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Season 3 - Episode 12

Backbending for Beginners

40 min - Practice
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With clear and concise cueing, Margi guides us in a backbending practice designed to help open our chest, shoulders, and back. We find seated and standing postures to find length in the spine and an opening in the heart.
What You'll Need: Mat, Square Bolster, Blanket, Block (2)

About This Video

Aug 02, 2016
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(waves lapping) Hello, and welcome, this is a, going to be a chest opening, back bending practice. We're going to dive right in. You can roll a blanket that will go underneath your shoulder blades, or you can use a bolster, or anything that looks like a bolster from your couch. And, going to lie back, and I'd like for you to measure your prop, whatever it is, based on where your armpits are. Have your, your armpits on the head side of the bolster, so that your shoulders can open, your upper elbows and upper arms can go towards the ground, and your arms can widen out to the side.

If you get here, and it feels like any strain, any discomfort at all on your lower back, lift your pelvis, slide a prop underneath your low back, and then come back down, so there's not such a discrepancy between where the ground is, and where the bolster is. Arms are out to the side, and you can either keep your knees bent, or if it's comfortable, you can extend your legs. And then, take a moment to shift gears. I drive a car with a stick shift, and I often feel like when I get to my practice, I'm in, like fifth gear, sometimes even sixth gear. And the first few moments are about downshifting, all the way down towards neutral.

Give yourself the next few moments to just see where you're at, and if indeed you do feel kind of revved up, plant the seed that, even though we're going to do a back bending practice that can be invigorating, there can also be a calmness that permeates your body and mind. See if you can let go of any resistance that you feel here, and allow yourself to really sink and soften over the props. I notice, for myself, without the peace of yoga that is the mind, and the mindfulness quality, my back stays a little gripped in certain places. Then I take my mind in, and notice where I can soften. And usually the body is pretty responsive to a little nudge from the mind to let go.

So the way that we have the props is creating a great amount of space in the heart, in the lungs. So deepen your breath now, and as you inhale, feel the lungs expanding, and feel a width come to your body. And then as you exhale, let yourself re-sink, re-release, down into the supports. As you inhale, feel the lungs expand, and then the feeling of spreading the breath all the way to the tips of your fingers. And as you exhale, let yourself drop more completely down.

Couple more breaths, watching the lungs expand, and then the awareness spreads, and your exhalations are always about letting go. We're going to bend the left knee only, put your left foot onto the floor. Bring your right arm up by your right ear, and then push off your left foot, and come to your sides. You're going to end up in a side bend over the bolster, it's mild. Take your left arm up overhead, and hold onto your wrist, and lengthen the whole arm, feeding into a openness in the shoulder, all the intercostal muscles, which are the little muscles in between the ribs open, down into the waist, and into the hip.

And you're welcome to stay here, or for a little more opening through the hip flexors, and deep psoas muscle, you might want to take your left leg, slide it back a little bit, so you are in a big, back bending shape from your left heel, up to the back of your left hand. And the side bend is helpful, because when we do our back bends, we want to be as long as possible within the back bend. So to open the sides of the body is very integral, into back bending. Slide your left knee back, roll onto your back, and then push off of your right foot, and roll over to your left side. On this side, hold on to your right wrist.

Lengthen the whole right side of the body. And then you have the option of sliding the right knee back, if perchance this gives you knee pain. Don't do it, keep your knees together, always avoid pain, especially the knees, and the shoulders. You want to baby those parts of your bodies that are a little bit, can be a little bit more challenging to keep healthy. If your right leg is back, draw it back to your left leg, roll onto your back.

And then bring your hands underneath your head. Another really important place to have awake for back bending is the core muscles, and we'll talk about why later. We're going to just lift the head, descend the belly, and curl up. And then lower down just about two inches, and as you exhale, coil up again. Inhale lower down, exhale, coil up, this time, grab onto the backs of your legs, and sit all the way up.

That could be a practice in and of itself. I feel transformed after lying over a bolster. If you just have five minutes one day, especially if you're feeling a little collapsed in the chest, or, might be a nice thing to do. All right, the next thing you need to have, your two blocks. And we're going to put one block right in between the shins, just to keep the legs crisp, and alive, and awake.

