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YogaPaws Blog for Beginner Poses and Postures

Explaining the Yoga Transformation cliché

Posted on Fri, May 17, 2013
beautiful yoga photo
Photographer Julien Balmer of Visual Spectrum Photography

It may be cliché, I know, but yoga has changed my life.

Somebody recently asked me how and I realized that it is has been a slow and steady process, one which is vast and deep and profound. I struggled for a quick and easy description. It got me thinking....... How has yoga really changed my life...... Or more to the point changed me.

I used to be a wild party girl, chasing the next thrill, the next high, the next hit and the next buzz. One day I finally realized that it was insatiable. There was never enough, it always left you wanting more. More music, more hits, more highs, more booze, more spiffs, more cigarettes, more alcohol, more sex, more rock and more roll, more more more more more. IT was never enough. IT was not satisfying. IT was endless because IT was not IT.

I woke up one morning with a nose bleed and a hangover from hell. I crawled downstairs threw up and then looked at myself in the mirror. There must be more to life than this. There must be more to me than just this. 

I turned my back on my party ways, I packed my bags and left my life. I left myself! I jumped ship. 

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Mhari Scott | Seattle and Portland Wedding Photographer

I had found Ashtanga yoga a year before and it was the first thing I had done in ages that actually made me feel good about myself. It actually made me feel. I had been numbing myself to life for so long that I could barely feel anything anymore. 

I chose life. I didn’t want o be numb anymore…..

I immersed myself in the new world I had discovered. I started taking my practice seriously. I devoted time to myself to making myself feel good. I started to take care of myself. Lesson one - if you don't look after yourself then how can u feel good? Inside and out. 

I started to observe myself. What did I do, how did I do it. 

I beat myself up. I put myself down. I hit myself with a derogatory stick all day everyday.

Lesson two - without observation there will be no change. First we have to recognize our faults before we can start changing them. 

I started to taking note when and why I was doing this. I burnt my stick. I made a pact with myself to start being nice to me. If I am not nice to me then how can I expect anyone else to be?

I changed my ways.

Lesson three - by changing the way you do things in your daily life can allow a new person inside of you to grow. I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking. I stopped partying. I went to class. I did my practice. I changed my patterns. I'm not saying it was easy, not at first, but with persistence and continuity; then things will change (Lesson four). 

India beckoned. I could hear it calling me. It's funny because when you drink and smoke and alter your state of mind then you begin to lose touch with you intuition. You simply can't hear it as clearly as you can with a clear head. I had lived in a blurry bubble for over 12 years and quite frankly, everything was hazy. As I began to clear my head I began to hear that little voice inside of me. The little voice of the larger me. The more I listened to it, the more it spoke to me. Guiding me, telling me which way to go, which path to take, which decision to make, what was right, what I wanted.

Lesson five - always listen to that little voice for it is the voice of your soul. 

I went to India. Choosing life, expansion. Choosing to follow my path. 

I learnt how to be on my own agenda. I realized that I had always done everything for everyone else and hardly ever did what I wanted to do for me. Lesson six. Live life for you! Put yourself first. 

forward bend

I learnt how to enjoy my own company, how to be ok with myself. Yoga teaches you to begin to be ok with where u are. Make peace with wherever you are and be content with that. Don't strive after achievements that you have not yet fulfilled or feel frustrated by things that have not yet materialized. Lesson seven. Make peace with exactly where you are today. Not where you were yesterday or where you want to be tomorrow, but where and who you are today. 

My practice and experience of India was arduous. It was a hard graft. I had upped my practice from 2-3 times a week to 6 and my practice itself was almost twice as long and the level of demanding-ness had quadrupled. I learnt that once again perseverance leads to achievement. Lesson eight - Without commitment you don't get very far. 

I kept going. When things got tough, when I felt like I was never going to get to where I wanted to go. I kept going. I was enjoying the journey and knowing that the journey was the destination I stopped looking forward and began looking at now. Living in the moment. Living each day as it came. 

