa

“Stop the glorification of busy….It is OK not to be busy. Repeat this with me: it is OK not to be busy.” ~ Joshua Becker
Mid-winter is the perfect time to look inward at the rush and tumble of our days and practice ways of reconnecting and restoring our frazzled nervous systems. Join teacher and artist Susan McCulley and Clinical Herbalist Heather Wetzel to explore a realignment of our busy, over-scheduled days at the beautiful Nourish Louisa shop (http://www.nourishlouisa.com/) at 205 W. Main Street, Louisa, VA 23093
10:00-11:00: Book signing and conversation about the counter cultural choice for presence and less busyness with Susan, author of Octabusy: How to Let Go in a Sea of Doing. Come talk with Susan, watch an art demonstration, and have a cup of something warm.
11:00 – 12:00: Susan and Heather will present a short workshop focusing on re-balancing body, mind, and spirit using mindfulness life hacks and herbal strategies for moving from the habitual responses of our nervous system’s “fright, flight, or freeze” reactions into a more balanced, flowing, and peaceful state of “rest and digest.”. Topics include:
· How to support yourself to be more centered, calm and relaxed.
· Physical and mindful practices that can bring you back to center and be done anywhere, no matter what is happening around you.
· Tastings (including recipes) of tried and true adaptogenic herbal preparations to enhance your resilience to stress
· New ideas to support and encourage graceful adaptation to change and less reactive to stress
We all need encouragement and new ideas to support us as we move through our fast-paced, stress-ridden world. Reserve your seat now as space is limited at http://www.nourishlouisa.com/! Saturday, February 29, 2020 ~ 10am-12pm ~ $15 ~ includes lunch and small drink of your choice / Limited to 12 participants.

Interview about Octabusy & Other Things on Lisa Jakub’s Embrace Your Weird podcast!
It was my honor and pleasure to have a conversation with Lisa Jakub about the seduction of busyness and ways of navigating it on her fantastic podcast, Embrace Your Weird. Please listen, share, review and spread the word! Go here to check it out!

WHERE TO FIND OCTABUSY!
Support local retailers by buying Octabusy
at New Dominion Bookshop on Charlottesville’s downtown mall (ndbookshop.com, 434-295-2552, staff@ndbookshop.com)
and at The Telegraph Art & Comics https://www.telegraphcomics.com/
and at the beautiful Nourish Louisa shop in downtown Louisa! Go here http://www.nourishlouisa.com/ for more. I’ll be sharing more soon on events at this super-cool spot!
And just this week: both Buddha Cat and Octabusy are now available at the lovely Wine & Country Shop in Ivy! Please check them out here. It’s an amazing store full of wonderful finds, not just super-cool books!
You can also order signed copies of Octabusy (including discounts on multiple copies) now on my website at susanmcculley.com/shop
and get Kindle and paperback editions on Amazon!
(And wherever you buy it, please leave a review there!)

As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

Monday, Jan 27, 2020, 1045am ~ Thumbs & Big Toes

The Rising 4:47 Bruce Springsteen
Bubble Toes 3:57 Jack Johnson
Luna 6:06 Ganga
Spinning the Wheel 6:24 George Michael
Under My Thumb (Paradise Mix) 3:28 Anakelly
Work That Body 5:35 Rodney Hunter
Toe Jam (Feat. David Byrne And Dizee Rascal) 3:22 The Bpa
Thumbs 3:36 Sabrina Carpenter
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Popsicle Toes 4:34 Michael Franks
Sunsethighway 4:00 Kiln
Onwards 5:27 Afro Celt Sound System

Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020, 840am ~ Thumbs & Big Toes

The Rising 4:47 Bruce Springsteen
Bubble Toes 3:57 Jack Johnson
Luna 6:06 Ganga
Under My Thumb (Paradise Mix) 3:28 Anakelly
Work That Body 5:35 Rodney Hunter
Toe Jam (Feat. David Byrne And Dizee Rascal) 3:22 The Bpa
Thumbs 3:36 Sabrina Carpenter
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Popsicle Toes 4:34 Michael Franks
Sunsethighway 4:00 Kiln
Onwards 5:27 Afro Celt Sound System

Thursday, Jan 30, 2020, 11am at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Thumbs & Big Toes

Nature Boy (Live) 8:51 Beautiful Chorus
The Rising 4:47 Bruce Springsteen
Bubble Toes 3:57 Jack Johnson
Luna 6:06 Ganga
Under My Thumb (Paradise Mix) 3:28 Anakelly
Work That Body 5:35 Rodney Hunter
Toe Jam (Feat. David Byrne And Dizee Rascal) 3:22 The Bpa
Thumbs 3:36 Sabrina Carpenter
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Popsicle Toes 4:34 Michael Franks
Sunsethighway 4:00 Kiln
Onwards 5:27 Afro Celt Sound System

flength strexibility reverse warriorStrength and Flexibility.