Flex your feet, spread your toes, have the soles of your feet to balance, so you're not sickeling the foot, or distorting the foot. You're going to take your other block, and before we, we're going to lie down, but before we do, just peak here for a minute. I'm going to ask you when we lie back down, you can do this with me, or just watch to take your upper arm bones, and plug them into the socket. So for that to happen, instead of reaching forward, the arms pull back. When the arms pull back, the chest broadens.

Okay, so lie down onto your back. You're squeezing the block, so that your legs don't fall asleep. And you're going to take the other block, put it onto your thighs, place your hands clearly on either side of the block, and reach the block straight up towards the ceiling. And then, when you let those upper arm bones sink into the sockets, you might feel the outer part of your shoulder blades moving towards the ground. Squeeze the leg block, and then bring your arms up overhead.

I hope your blocks aren't too heavy, but if they are, you just have an extra challenge. And for some of you, the block might come up all the way to the ground, but try not to let your ribs pop forward, for the block to come to the ground. Keep a feeling of the abdomen contained. And just go to a place that feels okay for your shoulders. And then get longer from your heels to your fingertips.

Squeeze into the shin block, squeeze into the hand block. And then reach your block up, and down towards your legs. And then with now more of a vinyasa, or a flowing feeling, as you inhale, the block comes up, and overhead, any amount. And as you exhale, the block comes up, and back down to the legs. I don't know if your legs are like mine, mine forget to squeeze the block, any given chance.

Keep squeezing into the leg block as the arms come up and overhead, keeping the bottom part of the rib cage quiet. And exhale, arms up, and down. Two more, with big, smooth breath. Inhale, (breath rushing) keeping the neck as soft and relaxed as possible. (breath rushing) Take your block to the side, bend your knees, bring your hands underneath your head, again, coil up, hold onto the backs of your legs, and come all the way up to sit.

You may flip over onto hands and knees. Moving the blocks neatly to the side. Spread your hands, have your shoulders right over your wrists, your hips right over your knees, and then cat and cow. So as you inhale, you come into a back bend, dropping your head, dropping your belly, lifting your head and your tail. And as you exhale, you come into a forward bend.

Keep going. Inhaling as you come into your back bend, you can imagine that bolster's behind your back, and then as you exhale, you come into your rounded spine. You can notice, as you do this, which parts of your spine feel like they move most easily, and which parts of your spine are reluctant to, to fully move. Come into a neutral spine, we'll just stretch the legs for a moment in downward dog, walk your hands a few inches forward, tuck your toes, lift your hips up, and back, and stretch back through the legs. If you want to tread the feet, sink one heel, sink the other heel, you can do that.

And then bring your knees to the floor, and we're going to sit in virasana, and do some shoulder opening. So, I'm going to suggest that you take a blanket, and unfold it underneath your whole pose. Let's see, I'm going to put my blanket this way. And then, some of you may sit on one block, maybe sitting on two blocks, and you want the blocks, I'm going to sit this way, you want the blocks so they'll be underneath both sitting bones. And not like this, unless you have a little itty bitty tiny pelvis.

You're going to have both sitting bones able to root down onto the blocks. The feet surround the blocks, and then they sit back. And I want to have the blocks just underneath my sitting bones, not underneath my thigh bones, because I want the thighs to drop. I'm going to pull the flesh around the sitting bones back, so I can really feel the bones of my pelvis dropping down into the ground. And then I want you to look back at your feet, and make sure that your toes are pointing straight back.

If they had lights on the tips of the toes, there'd be 10 lights pointing straight back. You don't want to let your foot distort out to one side. Okay. Take your fingertips, I want you to feel some parts of your body. First the sternum, or the breastbone.

So you can come to the bottom of the breastbone, it's called the xiphoid process. And then just with your fingertips, feel that bone. I feel like it looks a little bit like, if you looked at a hot dog bun from the top, it's like, kind of long, oval shape. And when you get to the top of the breastbone, you'll find the clavicles, the collarbones, and let your fingers just trace out to the sides of the collarbones. Like so, in back bending, we want to find a nice strong lift of the, the top of the breastbone, and then, an widening of the collarbones.