Lets pause there for a moment…..living in the now is a hard practice. It takes years of trying to even get close. But you have to start somewhere, you have to be happy where you are and you have to preserver. I realized how much I cling to the past and how much I try to mentally paint a picture of the future. Again it is extremely heard to let go of these things but you have to just keep on trying. Keep acknowledging what you are doing and keep recognizing that you are doing them. Lesson 9 to live in the now is really hard! Only severe determination and constant effort will get you there.

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Lesson 10 - you are enough. Don't listen to other people's opinions of what you are capable of. If you want to do something. Just do it. Don't ask others people's advice. Listen to that voice inside of you. Don't listen to your fears of inadequacy. Don't let other people stop you from pursuing your dreams. 

A 'friend' told me that I was not ready for my teacher training, he had not been with me in India. He had not seen what I had out into my practice. He had no right to tell me what he thought I was capable of. I ignored his advice and I did it anyway. I was good enough. I started to believe in myself.

Lesson 11 - don't give up!

 On returning from my travels things went down hill.  My world fell apart. My vision of how life was going to be was so very far from how it actually was. I was lonely. I was in a new place. My creature comforts where stripped away. I fell. I got very close to giving up, for the first time in my life I danced with death. I fought depression. I struggled through. I took on all my weaknesses. I cleared out all my dirty corners. I did a big spring clean of me. 

When things got really bad I asked for help. (Lesson 12 always ask for help when you need it). I'm not very good at asking for help. I don't like to be a burden. Ironically I help other people endlessly, yet I can not ask for the anything in return. 

I asked for help. I got out of my hole. I reconnected.

Lesson 13. Everything you need is within you. Don't ever forget that. 

Lesson 14 - dream big.

Life is about following our dreams. About making them happen. Nothing is outside of our grasp. You really can do anything if you set your mind to it. Follow the things that excite you. Make decisions based on what feels right. If you can't find an answer then you are probably just messing with the wrong question! I was stuck between two options that I could not decide between until I realized that neither of them were what I wanted to do. I did a workshop with Nancy Gilgoff and she said to me 'come to Maui'. As she said it something inside of me lit up. I could go to Maui. I could go and spend a few months practicing second series with Nancy Gilgoff!! I could do that. Suddenly I got hit with the ' I can't afford it / what about my job / what would I do when I got back' thoughts. I decided to bin those and live in the moment. Right now it was the only thing that really excited me. It got my chi flowing. It made me sparkle. It made me feel alive! I was going to make it happen. I was going to live the dream.

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Lesson 15 - choose life. Every day you will be more. Every moment you are getting closer to your dreams. Every second you are changing and growing. Every day you can be a new you. Every thought can be the birth of a new dream. 

Who knows where you will be in six months, six weeks, six days or even six minutes from now. 

 

So that is how yoga has changed my life. It has taught me so very much about myself, about how I live and how I can live. Yoga is not about the physical stuff. It is a tool to help you begin to see yourself. Imagine you have a mirror to see yourself in, well practicing yoga helps you to clean that mirror…. For the purpose of seeing yourself more clearly.

When you can see yourself, you can change yourself.

This is how yoga helped me to transform.

 

Laura Grace  www.ashtangayogadeva.com

Tags: 4th Chakra, advanced yoga, 1st Chakra, being present, 2nd Chakra, 7 Chakra, 5th Chakra, 6th chakra, 3rd Chakra, 8 limbs of yoga, benefits of yoga, yoga chakras

Seven Yogic Tips for a Healthy Heart Chakra

Posted on Tue, Mar 27, 2012

heart chakraEveryone wants to love and be loved. That very human desire creates an immediate and deep connection with Anahata, the heart chakra. The fourth of the energy wheels stacked  from the pelvic floor to the crown, the heart chakra sits in a pivotal position in your body. Not only is it located at center of your physical heart, it also marks the transition from the lower three chakras (which are associated with relationships to the society around you, your loved ones and yourself) to the higher chakras that relate to enlightenment and to connection with the Divine. Anahata is the bridge between the earthly and the eternal.

