Category Archives: stress

What can I expect on a laughter yoga retreat? part 1: LOVE


  1. Love.

A wise human once said: ‘Expect nothing’

‘Expect nothing’ means we approach situations open-mindedly and with curiosity. When we are both open-minded and open-hearted, this allows us to be present to what is – and allows magic to happen.

On every Retreat we go through a deepening process, of allowing layers to drop away, of stress and anxiety to ease, of allowing healing to happen, and of allowing love to expand – love for self and love for others.

In this spirit we grow, heal and connect.

Other people’s words are often best: ‘I had no expectations, I was curious but I came away lighter, freer and enriched by sharing the space with a quite remarkable group of very honest and open individuals.
I have struggled for a long time to express my emotions coherently and try to avoid the spotlight whenever possible but this weekend fostered a safe and nurturing environment.
It made me (and us all, I’m sure) feel stronger, more able to cope and much better equipped to be out in the big wide world and to share the light and laughter.’

‘To share the light and laughter’ – this is love, and being loving. We can all start practicing this now.

This is one quality we might experience on the Retreat .
Is this a quality you’d like to experience too?
(Harberton Village Hall, South Devon, 22-24th September: Booking & further details are here )
General info and videos available on


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Living passionately in ‘interesting times’ – how does laughter yoga help?

Do you remember the old Chinese curse: ‘may you live in interesting times’?
These times are with us now, so how can laughter yoga help?

I find three qualities are proving especially helpful – live passionately, take ourselves less seriously, and be more spontaneous & flexible 

  1. Live passionately.
    Laughter yoga uses laughter as a practice. It uses is as a yoga, to reconnect and harmonise.
    It energises.
    We breathe better. We oxygenate our blood. We improve our circulation. The net result is we feel energised. When we feel energised, we start to feel passionate.
    Whether done as alone or with others, it works.

‘Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you’. Oprah. Click To Tweet

Passion sustains us when we encounter difficulties. It is empowering. It builds our resilience and helps us keep going when problems arise, as they always do. A regular and daily laughter practice actively boosts our ability to live passionately.

Keep doing this and you will become energised, you will experience how your passion follows your energy, and consequently you feel in better control of our life – even in ‘interesting’ times.

A basic practice is: breathe in, pause, smile, and in a good-natured way, chuckle as you breathe out – pause, feel.

A basic practice is: breathe in, pause, smile, and in a good-natured way chuckle as you breathe out - pause, feel. Repeat. #laughteryogawithJoe Click To Tweet

  1. Take ourselves less seriously
    While it essential to take what we do seriously, especially nowadays, it is equally important not to take ourselves too seriously. When we take ourselves too seriously, our ‘message’ becomes ‘heavy’ rather than ‘light, and so we undermine it. This is particularly jarring in laughter yoga where the aim is to promote joyfulness, connection and open-heartedness (among other qualities).
    To start taking ourselves less seriously, practice laughing at yourself.
    A basic practice here is to look in a mirror, remind ourselves of all our foibles, point at ourselves, and have a good-natured chuckle. Learning to laugh at ourselves is liberating for others as well as ourselves.

  1. Let go & be more flexible.
    When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” John Maynard Keynes.

Changing our mind can be a tricky skill to master, yet it is essential if we want to be resilient, deal with stress well, and adapt properly as life changes around us. One easy way is regularly to ask ourselves ‘What if?’
It is a useful exercise to imagine circumstances being different, reversed, in a different order – just to see what insights occur to us, and therefore how we might do things differently.

‘Learning is not compulsory. Neither is survival’ W. Edwards Deming Click To Tweet

When we feel energised and passionate, it is easier to start imagining the previously unimaginable without feeling too threatened. When we approach this reviewing process as a game and engage with it playfully, it becomes easier to be open-minded and consider new ideas and possibilities.

A quick and easy way to become more playful is to move around playfully. We become energised when we spend a few moments being physically active, and combining this with playfulness moves us quickly into an open-minded and creative space. If you’re not sure how to, think of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks?