This gets a little, a little yogic. Might be a little bit tricky, but the whole breastbone, sometimes maybe it lifts, but often times, we have to anchor the bottom of the breastbone down, to protect the low back in back bending. The tricky thing about back bending, is that our neck, very flexible. And our low back, very flexible. So, when we come into a back bend, the low back and the neck go "Yay, I can do this." And then they overdo it, and the rest of the spine gets left out, and the parts that do it easily get over-bent.

So throughout the practice, I'm going to give you many tips on not overdoing it in the neck and the low back. One of them is, when you bend back, instead of blasting forward, this region of the bottom of the breastbone, and where the diaphragm is, you want to keep a little containment there. That's why we did the abdominal work, keep a little containment there. So bring your hands in front of your chest, reach your arms forward, and then lift your arms up. You might notice the breastbone, the whole thing begins to tip up.

So you can keep the bottom of the breastbone anchored, as the arms reach up. And then widen your arms way out to the side, really reaching through every finger, interlace your fingers behind you, pull the arms back, which creates that lift of the breastbone and width across the collarbones. Your heart is connected to your breastbone by ligaments, and so when you lift our breastbone like this, the heart also shines up a bit. Expand your arms to the side, we're going to take the right arm underneath the left arm, and then bring the backs of the hands towards each other. For some of you, the right fingers might find the left palm, this is eagle arms.

It spreads the back of the heart, the space in between the shoulder blades, which can sometimes get compressed in back bend. But we want to have some spaciousness there, so this is a reminder of that. Take your arms out to the side, and reach your left arm underneath your right arm, double crossing if that's available to you, or not. The elbows lift, the shoulders release, and you breathe into the back of the heart. (breath hissing) And then release.

And we're going to shift back onto hands and knees. Moving the props to the side. If you get to your hands and your knees before me, you can press back into downward facing dog. From downward facing dog, walk your hands all the way back to your feet, and then once again, find your collarbones with your fingertips, and come into your flat back, lengthening the chest forward, and as you do that, pull the collarbones away from the thighs, which are pulling back. Broaden behind your heart, like we did in those arms that we did a moment ago, and then fold forward.

You can have your hands on your shins, if you want to get your blocks, to have your hands on blocks, that's fine too. Couple times, flat back, focusing on the breastbone, and then moving forward with the collarbones opening, and as you exhale, release, taking some of that length, and folding forward. One more, inhale, collarbones, breastbone, move forward, as the tops of the thighs pull back. Exhale, fold over. And then bring your hands to the tops of the thighs, once again, rolling the collarbones and the breastbone forward, and make your way all the way up to stand.

From here, come to the front of your mat, and have your two blocks at the ready, on either side of your feet. And let's interlace the fingers again. This time, instead of your habitual interlace, see if you can switch every finger one position over. I take that, what we call the opposite interlace. Bring the arms forward, with the arm bones pulling back, reach your arms up, containing the bottom of the rib cage down.

And then open your arms, interlace your fingers behind your back, pull the arms back, let that lift your chest a lot. And then float your arms, whoosh, up to the sky, and as you exhale, fold forward. And bend the knees, and step the right foot way back to a lunge. And then lower your back knee down to the mat, and please take care of your patella, your kneecap. If there's any tenderness, put it on the blanket.

And then we're going to flip the blocks up to the high height, and pull them back a little bit, and reach the arms up overhead. Now just notice how your low back feels. Here's a time when the low back, you might be falling into it. So actually, bring your hands down onto your waist, and note, feel where there's no bones. Between your ribs and your pelvis, there's a, I call it the gush, the gushy part.

Take the gushy part and pull it back. When you do that, that's a direction, pulling the sides of the waist, I'll call it sides of the waist, back. Then, it takes some of the excess curve out of the lower back. Then let the whole pelvis come forward without falling into the low back. From here, reach both arms up.

And then bring your left hand down onto the block. If it doesn't reach the block, the forearm can also just rest onto the thigh. You can also turn the block a little bit lower, and feel this kind of extraordinary stretch from the right knee through the deep psoas muscle, deep in the body, connecting the inner thigh to the spine. Feel the rib soften a bit, and the shoulder, you soften the shoulder by re-plugging in that upper arm bone. And then let yourself fold back, hands to the blocks, straighten your back leg, and then step forward.

Second side, anjaneyasana. Left leg steps way back, padding underneath the knee, slide your blocks up to their highest height, point the back toes, and have your back toes pointing straight back like they were doing in virasana, you can peek at that. And then inhale, your arms up. And once again, the sides of the waist, draw back. So there should be no pain at all in your back when you do back bends.