Both the physical heart and the heart center are vital. And they both need nurturing. Asana practice, breath work and a healthful diet support the functioning of your physical heart. They also make the work of your physical heart easier by improving your circulatory and respiratory systems. Meditation enhances the health of the spiritual heart center. It opens the channels of understanding that enable you to look at your thoughts, words and actions within the context of unconditional love.

open forth chakrsAs you learn more about Anahata, you will see how to take its various aspects into your daily life. You may want to wear or carry its gem as a reminder to keep your heart center free. Incorporating its sound into practice can intensify your intention. Maybe just using a green yoga mat or wearing green will signal your connection to your heart center. What follows is a starting point for the possibilities.

 

The basics: The Sanskrit word Anahata means unhurt, un-struck and unbeaten. Anahata Nad is a reference to the Vedic concept of unstruck sound, the sound of the celestial realm. It is located at the center of the chest. [Click here for details on all seven chakras.]

 

Heart & Lung Chakra lgIts presiding deities: Vayu, (also Isha and Kakini)

Its element: Air

Its colors: Primarily green, but also deep, shining red

Its symbol: Cross (indicative of its role as the unifier of the divine and earthly realms)

Its sense: Touch

Its aroma: Rose

Its gemstones: Emerald, green jade, kunzite, rose quartz, and pink tourmaline

Its sounds: Musical note: F; Mantra/Sound: Yam/Sa; Bija sound: Yan

Its metal: Copper

Number of petals: 12

Physical associations: Heart, circulatory system, lungs, chest, arm, shoulders. It is also associated with the thymus gland.

In balance: The physical heart is functioning optimally and the heart center is in a state of selfless love and compassion.

Physical imbalances: Heart issues, lung and breathing problems, upper back pain, breast cancer, compromised immune system, blood diseases.

Emotional imbalance: anger, revenge-seeking, grief, bitterness, meanness.

 

self love

Keeping Anahata in balance requires a deep and ongoing commitment. It can be difficult not to let your heart harden when a loved one leaves this Earth, when a partner or friend hurts or betrays you or when you unleash negativity on yourself.  But that only invites isolation and more pain. By seeking freedom in the heart chakra, you remain open to finding true connection with those around and with yourself. Here are some suggestions for making that happen:

 

 

 

heart chakraMeditation. This is based on a meditation given by Swami Sivajnanananda. Sit in a comfortable position. Focus your attention in front of your heart near your breastbone. Allow yourself to sense the rhythm of the beating of your heart. Sync your breath with the beating of your heart, noticing the expansion and contraction of your cage. Try to visualize the breath moving out from your heart into your lungs. Then see your breath traveling from the trigger point in front of your heart toward the heart chakra point along your spine. Visualize the air as it exits from the points on the spine out through the trigger point. Let your breath become subtler. Concentrate on the rhythm of your inhales from the trigger point to the chakra point on the spine and exhales from the spine to the trigger point. Try to see both points in your mind. In your mind, add the chant of Om to your inhales and exhales until this fills your concentration. Allow your mind and body to relax.

 


Sukh-Purvak PranayamaSukh-Purvak Pranayama (Complete Joy Breath) Benefits: This breathing exercise calms and cools, allowing you to be more open in your heart.

How to do it: Begin in Sukhasana (Easy Pose) or Padmanasana (Lotus Pose). Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril for three Oms. Then use the little finger of your right hand to close your left nostril. Hold your breath for six Oms. Then release your right thumb and exhale for six Oms. Repeat on the other side.

 

 

 

 

Sphinx PoseSphinx Pose   

Benefits: This gentle backbend opens your chest, helping you to feel the receptiveness associated with the heart chakra.

How to do it: Lie on your stomach with your legs extended behind you. Rotate your thighs inward. Place your elbows next to your shoulders and your forearms parallel to each other. On an inhale, keep lengthening through your tailbone as you lift your head and torso off the floor. Lightly draw your belly away from the floor, rounding it toward your lower back. Stay for five to 10 breaths, then release. Repeat one to two more times if you like.