The value of this flexibility, in combination with passion and playfulness, is it helps us adapt more easily as life changes, which is why laughter yoga is an effective tool for contemporary living – just keep practicing.

Useful links

Smiling is good for the heart

Laughter and mood change








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Why laughter yoga is good for your mental health


‘I feel better’

This is the most common reply I get to the question ‘how do you feel when you laugh?’, and the reason is because there’s magic in laughter.
When we laugh in an open and good-natured way, we are experiencing a moment of joy, of present-moment awareness, and quite possibly exuberance. In such a moment, we are enjoying our life, so we feel better.


This experience is the antidote to stress, anxiety, worry and worse. Psychologically, it builds our resilience because feeling good is an empowering experience. ‘Feeling better’ feeds our resourcefulness and helps us deal better with life’s challenges. It improves our mental health, and gives us a more positive and optimistic outlook.

Be optimistic. It feels better. The Dalai Lama Click To Tweet

Fortunately, optimism is a quality we can all develop. Psychologically, we need to go through a process where we challenge our non-optimistic thoughts and feelings, and based on our own experience, replace them with more realistic and accurate ones. This is proven current psychological practice and at the heart of several approaches to improving mental health.

Laughter yoga helps these processes. There is a simple laughter yoga exercise which involves smiling. In this exercise, you smile a genuine and good-natured smile for 10-15 seconds, ideally at yourself in a mirror. Doing this usually requires a psychological shift because to keep your smile genuine (ie not false and insincere), you have to you take control of your mood and put it into a good-natured state. This is brain-training, and can be transformative.

‘What I have learnt …… is being able, at any moment, to choose to enter the state of having a genuine warm smile and that this has a transformative effect on me.  It is as if I have found the last piece of a jigsaw, which holds everything together, a magic key which enables me to access, without effort, those qualities that I have been ‘working’ towards.’

Laughter yoga is often thought of as a group activity, and it usually is. However, as with almost every other practice, it is one that can be on your own too. Learning to keep the practices going when on your own allows the benefits to deepen and grow.

‘On the first day I woke up with a headache with general cold symptoms and was reluctant to start. Even though I felt ridiculous, I still smiled and by the end was genuinely laughing; it was a great start to the day ……. It’s amazing how such a simple task can have a positive effect on your day.  By the end of the week I did feel slightly happier and found that any task I was going to do post exercise became easier.’

So, even on our own we can use laughter yoga to improve our mental health.

However, laughter yoga is also a group activity. When we do our laughter yoga in a group, it builds connection. One of Dr Kataria’s great insights at the outset of laughter yoga was that when we connect with someone else while doing laughter yoga, we become more playful and spontaneous and therefore even more good-natured.


Connection is an antidote to loneliness. Because loneliness is a major contributor to mental ill-health, the group activities of laughter yoga also help promote mental good health.

But there is much more to laughter yoga than just the psychological aspect. Laughter yoga is a mind-body / body-mind activity. It also uses physical activity and exercises to energise us, and to help us engage with our innate playfulness. The mind-body / body-mind quality helps activate the biochemical changes on several levels simultaneously, and these changes have been shown to have benefits that can last up to 24 hours. All we need do is keep topping up the benefits.

‘People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.’ Zig Ziglar Click To Tweet

I myself have used laughter yoga smiling exercises for years. I use them at the start of my day, every day. The most straight-forward benefit I have noticed is that morning grumpiness has been banished. I do the exercise until I feel my mood access a good-natured state of mind, and I feel that experience through my whole body. I do this exercise particularly when tired, sleep-deprived, ‘rough’ or under pressure because exactly as one my clients commented, I too have ‘found that any task I was going to do post exercise became easier.’

Here is the exercise I do and recommend:

  1. As early as possible in your day, smile warmly and genuinely for at least 10-15 seconds. (This takes a small amount of focus and persistence.)
  2. Even better is to do this exercise in a mirror so you’re smiling at yourself. If you find this too difficult at first, just do the simple smiling. It’s the 10-15 second aspect that’s important.
  3. At the end of your day, repeat this exercise.
  4. Before going to sleep, write down 3 things you’ve appreciated and/or been grateful for today.
  5. During the week, please be on the lookout for signs that life might be going better. These signs can be easy to miss: an unexpected feeling of comfort; feeling more relaxed in a previously stressful situation; some enjoyment; thinking differently. However small, keep alert for these indicators that life is going better, and write them down.