Took me 15 years to learn that it doesn't have to hurt my low back to do back bends, and now I really, fully, am a strong believer that you shouldn't have pain in your back when you do back bends. It might be some strong sensation, but not pain. So from your length, bring your right hand down, come into a side bend. Breathe. Keep the sides of the waist and the low belly drawing back.

And then release down, hands to the blocks, and step once again forward. Three times flat back to uttanasana. Inhale, you roll the chest forward, exhale, you fold over. Inhale, you roll the chest forward, opening those collarbones, plugging the upper arm bones in, exhale, fold forward. Last time, inhale, rise up and exhale, fold forward, bend your knees.

Step your left foot way back. This time spin your back heel down. Going to move the blanket, I no longer need it. Spin your left heel down, (chuckles) so that the back heel is further back than the toes. The back foot is in a really strong angle.

From here, bring your hands onto your front thigh. From here, drop your tailbone, draw the sides of the waist and the low belly up, so the front body kind of brings the back body up. And then you can reach your arms up, it's also fine to keep your hands onto your hips. So here we are in virabhadrasana number one. If you feel back pain, lean forward a little bit, engage the belly, and then find the lift from the breastbone, the top region of the breastbone, lifting up, collarbones open.

If you want to bring your arms up, as if you have a block in between your hands, lift your arms. Breathe. Sink the right thigh another inch, perhaps, as you lift the heart up another inch. And then exhale, hands down. Lift your back heel, and step forward.

Second side, virabhadrasana number one, it's a warrior pose. Takes courage to do your warriors. Right heel, spins down on a strong angle. Route through that foot, organize your legs, and then find your front body, find the sides of the waist, let the front body bring you up into warrior one. Warrior one is one of the only standing poses that's a back bend.

You can see, you can feel from the right heel, the back leg right into the spine, right up to the crown of the head, there's a big back bending arc. Breathing. Rooting. Rising. And then dissolving out, hands down.

Back heel forward, and take the blocks to the side. Route the hands, step back into downward facing dog. From downward dog, come to plank. And then bring your knees to the floor. Lower all the way down to your belly, and just take a moment to rest on your belly.

Turning your head to one side. Bring your hands by your ribs, and bring either your chin to the floor, or your forehead to the floor, and then lift your right leg up. Lengthen the right leg. Imagine you're lengthening it all the way from your right armpit. You might lift the right hip a little bit to free it.

And then, place the leg back down, with the toes pointing straight down, like they were doing in virasana, and start straight back. Probably feel a difference between the two legs. Other leg lifts up, roll a little to your right so you can free it, and lengthen it from your armpit to your toes, and then come back, lengthen the leg again, and place it back down. Little cobra, the chest lifts. The collarbones roll up, the top of the breastbone coils up.

Pick your hands up off the floor for a moment. It's a little cobra, it's about the muscles of the back. And as you exhale, forehead back down to the ground. Reinvigorate your legs as if you have a block in between your shins. Inhale, come up, lengthening the tail bone, lifting the sides of the waist up a little bit, and exhale, forehead down to the ground.

One more time, inhale, little cobra, exhale, forehead down to the ground. Turn your head to the other side, and rest for a moment. Now we're just going to try for a slightly bigger cobra, and it'll depend on your body, and this moment, how high you go. But we're going to take the hands a little bit wider, and a little bit further forward. So maybe your hands are somewhere near the corners of your mat.

You do everything we've talked about, the abdomen lifts, the sides of the waist lift, which helps the tailbone to lengthen, the legs are very very long, all 10 toes are reaching back. So lengthening back through each leg, lifting the abdomen up, the belly button up towards the spine, which creates more length in the low back. And then begin to emerge, like a cobra, coming out of the basket. But not with the head lifting. You can think about back of the neck staying spacious.

And then a bigger cobra, so little cobra's just about the back, not the arms. A bigger cobra, the arms can help come up. And again, make sure that you're not uncomfortable. There is a distinct sensation, it's not that it is sensationless, but it shouldn't jam, or crunch, or leave you feeling like you need to go to the hospital. For sure not. (giggles) You can walk your hands maybe a little bit further in, again, you just check it out, see, hear, the upper arm bones can once again plug into the socket.