 

 

 

 

 

UstrasanaUstrasana (Camel Pose)

Benefits: This heart-opening pose stretches the muscles of your chest.

How to do it: Begin on your knees with your legs hip-width apart. Place your hands on the back of your pelvis. Without compressing your lower back, lean back into the support of your hands. If it is available to you, move into the full pose by clasping your ankles with your hands. Focus on lifting your pelvis so your hips don’t “pop” forward. Keep your neck long or look back. Remain in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.  Release by bringing your body gently back to a kneeling position, then rest for a few breaths in Balasana (Child’s Pose).

 

 

 

 

MarjaryasanaMarjaryasana (Cat Pose)

Benefits: This arching pose helps to soften and release tense muscles in the neck and back that keep you from letting your heart open.

How to do it: Start on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Gently lift your back into an arch and release your gaze downward.

 

 

 

MatsyasanaMatsyasana (Fish Pose)

Benefits: This deep backbend opens the intercostals muscles between the ribs, creating more physical space in your heart center.

How to do it: Begin on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. If you are experienced in the pose, you can bring your legs into Padmanasana (Lotus Pose). Either way, inhale, lift your hips slight and place your hands, palms down, under your hips. Lower your pelvis onto your hands. Inhale and press into your elbows and forearms to lift your upper back and gently place the crown of your head on the floor. Be careful not to let your head take too much weight. Remain in the pose for 15 to 30 seconds before releasing and hugging your knees into your chest.

 

 

 

Chest Fly Kundalini Yoga ExerciseChest Fly Kundalini Yoga Exercise

Benefits:  Drawing attention to your breath and the muscles of the upper body helps to activate and balance the heart chakra.

How to do it: Sit in Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Bring your arms out to the side, palms down. As you exhale bring your arms forward until they almost meet. On an inhale, bring your arms back to the side. Find a comfortable rhythm and continue for one to five minutes.

 

 

 

self love31Just taking a deep breath, concentrating on breathing in love, then taking an exhale to let go of anything that burdens your physical heart or heart center makes you feel lighter, more optimistic. You’ll be more ready to accept connection with yourself and people who truly love you. You’ll be free of the weight that anger and jealousy bring to your heart. That makes room for your heart and heart center to grow and thrive.

 

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Tags: 4th Chakra, Chakra Points, Heart Chakra

Five Heart-opening Yoga Poses to Keep Love Flowing

Posted on Fri, Feb 24, 2012

yoga pawsEven if you’ve just taken your first yoga class, you’re already familiar with the fourth Niyama: Svadhyaya. Taken from the Sanskrit words sva, which means “self,” and adhyaya, which means “education of,” this vital rule for living reminds you to look within. It’s a theme every yoga teacher emphasizes in every class because, without self-awareness, there is no yoga—no union of mind, body and spirit—just some interesting calisthenics.

 

4th chakraYoga teaches you to get in touch with how your body feels as a first step toward learning about how “you” feel at every level. With every pose, your teacher invites you to discern what’s your edge and what’s a cliff. Each time you come to your mat, you decide how far to enter into a pose, which benefits you desire from your practice and how asanas, breathing and meditation will enable you to know and nurture your true self. It’s not about narcissism; it’s about getting to know who you are so that you can experience life to your fullest potential. You have to know what your dreams are before you can really go after them.

 

yoga pawsYou devote a lot of time to finding out about your friends and family. It’s time to invest that same amount of time into learning all of the factors that make you unique.

And what better place to start your quest for self-awareness than at your heart center?  Here are some yoga poses to free your heart and open new channels of understanding, energy and love.

 

cobra poseBhujangasana (Cobra Pose). Lie face down with your legs straight out behind you. Place your hands on the floor, spreading your fingers, and hug your elbows to your ribs. Inhale and begin to straighten your arms. Stretch your heart forward and bring your torso up. Concentrate on firming your shoulder blades against your back and lifting your stern so that there’s no compression in lower back. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Release by lowering one rib a time to the mat, tucking your chin as you release your head.

