3 Ways To Be Present This Holiday Season

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December 20, 2019

3 Ways To Be Present This Holiday Season

Holidays are a mixed blessing … they’re times when we take a pause from our daily routines and share more personal time with family and friends—some who we love unconditionally, and those that we love “almost” unconditionally (as long as we don’t talk about politics, the environment, the world, etc.).

Here are a few easy suggestions to help show up in all holiday situations, while maintaining full presence and a sense of calm.

Seek Moments of Stillness

Look ahead to your holiday social events, then plan for intermittent moments to be by yourself for creating stillness, physically and mentally, away from the hustle and bustle of family activities (or the TV). It’s easier than you think, especially if you are truthful about its importance for your health with those around you. If they are curious what it does for you, encourage them to try it too. And after, be curious about their experience as a conversation-starter when you’re together again.

Seek Moments of Silliness

Calm is not easy when our mind is preoccupied and struggling with the chaos often found during the holidays. Luckily the human species is bestowed with the gift of humor and light-heartedness, which research shows is capable of overriding the mind’s obsessive or compulsive tendencies to overwhelm our emotions, and take us out of the present. Engaging in a bit of silliness is literally child’s play and an elixir to bring us back to the present that helps strengthen connection and community.

Breathe Slow and Soft

Awareness of breath is one of the most common techniques for staying present in our “moments” during the holidays. By simply making the sound of our breath soft and the breath’s rhythm slow, we create a more naturally conscious state of being that stimulates our body’s parasympathetic response. This releases the tension and stress our sympathetic nervous system naturally creates during times of anxiety or distress. Remembering this during the upcoming season is truly the best gift you can give!

 

Peter Sterios, author of Gravity and Grace, is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

The community here at Sounds True wishes you a lovely holiday season! We are happy to collaborate with some of our Sounds True authors to offer you wisdom and practices as we move into this time together; please enjoy this blog series for your holiday season. 

To help encourage you and your loved ones to explore new possibilities this holiday season, we’re offering 40% off nearly all of our programs, books, and courses sitewide. May you find the wisdom to light your way. Use promo code HOLIDAY10 and receive an additional 10% off your order.

EXPLORE NOW

 

Author Info for Peter Sterios Coming Soon

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The Hidden Meaning of The Belly in Yoga

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly in Yoga Blog Header ImageMost of us have lost our connection to the mysterious forces at play in the abdominal region, as well as to the appearance, function, and location of the organs and glands within it. We know that this area is responsible for digestion and assimilation, but in most Western cultures, a belly is considered healthy only according to its outer appearance: flat, “cut,” and firm. Good posture is supposed to be chest up, shoulders back, gut in. Emotionally, for many, the belly receives the brunt of our dysfunctional attempts to deal with negative feelings such as anger, fear, or low self-esteem.

In general, popular Western culture has placed more prominence on the head (objective intellect) and heart (individual soul) centers for discernment and transformation, while overlooking what many Eastern or so-called primitive cultures consider an essential step—the prerequisite descent into the depths of our being (lower centers), which is necessary before the ascent toward higher levels of awareness (upper centers). Our attention has moved away from the profound intelligence of the lower physical and emotional center of the body—our “guts.”

However, remnants of understanding are still found in common expressions in our languages, intimating a time when we recognized the power of the lower centers. In English, to have “a gut feeling” suggests a deep understanding that often is hard to explain logically, and in the past, feelings that come from deep in our center were considered more reliable than those that came from “above”: the heart or the head. Then there is someone with “guts,” which implies courage and unwavering integrity.

In Japan, the word hara can be simply translated as “belly,” but the roots of its meaning extend far beyond the physical abdomen. In Japanese culture, hara takes on a meaning that involves almost every aspect of life. It implies all that is considered essential to a person’s character and spiritual evolvement. Hara is the center of the human body, but not just of the physical body. In many idiomatic Japanese expressions where the root word is found, the meanings suggest a deeper context for the term. In his book Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim describes one such expression: Hara no aru hito. It suggests not only one who possesses “center” physically, as in posture and balance, but also one who maintains balance in every way, including emotionally and mentally. This person is capable of tranquility in the face of strain, moves in and about the world with serenity, and possesses an inner elasticity that allows quick and decisive responses to any situation that arises. The hara is also seen as the place where the body’s vital life energies collect and are expressed, whether through physical movement or energetic presence.