I use these words when I’m teaching.

“Strength is the sensation of energy moving in toward center.”
“Flexibility is energy moving out along the bones.”

Strength and Flexibility.

I use these words in my relationships.

“I’ve got to be strong for her.”
“The only way this will work is if we’re both willing to be flexible.”

Strength and Flexibility.

I use these words in my life.

“If I was strong, I wouldn’t give in and I would take more risks.”
“I should be more flexible in my thinking about this.”

Strength and flexibility in my body, my mind, my life
have two different sensations:

Energy in.
Energy out.

But what if real health and happiness comes from an amalgamation of the two?
Not sometimes being strong and sometimes being flexible,
not alternating between the two,
but by simultaneously being strong and flexible?
By simultaneously sending energy out and drawing energy in.
Both. At the same time.

In isolation, strength folds me in on myself.
In isolation, flexibility has me flying apart.

But together, at the same time, they create stability, health, peace.

Flength and Strexibility.

Simultaneously drawing in and reaching out.
Energy moving in both directions at once.

I can feel it in my body
Instead of stretching and compromising the integrity of connective tissue,
Or contracting so much that I lose range of motion,
I can extend out while simultaneously plugging in, hugging the muscles around the energy-radiating bones.

I can feel it in my relationships
Instead of I give to you and then you give to me,
I can feel that giving to you also gives to me
and receiving from you also allows you to receive.

I can feel it in my life
Instead keeping meticulous track of who’s given me what
And haven’t I done more than she has?
I can trust that if I move through my days feeling
the inextricably integrated flow of
In and out
Give and receive
You and me
Us and them
That I have the sensation of powerful peaceful balance.

Flength and Strexibility. Those are the words I’m going with.

breathing along bones boat poseExhale deeply. Then do it again. Then exhale some more.
At some point soon, your body will get depleted and you will have to inhale.
Breath is like that. It has to be balanced: in and out.

Strength and Flexibility are the same way.
Strength moves energy in toward the bones. Flexibility extends energy out along the bones.
It has to be balanced: in and out.

Life works the same way. If I am extending all my energy outoutout, at some time soon I will get depleted (and maybe a little resentful).
It has to be balanced: in and out.

easy 7 runnerAll things are difficult before they are easy.
~ Thomas Fuller

Every other Wednesday at 7am, I meet my friend Howell at Greenberry’s for coffee (him) and genmaicha tea (me). For two years, we’ve been meeting to offer each other encouragement to live with heart, authenticity, and creativity. We support each other as we create the art of our lives. Meeting with Howell has helped me find the courage to write a blog, take a sabbatical, write a book, and be an artist. Everybody should have a Howell.

Turns out that on Wednesdays at 7am a bunch of runners get together for breakfast at Greenberry’s, too. In all seasons and weathers, they stride in with their long, lean limbs dressed in Boston Marathon jackets, sweat-wicking leggings, and super-high-tech sneakers. They kick back, dig into breakfast burritos, and catch up with each other. They have a community, these runners, and I love seeing them hanging out together.

Recently, I overheard two of them chatting as they waited for their coffee. A tall, tousle-haired woman and a 50-something man who looked like his heart beat maybe once an hour leaned against the counter. “So what’d you do today?” asked the woman. “Oh, I just did an easy 7,” he answered casually.

An easy 7.

I laughed into my tea. Easy? Nothing about running 7 miles would be easy for me. But for Once-An-Hour-Heartbeat Guy? Easy peasy lemon squeezie.

No matter how long he’s been running, though, at some point in his life, I’m guessing that 7 miles wasn’t easy for him, either. Maybe when he first started, 7 miles kicked his butt. Or when he was recovering from an injury or an illness, perhaps 7 miles felt endless. But the morning I was eavesdropping on him? It was easy.