I hope this simple laughter yoga exercise has the same benefit on your mental health as it has on mine and thousands of others.

Please ask if you have any questions.





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What’s your next step? ‘Be the question’

In a quandry? At a crossroads?

Frustrated, dissatisfied, stressed, suffering, angsty, antsy?

Solution: get out of your own way, you know exactly what to do.

Last weekend I spent a fair bit of time helping people realise they know exactly what to do next in their life. Time after time, we’d chat for 3 or 4 minutes and then it became clear, crystal clear, what their next step was. The only ‘problem’ was them being in their own way – and once they saw this, they had their ‘A-ha’ moment and with a bit of help saw exactly what to do next, and how.

It’s a different step for everyone, but we always know. Always.

  • Sometimes it’s asking ourselves the right question.
  • Sometimes it’s accessing body wisdom.
  • Sometimes it’s shedding our ‘story’.
  • Sometimes it’s starting a new practice.

It always involves change & growing through resistance, and yet we always know it’s right because our knowing side, our still small voice of calm, just knows.

The knack is getting out of our own way – through breakdown, addiction, meditation practice etc – and using outside help.

This ‘help’ comes in many forms, for as Wayne Dyer said beautifully:
‘We’re all just walking each other home’.

So this ‘help’ can just as easily be a dog or tree or a child, it’s not necessarily adult or ‘professional’.

Ask, in the sense of ‘be your question’, and your helper and your solution present themselves. Always. Without fail.

This is the most empowering and solution-focused mindset we can have. I’ve seen it get people into their new groove time after time.

We know. We always know.
Be your question and ask for help.
Ask me, if you like.
But just ask.

‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’

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7 tips for more happiness: the smiling mindset

It’s all in the smile

Whenever possible, whatever you’re doing, do it with a smile. This simple-but-not-easy practice is the antidote to over-seriousness. Who needs over-seriousness? It is not only a joy-killer, it hampers our communication, how we connect with others and limits our effectiveness. It tends to creep up on us, and makes us stressed, anxious and even depressed. If nothing else, over-seriousness limits our enjoyment, whether at work, home and in life.
Besides Eeyores, who consciously chooses not to enjoy their life?

Why smile more?

When we develop a smiling mindset, we enjoy life more. We find more enjoyment everywhere – at our desk, at our computer, with colleagues, while travelling, even in meetings. This simple benefit that we enjoy life more is good enough reason for many people to develop their smiling mindset and smile more.

In this vein, beware of Botox! When we limit our facial expressiveness with anti-wrinkle treatments, we might also be limiting our happiness.
Smiling improves our mood, eases our stress, and makes us happier. It is also good for our health as it tends to lower our blood pressure. We think, focus and concentrate better. The list of benefits goes on and on.

‘On the first day I woke up with a headache with general cold symptoms and was reluctant to start. Even though I felt ridiculous, I still smiled and by the end was genuinely laughing; it was a great start to the day and I actually made it to my lecture. It’s amazing how such a simple task can have a positive effect on your day. By the end of the week I did feel slightly happier and found that any task I was going to do post exercise became easier. I was able to write up lecture notes quicker and found it helped clear my mind and thus, improved my cognitive ability.’

The smiling mindset – smile with your eyes

While it is true that smiling is contagious, so are good vibes. The smiling mindset is an attitude and it can be learnt. More importantly, it can be felt, and so it flows naturally into a mood and energetic communication. The key to this attitude is to soften the muscles around our eyes (orbicularis occuli), the muscles that we use in a genuine (‘Duchenne’) smile. When we relax these muscles our whole face softens, we promote facial expressiveness and so communicate more authentically, and we naturally & genuinely build positive emotions in ourselves and others.