 

Ardha BhekasanaArdha Bhekasana (Half Frog Pose). Lie face down with your legs straight out behind you. Place your forearms on the floor. Lift your torso and head. Bend your right knee and lower your right heel close to your right buttock. Reach back and clasp the inside of your right foot with your right hand. Rotate your elbow toward the ceiling so that you can curl your fingers over your toes. Gently press your foot toward your buttock. If your flexibility permits, move your foot off to the side and push it toward the floor, being careful to keep your knee in line with your hip. Hold 30 seconds to two minutes. Then release, relax and reverse.

 

PurvottanasanaPurvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose). Sit in Dandasana. Move your hands several inches behind your hips with your fingers pointing toward your feet. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor with your heels a minimum of a foot away from your buttocks. Lift your hips until you come into reverse tabletop. Then, without lowering your hips, straighten one leg at a time. If possible, let your head gently drop back. Hold 30 seconds, tuck your chin and lower into Dandasana. YogaPaws are great for keeping you locked in place for challanging poses like this.  YogaPaws are the yoga mat you wear for yoga anytime, anywhere. 

 

Supported Setu Bandha SarvangasanaSupported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose). Have a block, blankets or bolster near your mat. Lie on your back. Bend your knees, bringing them close enough to your buttocks so that you can touch them with your fingertips. With your arms along your sides and palms pressing into the mat, roll up one vertebra at time. Position your support under your back. As a variation, try using a block first on the flat side. Roll down, and return to bridge supporting your back with the block at medium height. Roll down one vertebra at time and, if you have no back problems, roll up into bridge a third time, using the block at its full height. Hold each pose for 30 seconds to one minute or more. Release one vertebra at a time to the mat and lie supine.

 

Urdhva DhanurasanaUrdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose). Lie on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor with your heels as close to your buttocks as possible. Bend and elbows and place your palms on the floor beside your head with your fingers pointing toward your shoulders. Press your hands and feet firmly into the floor, lift your torso and come onto the crown of your head. Continue lifting your body, allowing your head to come up off the floor. Hold five to 10 second. Lower to the crown of the head, tuck the chin and release one vertebra at time to the mat.

 

These heart openers offer benefits on many levels. Recent studies have shown positive connections between yoga and improved heart health. Some of the plusses may include:

 

1. Reduction of high blood pressure

2. Improvement in treating symptoms of heart failure

3. Easing palpitations

4. Enhancing cardiac rehabilitation

5. Lowering cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and stress hormones

6. Supporting regular heart rhythms

 

open heartBut attention to opening your heart also brings health to your mind and spirit. In the calm created by these poses, you have the opportunity to explore new aspects of yourself as you feel your breath creating more space throughout your chest and ribs. You begin to experience what it’s like to take a deep, rejuvenating inhale that brings vitality to your body and to your brain. It’s easier to want to take care of your heart, your health, your life. No textbook can do that. Your heart can.

 

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Tags: 4th Chakra, Heart opening yoga poses, yoga for heart health

Chakras and Yoga Poses

Posted on Tue, Apr 19, 2011

 

There are seven chakras, or energy centers, in the body that become blocked by longheld tension and low self-esteem. But practicing poses that correspond to each chakra can release these blocks and clear the path to higher consciousness.

chakras, yoga, yoga paws, yogapaws, chakra systemThe chakra system provides a theoretical base for fine-tuning our yoga practice to suit our unique personality and circumstances. Traditionally, Indians saw the body as containing seven main chakras, arranged vertically from the base of the spine to the top of the head. Chakra is the Sanskrit word for wheel, and these "wheels" were thought of as spinning vortexes of energy.

Each chakra is associated with particular functions within the body and with specific life issues and the way we handle them, both inside ourselves and in our interactions with the world. chakra chart, yoga, yoga paws, chakras

There are many yoga poses that can correct chakra imbalances, bringing us back to our body and the earth and helping us experience safety, security, and stillness.  

 

 Muladhara Chakra (Root Chakra),  Centered at the perineum and the base of the spine, this energy vortex is involved in tending to our survival needs, establishing a healthy sense of groundedness, taking good basic care of the body, and purging the body of wastes. The associated body parts include the base of the spine, the legs, feet, and the large intestine.