It's a little bit of a feeling, because the chest emerges through the stable upper arms. And then the, if the chest is lifted, maybe the chin lifts up just a little bit, but definitely not crunching the back of the neck. And then as you come down, pull your hands back, just drag, have a feeling they're dragging back to stretch your abdominal contents. Slide your hands underneath your shoulders, press back to a child's pose with the knees about rib distance apart, and rest. If your head doesn't reach the ground easily in child's pose, please put your head on a prop.

It's important to let the brain rest down. Okay, we just have one more back bend to go, in this back bending practice, and it's ustrasana, which is the camel pose. I'm going to do camel with two blocks, the blocks right by the ankles, at the highest height. You may want to have a blanket underneath your knees, again, if it's at all uncomfortable on your knees, please put props underneath. Okay.

You can tuck your toes underneath, and then bring your hands to the side, the gushy side of the body, pull it back, and then bring your hands right to the very tops of your gluteus muscles, the tops of your buns. And encourage a length down through that region. And then keeping a little anchor of the bottom of the breastbone, pulling down, let the top of the breastbone lift up, and begin to arc back. I always think of a teacher, amazing teacher I had in New York, Genny Kapuler, who would say, "Let the birds fly out of your chest." You're welcome to stay right here, or your blocks may be accessible to your hands. You can be on fingertips, or hands flat.

If you're bendy in the back department, and you feel healthy, your hands also might come onto your heels. From here, lift your chest away from the descent of your hands, and your knees, and your feet. It's fine to keep your chin tucked, or let your head kind of follow the line of your spine. Breathe into the chest, imagine the bolster, like we started, is behind your chest, lifting it up. And then find some core strength to come up, and sit down onto your heels.

Mmm. I get yoga dizzy from that one. Yoga dizzy's a good kind of dizzy, unlike the other kind of dizziness that you might have in life, which is scary. Yoga dizzy, (makes whoosh) Good realm to be in. All right, we're going to start to just quiet down here, so come to lie onto your back.

And after we did all of that work with the spine in a back bend, we're going to revisit the core, just for a few moments. Hug your right knee in towards your chest, and lengthen your left leg. This is a great, it's called apanasana. Wind-relieving pose. That makes me laugh a little bit. (giggles) This is what they would do in ancient times, I guess, if they had gas, wind-relieving.

And then the other one pulls in, and, the right leg lengthens. It's a really great pose for the low back, after that back bending. And then we're going to do it again, and this time, have your left leg slightly hovering up off the floor. Of course, if that feels too intense, you should put it right back down onto the ground. Breathe in, stabilizing through your deep core muscles, switch to the other side, inhale, exhale, we switch.

Last time, inhale, and exhale, we switch. Hug both knees into your chest, rock a little bit from side to side. And then place your feet wide on your mat, so mat distance apart. You're going to keep your feet wide, take your arms to the side, and just casually, like windshield wipers, let your knees go from side to side. As you do this, you'll roll across the soles of your feet.

We are neutralizing the spine, just ensuring that it will be happy when we come off of our mat. That's one good way to gauge, I've been talking a little about avoiding pain. If you come off of your mat, and you don't feel good, then you need to re-evaluate your practice. If something feels intense on the mat, but then you get up and you feel good afterwards, it's probably okay. Okay, after you finish off even right and left, one more pose before savasana, we're just going to draw the knees in, reach the feet up towards the ceiling, and hold onto the shins, or the ankles, or maybe you can reach up to the outer feet, for happy baby pose.

Because of the way that we're connected, in happy baby, the pelvis tends to coil up, but to get a good true stretch in the hips, see if you can lengthen your sitting bones and your tailbone away from where your head is. Three breaths, with the lion's roar on the exhalation. So take a big breath in, as you exhale, stick out your tongue, open your eyes, (hissing) exhale, completely out. And then again, big, big big breath in, (hissing) stick your tongue out very far. (hissing) Last one, inhale, (hissing) and exhale. (hissing) Release.

Let's put the bolster underneath the knees for savasana, especially after a back bending practice. That is an important thing to do. And then with the blanket, if you'd like, this is something that I like to do when I just have a blanket, I really am a big fan of darkness when I relax. So I take the blanket, I pull it underneath my head, I even make it just a little bit of a roll underneath my neck. And then I take the top of the blanket, and just fold it over my forehead on my eyes.