It is a simple yet profound practice, like mindfulness. It is a natural antidote to stress, anxiety and more, also like mindfulness. It is also inherently enjoyable.

Activate yours

You can activate yours while sitting, running, walking, driving, waiting – wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Use the power of your mind. Think ‘smile’ to yourself. Loosen up your body, and send it ‘relax’ messages. Start to move and swing your arms. Get up and stretch. Be as physical as you can. The saying from Dr Kataria and laughter yoga is ‘motion creates emotion’ so use all the resources available to you, and this includes your body.

While doing all this, smile. In particular, feel the quality of your smile from the inside out, your inner smile. Keep your face soft. Twinkle. Allow any feelings of good-natured enjoyment to arise, and welcome them. Allow all feelings to arise, be aware/mindful of them and welcome them – just keep the inner smile attitude going.

Make this a daily practice. Do it several times a day. Do it as often as possible. Keep practicing, diligently. This can change your life.



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7 tips for more happiness, tip 8: don’t try to laugh

Never, ever, try to do something. Either do it, or don’t.

If you want to be happier, be happier.
If you want to use laughter, use it.

How do you laugh more? You breathe in, hold your breath for a second, and breathe out willingly with a good-natured chuckle.
It’s not about a loud laugh, nor a big one, just a willing one.
Do it now?
There, you’ve just laughed.

Note how you feel. Be alert for any changes in your feelings, mood and overall consciousness. Repeat this process three more times so that for four consecutive exhales you’ve chuckled, willingly. This is a basic nls: natural laughter skills practice.

‘I’ve managed to do the exercises every morning (apart from today) since the class! I’ve found that each day after I do them my mood definitely improves and I tend to have a better day because of it. I think it gives me a more positive view of the day and makes me wake up a bit before I go to lectures etc……..My mood and energy levels have definitely improved each time I’ve done the exercises, and my resilience has also improved.’

This simple practice changes lives. When we separate our laughter from jokes & humour & funny and just laugh as a practice, like breathing or stretching (eg yoga) as a practice, we start to liberate our consciousness from a culturally conditioned prison, as well as improving basic qualities like mood, energy and resilience.

This liberation is always an uplifting experience, and always induces happiness.

Among other things, the process being activated by this practice is freeing our awareness from the bullying domineering and often nagging voice in our head.
‘Don’t believe everything you think’ is advice which comes from many cultures. This nls: natural laughter skills practice gives you an effective tool.
It changes lives.
It inspires, encourages and motivates.
It energises and builds resilience.
It helps overcome stress and ease depression.
It helps you think more clearly, and for longer.

As a one-minute morning practice, it sets your day up well like a Louise Hay style affirmation. When you combine it with an inner smile practice, you have a quick, simple and extraordinarily effective way of getting on top of your life in a continuosly improving way.

‘On the first day I woke up with a headache with general cold symptoms and was reluctant to start. Even though I felt ridiculous, I still smiled and by the end was genuinely laughing; it was a great start to the day and I actually made it to my lecture. It’s amazing how such a simple task can have a positive effect on your day. By the end of the week I did feel slightly happier and found that any task I was going to do post exercise became easier. I was able to write up lecture notes quicker and found it helped clear my mind and thus, improved my cognitive ability’.

Remember, all you need do is breathe in, hold your breath for a second, and breathe out with your good-natured chuckle.
Repeat as often as possible but at least 4 consecutive out-breaths.

Enjoy your practice.

Please click below for more information on
nls: natural laughter skills
smiling & laughter practices
the book
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Gentle laughing mindfulness

I was asked on a recent Laughter Facilitation Skills course ‘How can I combine laughter yoga with mindfulness?’

2014 July 23rd 036

Laughter meditation and mindfulness are natural companions. Mindfulness is the practice of awareness. It is the act of noticing your body, breath, emotions, thoughts and environment, without necessarily responding to any of them.
People usually find this practice calming. Because of this calm, they often experience quiet joyfulness. This quiet joyfulness often brings a smile to their face.