Hara means an understanding of the significance of the middle of the body as the foundation of an overall feeling for life.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

It is this very quality of hara that we look for in our yoga practice. What is referred to in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as sthira sukham is a state of unconditional calm that is not dependent on any outward circumstances. When in it, we command heightened sensitivity and an increased readiness to meet the unexpected. Here we realize that our capacity for appropriate response in the practice of asana can only come from the genuine absence of tension, coupled with the correct attitude of mind and lightness of heart. Throughout the practice of yoga poses, cultivating softness in the belly helps release a subtle downward flow and sense of fluidity that can be felt there and moving down into the pelvic floor, providing an intuitive invitation to move more deeply in all poses, especially those that turn or lengthen through the waist.

How the belly “thinks” intuitively could be a function of what science is now calling our second brain, or the enteric nervous system, which is an extensive network of neurons embedded in the lining of our gastrointestinal tract, from esophagus to anus. In addition to its handling of nearly all the digestive functions of our intestines, it is important to understand how this system of neurons intimately connects with our autonomic nervous system and, through the vagus nerve, becomes a critical component of parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and intestines.

The vagal channel of communication between the abdominal organs and the brain includes branches of cardiac and pulmonary ganglion, which suggests a shared relationship among these organs as well and offers a scenario in which the interrelationships are established both anatomically and energetically. The enteric system includes many of the same neurotransmitters found in the brain, including dopamine (in the intestines, it reduces peristaltic movement and maintains the inner linings of the intestinal tract; in the brain, it stimulates desire and motivation for reward response, or pleasure), serotonin (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates mood, appetite, and sleep), and acetylcholine (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates arousal, attention, memory, and motivation).

Numerous scientific studies have shown that the voluntary control of slow breathing has a substantial positive effect on our parasympathetic response. There is multidirectional communication via vagal signals to and from the brain to quiet frontal cortical activity, as well as an inhibitory influence upon the heart and sympathetic nervous system activity to and from the gastrointestinal tract that improves peristaltic function while strengthening immune system response in the gut.

Breathing is not merely an in-drawing and outstreaming of air, but a fundamental movement of a living whole, affecting the world of the body as well as the regions of the soul and mind.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

 

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly In Yoga Pinterest

Yoga For Pain Relief

Yoga For Pain Relief

We often find metaphors for life in our yoga practice, and those of us who come to yoga stiff or weak are only too familiar with confronting our edges. In most urban, contemporary societies, we are frequently exposed to confrontation: in our communities, our relationships, our jobs—the list goes on. Our success in dealing with confrontation and the stress it generates depends on our ability to recognize and adjust to what presents itself in those situations. It is often easy to avoid dealing with confrontation until it reaches a certain level of intensity and we are forced to address what stands in our way.

 

The Hidden Gift of Obstacles in Yoga

When our tools for dealing with confrontation are overwhelmed and when what we perceive as our very nature becomes threatened, our life systems—mental, emotional, and physical—begin to contract. If we ignore this contraction for too long, it can color the way we perceive our reality, and what is very unnatural to a healthy body begins to seem natural. Because this process occurs over extended periods, as in the aging process, we often lack the awareness that it is happening until we are beyond simple fixes. 

Difficult Poses

Consider the beginner’s approach to difficult poses—even the relatively simple ones—that challenge flexibility, balance, or strength. These poses take our attention directly into areas of our body that are unfamiliar, painful, or unresponsive. This is often confronting. Stiff people have to learn how to work with pain, which is often intense, in order to remove the obstructions found in tight muscles or joints. Typically, this work is associated with movement where previously no movement existed or where it was extremely limited. The weak or overly flexible have to learn how to work without overworking, to create the support or resistance necessary to bring about the subtle movement of energy in the body to build stamina or strength. 

 

It is a common experience for beginners to question why they lack movement or feeling in these areas in the first place and to wonder if there will ever come a day when it could be different. This is the beauty of the confrontation found in yoga, where opposites attract and working simultaneously with effort and non-effort is a very important lesson to learn. 

Overcoming Resistance In Yoga

With many of the asanas that a beginner tackles for the first time, it is common to struggle with the opposing forces of particular actions found in a pose. Attempting to relax tight muscles is not easy when we are receiving a steady stream (or scream) of more demanding messages in the seemingly undecipherable language of pain. It can feel like the very resistance we experience has been protecting us from injury or overdoing something and that to surrender into this discomfort would be unwise.