A Nia student has been taking classes for about three years. In the beginning, class was tough for her: every step and combination felt complicated. At the time, we were getting ready to do a flashmob in Charlottesville and every week we would practice the flashmob song in class. She really wanted to participate but she struggled with the steps. She practiced and practiced, and when it was flashmob time, she was right there in the front row…rockin’ it.

A couple weeks ago, we did the old flashmob song again. Afterwards, the student laughed and said, “When we learned that song, I thought it was so hard. But since then, we’ve done much more complicated stuff. Now, that song’s easy!”

What is easy? What is difficult? It all depends, doesn’t it? It depends on what experience I’ve had before, how much I’ve practiced, if I’m healing an injury, or if I’m distracted. It depends if I’m nervous or relaxed, happy or stressed. The same routine I’ve done a hundred times feels much more difficult if my teacher is in the room.

For training and conditioning the body and mind, the best place to practice is along the line between challenge and healing. Am I putting in enough effort and energy to challenge myself, while still retaining the healing power of breath and balance? Can I feel the powerful sensation when I push myself enough to feel my edge, yet take care of myself in the process. Discovering and remaining on the edge between challenge and healing is the key to growth, learning, and living our potential. And it’s true not just for Nia and physical pursuits but in all areas of life. Step into your next meeting, decision, conversation, and feel the challenge of pushing your possibilities while breathing deeply and staying balanced.

Is it easy? Is it difficult? The words are meaningless since they are completely relative.

A more interesting question is where is the edge between challenge and healing for you right now? Hang out there. That’s where the juice is.

mountain pose“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” ~ Yogi Berra

I love me some Nia philosophy and theory.  Yes, I do.  In my post yesterday, I waxed philosophically theoretical about how equilibrium, a state that we can cultivate in the body and in life, is at the heart of The Body’s Way.  What better time to noodle on such things than the spring equinox?

But theory is theory and practice is practice.  So let’s look at how we can actually sense for equilibrium in the body, in our movement, and in life.  Each definition of equilibrium aligns with movement and sensation that we can create in Nia and in whatever we do:

e·qui·lib·ri·um, noun

1. a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.

2. equal balance between any powers, influences, etc.; equality of effect.

3. mental or emotional balance:  equanimity.

First, we sense “a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces” when we are standing upright or a stances in Nia.  On the face of it, when we take an Open Stance or just stand up from a chair, “opposing forces” may not be the first thing to jump to mind.  But whenever we stand upright, we are balancing the body’s weight and strength into the pull of gravity.  As we align the body weights of pelvis, chest and head, they rest along the plumb line of gravity in that “state of rest or balance.”  If any of those body weights is out of alignment, however, the act of standing becomes a constant effort.

Second, “equal balance between any powers” is the sensation of a dynamic ease that we can feel in both yogic postures or balanced movement.  Watch a yogi in Triangle or Warrior Pose and you can see the lines of equilibrium balancing the body with equal and opposite force.

warrior-2

TrianglePoseBikramYogaWynnewoodEven if they look peaceful, these poses move tremendous energy through the body in opposing directions creating a state of balance.  Lose the energy in one arm or leg and the whole system literally falls!

This quality of balance between powers can happen when the body is in movement, too.  In Nia, when we move across the floor in Lateral Traveling  (or in life when we walk across the room), for example, we are balancing the force of our feet against the floor in order to move.  Feel how one foot pushes left for the body to go right, back for the body to go forward.  The opposite foot is then there, ready to stabilize and then to push the body again.  This collection of movements actually creates its own state of equilibrium.  Put that same movement on a slippery floor, or have one foot weaker than the other and that state no longer exists!

Notice that when executing blocks or punches with alternating arms, one arm is actively performing the movement while the opposite arm is resting in neutral.  Often we can get revved up doing these powerful arm movements and forget to allow the non-working arm to find ease in neutral position.  To be in a state of equilibrium, we let the active arm be full-on while the neutral arm is fully at rest.  By cultivating this state of equilibrium, we actually have more power.

And this flows into the third definition:  the state of equanimity.  Equilibrium in the mental and emotional realms is  equanimity:  the non-reactive witness that allows us to observe what is unfolding.  Nia is often called a movement meditation.  As I place my awareness and attention on sensation and movement, the thinking, critical mind has an opportunity to find that neutral place, too.