Laughter meditation, whether through laughter yoga or nls: natural laughter skills, stimulates mindfulness. It brings attention into the here & now. People find they become more present and more aware of their own processes and environment. This happens in a naturally joyful way.
The act of laughter meditation therefore can stimulate joyful awareness.

The easiest way to combine these practices is through by smiling practices.
These smiling practices, as described in ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’, can add the specific quality of joyfulness into mindfulness. As a meditative practice, this is like the difference between a ‘zazen’ or observing meditation and a dynamic one.

Both approaches work well.

When you next do either a laughter yoga or nls: natural laughter skills meditation, make a point of being aware of your body, breath, emotions, thoughts and environment. The practice is to combine your laughter with your awareness so you are aware of both.
When you next do your mindfulness meditation, do it with a soft, small, genuine smile on your face. Notice any difference this smiling quality brings to your awareness. Be open to expressing it as occasional chuckles or laughs of delight.

This is gentle laughing mindfulness.

Notice how it can lift your mood, ease stress, anxiety and depression, give you a psychological boost, and promote a sense of wellbeing and happiness. If you practice this often, you will rewire your brain for greater happiness and an improved quality of life.

You can learn more about these practices in ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’ and on


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Can laughter yoga make me more confident?

Bristol Laughter Club‘How do you feel when you laugh?’ is a question I often ask in laughter yoga
sessions at the Bristol Laughter Club. The most common answer is ‘I feel better’.
When I then ask how people experience that, their responses include feeling more relaxed, grounded, intuitive and focused. When they continue this deeper reflection, people realise they’re more mindful, relaxed and happier, more aware of the totality of present moment rather than just what’s passing through their head.

‘Don’t believe everything you think’ say both the philosopher Alan Watts and the contemporary mindfulness & awareness guru Eckhart Tolle.

The upshot of this mindfulness is we feel happier and better about our own life experience, and a common way people express this is they feel more confident. This is an especially wonderful benefit for those who suffer from the modern epidemics of stress, anxiety and depression.

A recent participant on a nls: natural laughter skills course is a life model, i.e. she poses naked for artists to draw her. She now sits with greater confidence, and feels more confident about dealing with tricky clients.
The particular exercises that help her in these circumstances are the ‘Inner Smile’ and the ‘Inner Laugh’, covered in depth courses and described at length in ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’. Developing the ability to do either or both of these on demand gives her the ability to change her mood in an instant. Because this is empowering, she has gained enormous confidence in her work and day-to-day life.

The ‘Inner Smile’ is a quintessentially mindful exercise and at heart invites you to take your attention inside and smile, internally. There are many refinements but this is the exercise in its simplest form. It is easy, non-obtrusive, and you can do it anywhere. you can even practice it now.
These exercises also sit naturally alongside other disciplines like Positive Psychology, CBT and yoga.
If you practice your ‘Inner Smile’ and ‘Inner Laugh’ regularly, you become more mindful, less stressed, anxious and depressed. The benefits you experience include relaxation, being grounded, focus, the ability to prioritise your time and efforts, increased happiness, and greater confidence.

This comment from the life model expresses this well: ‘Now I’m with James (name changed) the tetraplegic, putting into practice the laughter from the course…….He admits he is being deliberately difficult. I am so much more powerful now.’

What can these practices do for you?

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Are you willing to laugh?

‘When I’m unhappy, stressed, or depressed, sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is laughing – can I really laugh myself into a better mood?’This is a common laughter yoga, nls: natural laughter skills, and laughter meditation question.

The psychologist William James observed ‘We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh’.
But does laughing always make us happier?

The key is willingness.

Willingness empowers every stress-busting, mood-lifting activity we undertake. Particularly when combined with mindfulness, willingness can break us free of anxiety and even depression. The impact and benefit can be long-lasting. We can become happier.

To activate our willingness, one way is to use the inner smile, a classic Taoist/Zen as well as mindfulness-based stress-busting technique.

How do we activate it?