 

Likewise, working with weak muscles to stay in a pose, to dig a little deeper, even for one more breath, seems to go against all of the yogic principles of nonviolence (ahimsa), and the anxiety that this can produce is real. Fatigue (mental and physical) seems to threaten our very existence, and every cell in our body is convinced that we’re approaching an injury or a near-death experience.

Hatha Yoga Is A Confrontational Journey

By its very nature, though, hatha yoga takes us on a confrontational journey that can produce the awareness required to overcome ingrained resistance and penetrate the dense matter of our consciousness. For those with chronically tight or weak muscles, the correct practice of asana with conscious breathing forces the mind into a very alert state and very quickly fills the gaps typically found in a beginner’s attention. This is a very important place to be. In it, we are given an opportunity to feel the power of this situation physically, to observe the dynamics of stress in an intense environment, and to overcome the mental or emotional struggle inherent in that predicament.

 

Of course, entering these situations in your practice requires a little preparation, and in the event of any preexisting conditions, it is beneficial and highly recommended to work with an experienced teacher who can suggest modifications to challenging poses. However, once you become familiar enough with your edge to gaze at what lies beyond it, an exterior guide will only be a distraction. Instead, you can reach inside yourself—toward your inner teacher—for guidance. 

 

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

3 Ways To Be Present This Holiday Season

3 Ways To Be Present This Holiday Season

Holidays are a mixed blessing … they’re times when we take a pause from our daily routines and share more personal time with family and friends—some who we love unconditionally, and those that we love “almost” unconditionally (as long as we don’t talk about politics, the environment, the world, etc.).

Here are a few easy suggestions to help show up in all holiday situations, while maintaining full presence and a sense of calm.

Seek Moments of Stillness

Look ahead to your holiday social events, then plan for intermittent moments to be by yourself for creating stillness, physically and mentally, away from the hustle and bustle of family activities (or the TV). It’s easier than you think, especially if you are truthful about its importance for your health with those around you. If they are curious what it does for you, encourage them to try it too. And after, be curious about their experience as a conversation-starter when you’re together again.

Seek Moments of Silliness

Calm is not easy when our mind is preoccupied and struggling with the chaos often found during the holidays. Luckily the human species is bestowed with the gift of humor and light-heartedness, which research shows is capable of overriding the mind’s obsessive or compulsive tendencies to overwhelm our emotions, and take us out of the present. Engaging in a bit of silliness is literally child’s play and an elixir to bring us back to the present that helps strengthen connection and community.

Breathe Slow and Soft

Awareness of breath is one of the most common techniques for staying present in our “moments” during the holidays. By simply making the sound of our breath soft and the breath’s rhythm slow, we create a more naturally conscious state of being that stimulates our body’s parasympathetic response. This releases the tension and stress our sympathetic nervous system naturally creates during times of anxiety or distress. Remembering this during the upcoming season is truly the best gift you can give!

 

Peter Sterios, author of Gravity and Grace, is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

The community here at Sounds True wishes you a lovely holiday season! We are happy to collaborate with some of our Sounds True authors to offer you wisdom and practices as we move into this time together; please enjoy this blog series for your holiday season. 

To help encourage you and your loved ones to explore new possibilities this holiday season, we’re offering 40% off nearly all of our programs, books, and courses sitewide. May you find the wisdom to light your way. Use promo code HOLIDAY10 and receive an additional 10% off your order.

EXPLORE NOW

 

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Plants, People, and Cosmic Balance: A Healing Justice ...

Plant medicine has always been the people’s medicine, and flower essences create unique opportunities for issues surrounding accessibility, as essences are extremely safe and can be made rather inexpensively. The shift toward holism—complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and integrative medicine—and the proliferation of herbal interventions within our health-care system are proof that we are making progress. In light of this, there are a number of dynamic ways we can promote flower essences to be even more accessible and inclusive for people. Even flower essence therapy itself is a modality historically dominated by white men, but increasingly it is being pushed forward by women-identified, LGBTQIA+, and BIPOC healers.

Currently, the alternative healing community is processing its own biases. Much of alternative medicine was developed in the service of the dominant culture, or the patriarchy. Therefore, it hasn’t been a healing space for many groups, including but not limited to women, people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, economically oppressed people, neurodiverse people, and (in the United States) non-native English speakers. In the words of Cara Page, a founding member of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, healing justice “identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence, and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts, and minds.”