You can maybe even press the blanket over your ears. And then make any final adjustments that you need, so that you can be comfortable. And rest. Bring your attention down to your low, low, low part of your spine, your tailbone. And it doesn't matter if you know exactly where your tailbone is, just get your mind somewhere down in that low pelvic region.

And find softness all around the tailbone. The pelvic floor, the hips, release completely. And let your mind come up to your low back, which we worked so hard on stabilizing. And you probably noticed that your low back is not pressed into the ground, and that's fine. We don't want to press the low back into the ground.

It should have its natural curve. Within the structure of that curve, can you release the muscles on either side of the low back? Feeling that spread out wide, to the outer hips. Then bring your attention up to the, the thoracic spine, the upper part of the spine, before the neck. And this is a tighter part of the spine, and it's tight for a great reason.

It keeps your heart, and it keeps your lungs very safe and secure in the rib cage. So we go for opening it, but it's just a small opening, and now, relax the thoracic spine, relax those 12 bones, connected to ribs, and inside, relax your lungs and your heart. And then bring your mind up to your neck, and the very tip top of your spine, called the atlas, it's about in between your ears. And allow your neck to release completely. Moving up to the top of the spine, and then the brain, that surrounds the top of your spine, can soften and release.

And now the whole body, spine, to the fingertips, to the toe tips, to the crown of the head, releases completely. You're welcome to stay here for as long as you have today. If you're ready to move along, deepen your breath. If you've covered your eyes, you can reach up, keeping the eyes closed, just pull the blanket off of your head. And then once again, breathe into the width of the lungs, out to the fingertips.

Let your exhalation drop you deeper into your relaxation. One more deep breath, expanding from your midline to the fingertips. If you're ready to move, knees bent, roll to your side, important to roll to the side and let the long muscles that surround your spine stay soft. And then bring yourself all the way up to a seated position. Take time to find a comfortable seat.

And see if maybe now you feel that the spine, and the heart, and the breastbone, can lift without as much effort. I often think of that same teacher I mentioned earlier, who said that the birds fly out of your chest. She was my teacher when I lived in downtown Manhattan, on 9/11, and a few days after the tragedy, we made it to her house, and I was like, how on earth is she going to teach a yoga class? And she sat down, she was a very elegant, older woman, she sat down and she said, "In order to practice yoga, "we have to lift our spine, "and we have to open our hearts." And then she just taught us a normal yoga class. And it was really pounded into my being, that in order to be on this earth with a sense of my yogic joy, even when life crashes down on me, I have to remember those words of lifting my spine, and opening my heart.

Thank you so much for joining me.

Comments

1 person likes this.
I'm so appreciative Margi is on YogaAnytime. Her style of communication is thoughtful, well timed and inviting embodiment. This class is a great study break, or end to a day of sitting at my computer all day long. It's lovely to ground my brain back to my body. Looking forward to further teachings.
Thank you ever so much Kate!
Thank you for your lovely teaching. This class is going to help me with backbends. I have been struggling to do them for years. I appreciate the anatomical exploring and the detailed instructions.
Thank you Karen .Backbends can be tricky but are SO necessary. Glad you are opening in that direction! Margi
1 person likes this.
Thank you Margi. Im a yoga teacher too and found your way of explaining the details of how to move into a backbend very helpful. I really liked the hands on approach, feeling the sternum and the clavicle with finger tips. I'll use some of your tips in my class tonight. Thanks again!
Kimberly I am SO happy to give some ideas for your classes. Please enjoy and spread the word! (And the sacrum!)
Margi,  OMG Thanks so much for this!  My back feels flexible and relaxed after this one. I can do this one often and get a new understanding from it each time. I'm loving exploring your videos and practices. As always, I get so much from the way you reference the muscles and bones, and the way you guide with gentleness, philosophy and knowledge.  
Betty Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. And I am so glad you feel good.... we need that more than ever! Hope you continue to be well. Margi
What a perfect class! Thoroughly enjoyed how you prepared the body for back bending with very clear instructions. Thank you!
Anne B Thank you! How important it is to keep bending back! Happy New Year. Margi
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