  • Breathe: start taking slow deep breaths, breathing out more slowly than you breathe in
  • Relax: focus on loosening and dropping your shoulders, and do some backward shoulder rolls, maybe even backstroke movements
  • Smile: soften any habitual facial mask by allowing a hint of a smile across your mouth and eyes
  • Internalise: drop this feeling as deeply into your torso as you can, focusing especially on your heart, belly and perineum
  • Laugh: use the power of your mind to bring some pleasant, happy thought or memory into your awareness and have a quiet chuckle.
  • Feel – be mindful: in an aware, attentive, mindful way take a moment to feel and register the quality of what you’ve just experienced
  • Repeat as often and as much as necessary

This and other exercises are in the book ‘Awakening the Laughing Buddha within’, co-authored with the Barefoot Doctor.

As ever, the more you use this practice, the better it works, because you’re learning new habits. You’re harnessing your brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to create new neural pathways. You are increasing grey matter concentration within specific areas of your brain which are involved in learning & memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and re-assessing perspective.

What practical benefits do these bring? Among others:

  • You energise your stress-busting, mood-lifting, happiness-boosting processes
  • You strengthen your ability to be more mindful, to ease anxiety and depression, and to lift your mood at will
  • You develop the knack of becoming more optimistic, resilient and happier

All you need is willingness, and yes, you can laugh yourself happier. People do all the time. This why Dr Kataria, founder of laughter yoga, says: ‘it’s time to take laughter seriously’.

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Wake Up Laughing

‘What’s the point? Why would I do this?’ I was asked recently.
These questions take us to the heart of the healing power of laughter. Why is it such a good stress-buster? Does it ease anxiety and depression? Does it improve health, wellbeing and happiness?
Basically, does ‘laughter the best medicine’ deserve its reputation? The short answer of course is ‘Yes’. The long answer is also ‘Yes’. But why is this so?

When I ask people how they feel when they laugh, the most frequent comment is ‘I feel better’.
What does this mean to you? If you stop, breathe, smile and explore ‘feeling better’, what do you experience? Do you get a sense of an upward curve, of life improving?

I specifically invite you to stop, breathe, smile, relax right now, and simply feel what you’re feeling, whatever that is. Take a moment to feel the experience of your life before reading any further, and then add the phrase ‘I feel better’ into your experience. Do you notice a difference?

The longer I use nls: natural laughter skills, laughter yoga and laughter therapy, the more I appreciate the Dalai Lama (‘Be optimistic. It feels better‘) and contemporary psychological insight that ‘I feel better’ is significant and underappreciated.
It is arguably the most important attribute in our life because when we feel better, we have a sense of life improving, in particular:

  • We feel more in control, and we enjoy life more.
  • We beat back stress because we become more resilient, generous and open-hearted.
  • We improve our mood because we are having a better experience of being alive.
  • We feel more cheerful and optimistic because we ease anxiety, loneliness and depression.
  • We improve our relationships because we are a warmer, more approachable human being. We become someone people instinctively warm to and want to communicate with.

Aren’t these good enough reasons to ‘wake up laughing’?
The fact there are important, numerous and well-documented benefits for conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular health, depression, weight loss and many others is an added supportive factor. Physiologically and psychologically, these are highly significant, and they also combine well with disciplines like yoga, meditation, laughter meditation, positive psychology, as well as mindfulness practices.

However, the improvement in spiritual, psychological and overall wellbeing is perhaps the most fundamental benefit. This is another way of saying we become happier, and is why organisations like Action for Happiness support these activities.
Excitingly and interestingly, even a short exposure to nls: natural laughter skills and laughter yoga can activate this. One person came up to me at a healing arts festival and told me she’d taken part in one of my 15 minute sessions the previous year. She told me she had then spent a difficult and relentlessly demanding year as carer for a family member. She found that as a result of her 15-minute experience she felt so buoyed up that this kept her going all year.

All the other health benefits are important but to me sometimes they pale besides the improved life experience that these 15 minutes contributed to this person.

I leave you with this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882), and I encourage you to ‘wake up laughing’.
‘To laugh often and much………To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition…….. This is to have succeeded.’

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