Plants, People, and Cosmic Balance: A Healing Justice Invitation blog image 1

One of the main themes of The Bloom Book involves balancing duality, which means challenging the perpetuation of oppressive systems. Unless we are actively engaged in dismantling racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and ableism, we are merely reinforcing the power structures we are claiming to challenge. As models of healing justice are emerging, many organizations and community collectives are generating their own missions and value statements from which to work. Meanwhile, practitioners—especially white practitioners like me—have to ask ourselves:

How is my work a function of my privilege? 

Where can I be doing better? 

Does my practice truly support inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility?

The working definitions of healing and trauma are also evolving. Within a healing justice framework, one can see how, by understanding trauma merely as “an emotional response to a terrible event,” we are ignoring a more inclusive interpretation that includes the cumulative and historical trauma of colonization. In the last decade, science has validated that trauma is intergenerational and historical. Likewise, many traditions include community in what constitutes emotional and spiritual healing, whereas Western models of mental health are focused exclusively on the individual self. 

When you open yourself up to the plant kingdom, new awareness can develop. You can become more empathic, which sounds pleasant in theory, but can be overwhelming because now you’re not just experiencing more of your own feelings, but the feelings of others as well. If you’re committed to applying a healing justice framework in your work, you will likely expose new trauma and have to reckon with your own privilege, which can be painful. You could develop more attunement with nature, which also can feel wonderful and, because of the tragic state of our Earth, completely disorienting. At this time, we are experiencing a heightened polarity between the light and the dark. We are being asked to hold a neutral space for all this duality and to have more compassion for all life. Flower essences enhance the energetic interconnection between all living things and so are especially well suited to support an expansion of consciousness.

Understanding how we function within—and our responsibility to—the collective is important because none of us operates alone. If you forget what you derive from the collective, you assume you don’t owe it anything and exist separately from everyone. Much of the privileged world enjoys the benefits of being part of the collective, whether we are conscious of it or not: rights, amenities, protection, accessible health care, clean drinking water, electricity, and so on. So, those with the material upper hand at this time have a special responsibility to the rest of those sharing the Earth.

Within a healing justice framework, we must not only question our privilege as white people, we must elevate BIPOC leadership within all the transformative justice movements. We are all dependent on one another to collectively wake up and heal.

Plants, People, and Cosmic Balance: A Healing Justice Invitation blog image 2

In this way, it is an exciting time for the community of herbalists and flower essence practitioners. Modalities that are so helpful in bringing people into balance are themselves coming into greater balance. A sign of hope within an era of great hope. The ancient wisdom explored in The Bloom Book supports that the power of the plants is coming through in dynamic new ways. This text exists, in part, to provide more context around the validity and potency of the flowers. The spectrum of human emotional experience is here for our development and delight.

The Absence of Women-Identified, WOC, and QTBIPOC Healers Throughout History 

Missing from our Western history books are most of the contributions by women-identified healers through the ages. Even more scarce are WOC, and most scarce are queer and trans people of color (QTBIPOC) within the codex of Western medical history. The misogyny of the burgeoning patriarchy from ancient Greece spread throughout Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the rest of the world through colonization by white settlers. The suppression of women healers in Europe and the Americas coincided with the rise of the ruling class, capitalism, and the privatization of medical care, away from folk-healing traditions—traditions that women played a huge role in preserving and advancing. Gender seemed to be less of a construct throughout many parts of the ancient world, as there are significant written reports of intersex and gender-fluid healers. In many cases, those who exhibited androgyny were known as having special healing powers because of their ability to connect with both masculine and feminine energy. 

Plants, People, and Cosmic Balance: A Healing Justice Invitation blog image 3

As historical contexts are becoming more inclusive and less Eurocentric, there is more room for the theory around matriarchal-centered civilizations being much more prominent than previously thought. Senegalese anthropologist and historian Cheikh Anta Diop felt that, historically, most of Africa was matriarchal in organization. Colonizers were tremendously misogynistic, which holds much information for us to ponder as we consider our connection to the feminine and the history of medicine. 

The lack of representation of women and WOC healers in the historical literature of medicine is decidedly a Western trait. Not only is much history transmitted orally and through practices and traditions, but the written history is also a very biased account, formulated in large part by, and for, white men. While our participation in medicine and healing traditions has been historically restricted in the West, women have long been associated with healing, especially within the domains of life and death—as midwives and compassionate caregivers helping to bring new life and support the soul into the afterlife. Women healers have traditionally addressed the issues and needs of populations that our culture typically shames and would rather ignore. Written accounts are limited, but we do have a record of a talented few. We must honor the oral traditions that are not meant to be shared (by me anyway) with the mainstream. There is a protection in keeping knowledge hidden from the masses. This wisdom is secured within the light lineage of all healers. 