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Yoga Posture:Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)

Benefits: Release and the root chakra to balance, frees energy flow in pelvic area, increases vitality in digestive organs, quiets the mind, stretches inner thighs and opens groins


The second chakra is called Svadisthana, which translates as "one's own place or base."  This chakra helps allow for emotional and sensual movement in our life, opening to pleasure, and learning how to "go with the flow." Associated with the hips, sacrum, lower back, genitals, womb, bladder, and kidneys, this chakra is involved with sensuality, sexuality, emotions, intimacy, and desire.

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Yoga Posture: Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Benefits: Stretches the ankles, hips and thighs, shoulders, armpits and triceps, and chest.  Balances second chakra.


 Located in the area of the solar plexus, navel, and the digestive system, the fiery third chakra is called Manipura, the “lustrous gem.” Associated with the color yellow, this chakra is involved in self-esteem, warrior energy, and the power of transformation; it also governs digestion and metabolism. This chakra is also the place of our deep belly laughter, warmth, ease, and the vitality we receive from performing selfless service.

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Yoga Posture: DHANAURASANA or THE BOW

Benefits: Increases strength and flexibility along the entire length of the spine. Balances thrid chakra.


The fourth chakra, the heart chakra(Anahata Chakra),rests in the center of the chakra system, at the core of our spirit. Its physical location is the heart, upper chest, and upper back. The fourth is the balance point, integrating the world of matter (the lower three chakras) with the world of spirit (the upper three chakras). Through the heart chakra, we open to and connect with harmony and peace. 

Cobra Pose Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), yoga, chakras, yoga paws, yogapaws

Yoga Posture: Cobra Pose Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

Benefits: Opens the chest, allowing deeper breathing.  Helps to balance the heart chakra.


The throat chakra, Visuddha, is associated with the color turquoise blue and with the elements sound and ether, the field of subtle vibrations ancient Indians believed pervaded the universe. Located in the neck, throat, jaw, and mouth, the Visuddha chakra resonates with our inner truth and helps us find a personal way to convey our voice to the outside world. 

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Yoga Posture: Camel Pose - Ustrasana

Benefits: Stretches the front of the body including the chest, abdomen, and quadriceps. Improves spinal flexibility.


Imaginative abilities—visualizing the past, creating positive pictures of the future, and fantasizing—are all aspects of Ajna ChakraAjna Chakra (3rd eye Chakra), whose Sanskrit name means both "the perception center" and "the command center." Associated with the element light and the color indigo blue, the sixth chakra is located between and just above the physical eyes, creating the spiritual third eye. While our two eyes see the material world, our sixth chakra sees beyond the physical. This vision includes clairvoyance, telepathy, intuition, dreaming, imagination, and visualization.

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Meditation:  Sit upright, holding the neck and head like a solider at attention. Take 5 deep breaths. This sends oxygen into your bloodstream and relaxes you. Look at the third eye area, in the middle of your forehead and just above your eyebrows. You will rest your hands in a comfortable position such as upon your knees. Remain as still as you possibly can. Inhale deeply while beginning to chant in a steady, slow soft voice the OM manta, pronounced AUM. For an entire exhalation the one single chant of OM (AUM) is sounded

Benefits: Guidance and inspiration, enhancement of awareness, improvement of health and well being


The seventh chakra is located at the crown of the head and serves as the crown of the chakra system, symbolizing the highest state of enlightenment and facilitating our spiritual development. The seventh chakra is like a halo atop the head. In art, Christ is often depicted with a golden light surrounding his head, and the Buddha shown with a lofty projection on the top of his head. In both cases, these images represent the awakened spirituality of the Sahasrara Chakra.

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Special Thanks to  Barbara Kaplan Herring for their consise chakra information. 

Tags: 4th Chakra, Chakra Points, 1st Chakra, 2nd Chakra, 7 Chakra, 5th Chakra, 6th chakra, 3rd Chakra

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