The body is always doing its best to find equilibrium, so you may be in the state more often than you realize!  The invitation this week is to notice the state of rest and the balance between opposing forces, as well as witnessing equanimity when the mind and emotions are in balance.  When you notice that you are out of equilibrium, ask yourself how you can regain it.  Action and rest, give and receive, inhald and exhale.  Equilibrium is The Body’s Way and the way of health and well-being — the first of spring is an excellent time to intentionally find it.

As always, my friends, please leave a comment and let me know what you discover!

equilibrium“Spwing has spwung,

The gwass has wiz,

I wonder where

The birdies is!”
~ terrible poem recited yearly by my Dad

This Wednesday, March 20, at 7:02am (EDT) is the spring equinox, marking a balance between light and dark in our days and the first day of spring!  A light- and sun-lover since birth, I feel a sense of relief at this time of year.  I’ve made it through another winter and the warmth is on its way back.  When I lived in New England, this was only true in theory since it really didn’t get warm until May and then it usually went straight to hot.  But here in Virginia at the spring equinox, “spwing,” as my father vernally reminded us, “has spwung” for reals.

Natural cycles are reflected in the human body and movement.  Not surprisingly (or originally), last year at this time, I wrote about balance (clever girl!).  This year, I’m noticing “equilibrium” in my body and in my practice.  While I experience “balance” as a verb, a process; “equilibrium” feels like a state to observe and develop.

Not to get all English-majory on you, but there are three definitions of “equilibrium” that interest me (evidently there is also a chemistry definition which maybe a chemist out there can interest me in, too):

e·qui·lib·ri·um, noun

1. a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.

2. equal balance between any powers, influences, etc.; equality of effect.

3. mental or emotional balance:  equanimity.

I love how each aspect of equilibrium has its own sensation and each is a state that we can cultivate in Nia … and the practice of dancing through life.  I’ll talk more about that specifically tomorrow, but for today I’ll offer a little body~mind centered theory!

Equilibrium is built into Nia movement and philosophy.  Nia follows the The Body’s Way which is guided by five fundamental principles (click here for complete descriptions):

  1. The Body Thrives on Dynamic Ease
  2. The Body Demands Balance
  3. The Body is Balanced in Yin and Yang
  4. The Body’s Way Demands Simultaneous Mobility and Stability
  5. The Body Itself Reveals the Body’s Way

The names of the principles themselves show that equilibrium is at the heart of The Body’s Way!  The body, Nia, and life are, at their essence, all about a balance between effort and rest, internal and external, upper and lower, left and right, active and receptive, mobile and stable, strong and flexible.  Equilibrium and The Body’s Way are about how opposing forces actually create their own state of release and ease.

A state of balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.  Equal balance between powers.  Equanimity.  Equilibrium is a state of balanced alignment and grace.  Wherever we focus more on one side than the other, the system (be it a body, a practice, or a life) is out of alignment and, therefore, the health of that system is compromised.  In Nia practice, a Type-A person who comes in late to class, dives into the highest-intensity songs full-bore, and leaves before Floorplay and relaxation is out of equilibrium and is not practicing The Body’s Way.  Neither is the person who daydreams during the movement, chats during the “hard” songs, and gets a drink during freedance.  In life, the person who over-schedules every moment, is late to each engagement, and is often in a state of frazzeledness, is out of equilibrium, too.  Similarly, the person who moves through life in auto-pilot, not fully engaged when active and not fully resting either is out of The Body’s Way.

The invitation of Nia and The Body’s Way is equilibrium:  a balanced attention on opposing forces that creates a state of balance and ease.  Tomorrow, I’ll share specifically how we can use equilibrium in our movement and in our lives to enhance our health and well-being.  Inhale.  Exhale.  And come back tomorrow!

I’ve been accused of hyperbole, over-reaching, being too big.  Indeed, it’s true, I do tend to over do.  Then after over doing, I’m pooped so I collapse.  A nasty, energy-sapping cycle that perpetuates.

Instead, a middle way:  strength in length (my experience of Nia’s dynamic ease).  Not too much and not too little.  Embodying movement, my body, life.

Nia helps me remember the sensation of  balance that is neither my Nana (overdoer) or The Dude (underdoer).

A shift in attention and awareness brings me into strength in length.  Extend energy, fill up each movement and still be breathing and balanced.

 

 

 

 

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