Plants, People, and Cosmic Balance: A Healing Justice Invitation blog image 4

Conclusion 

The social and healing justice movements have affected me deeply, and it is my sincere hope that we can continue to decolonize and dismantle where dominant systems are limiting the positive proliferation of alternative healing and flower essence therapy to make them more accessible and inclusive. The more we come into balance in this way, the more transformation is available to us all, our communities, and our Earth—and the more we maintain plant medicine as medicine for all people.

Healing Justice Flower Essence Allies

There are a number of herbalists such as Karen Rose of Sacred Vibes Apothecary, Jennifer Patterson of Corpus Ritual (also a Bloom Book contributor), Lauren Giambrone of Goodfight Herb Co., and Amanda David of Rootwork Herbals, (to name a few), who have been speaking on the subject of healing justice for quite some time, and I am grateful for their leadership and inspiration. Healing justice business models such as that of Third Root, a worker-owned community center that provides collaborative, holistic health care in Brooklyn, offers a standard that everyone in the healing arts should aspire to. 

I offer some essences below that are wonderful to use in process groups or healing circles that center on antiracism and anti-oppression work. Some flower allies to assist you as you dig deeper into this rich and rewarding terrain are:

Delta Gardens lemon balm—a wonderful essence for when you are immersed in deep work, to keep calm and carry on

Delta Gardens valerian—for any resistance to change, to be able to take in and assimilate new information

Flower Essence Society quaking grass—“harmonious community consciousness,” letting go of personal attachments in social groups

Flower Essence Society lupine—seeing beyond the level of self, seeing self as part of the whole

Flower Essence Society or Delta Gardens echinacea—integration of those parts of the self that may have been repressed

Flower Essence Society or Delta Gardens borage—to support the heart and offer courage

Bach Original Flower Remedies water lily—for humility and wisdom in communication, to heal the perceived separation we feel from others based on race, class, or gender

Flower Essence Society pink yarrow—for emotional vulnerability, assists in discerning what is your responsibility to emotionally process

Additional Information on Healing Justice

A Not-So-Brief History of the Healing Justice Movement, 2010-2016

What Is Healing Justice?—Healing by Choice Detroit

Healing Justice: Holistic Self-Care for Change Makers—Transform Network

Healing Justice Toolkit

Corpus Ritual

Railyard Apothecary

Good Fight Herb Co.

Rootwork Herbals 

Sacred Vibes Apothecary

Harriet’s Apothecary

Third Root 

Heidi Smith headshot

Bloom Book

Heidi Smith, MA, RH (AHG), is a psychosomatic therapist, registered herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Within her private practice, Moon & Bloom, Heidi works collaboratively with her clients to empower greater balance, actualization, and soul-level healing within themselves. She is passionate about engaging both the spiritual and scientific dimensions of the plant kingdom, and sees plant medicine and ritual as radical ways to promote individual, collective, and planetary healing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her partner and two cats. For more, visit moonandbloom.com.

 

 

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Heidi Smith: Bringing People to the Flowers


Heidi Smith is a psychosomatic therapist, flower essence practitioner, and registered herbalist. She is the author of The Bloom Book: A Flower Essence Guide to Cosmic Balance, a comprehensive guide for working with flower essences in order to bring about healing, transformation, and awakening, at both a personal and collective level. Heidi is Tami Simon’s guest in “Bringing People to the Flowers,” a podcast exploring humanity’s call to enter into a deeper relationship with flowers. Heidi and Tami also discuss flower essences as a “verbal and vibrational” medicine, the power of intention, how to begin working with flower essences yourself, and much more.

Karla McLaren:Making Friends with Anxiety … and All ...

Karla McLaren is an award-winning author, social science researcher, and empathy pioneer. Her work focuses on a “grand unified theory of emotions,” in which she moves us beyond looking at some emotions as negative and some as positive, and instead helps people see the genius that lives inside every single emotion. In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Karla about managing the multiple emotions that many of us are experiencing as we navigate both a pandemic and a time of societal transformation. Tami and Karla also discuss the importance of creating a community that shares an “emotional vocabulary,” the four keys to unlocking the wisdom of our emotions, and much more.

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