Similarities and Synergies Between Rolfing® SI and Acupuncture

Pages: 55-62
Year: 2020
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structure, Function, Integration Journal – Vol. 48 – Nº 2

Volume: 48
Naoki Hattori has been a practitioner of acupuncture and traditional Oriental medicine for more than fifteen years. Ever since gaining his certification as a Rolfer in 2014, he has been fascinated by the similarities and synergy between the two systems and how they can be effectively combined to provide enhanced treatment modalities. In this article, Naoki explores these issues and shares some of the insights he has gained integrating both systems in his practice.

By Naoki Hattori, Certified Rolfer™

ABSTRACT Naoki Hattori has been a practitioner of acupuncture and traditional Oriental medicine for more than fifteen years. Ever since gaining his certification as a Rolfer in 2014, he has been fascinated by the similarities and synergy between the

two systems and how they can be effectively combined to provide enhanced treatment modalities. In this article, Naoki explores these issues and shares some of the insights he has gained integrating both systems in his practice.



My Mission

I started my career as a practitioner of  the traditional Japanese healing methods of acupuncture, shiatsu, and Japanese osteopathy. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn the essence of Oriental medicine from many senior teachers and masters. As a practitioner of the traditional Japanese healing arts, my therapy is always grounded in the essential Oriental philosophy that human beings are strongly influenced by changes in the natural cycle – the interaction between life and the environment.

Unlike the vast majority of my fellow practitioners of Japanese healing modalities, however, I was also lucky enough to have discovered Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) and to have recognized the potential synergy between the two systems. My life’s work has now become the integration of Oriental medicine and Rolfing SI, based on the organic relationship between mind and body – the body/mind unity.

My major focus in this is the development of   harmonized   treatment   modalities  that can structurally, functionally, and energetically combine Oriental medicine and Rolfing SI, making use of their similar somatic philosophies. This combined treatment system is very much  in  line  with an amendment proposed in 1998 to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health, “Health is a dynamic state of complete physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In the end, the WHO (perhaps under political pressure) didn’t accept this definition, but as a practitioner of Rolfing SI and Oriental medicine, I continue to embrace it and help spread this twenty-first-century redefined concept of health. We all, as

We all, as holistic-care practitioners, should help our clients understand that the real meaning of ‘health’ is more than a mere absence of pain or disease. Instead, health is a holistic condition that implies a great expansion of our own potential while better adapting to our environment.


holistic-care practitioners, should help our clients understand that the real meaning of ‘health’ is more than a mere absence of pain or disease. Instead, health is a holistic condition that implies a great expansion of our own potential while better adapting to  our  environment.  My  experience   has shown me that the combination of Rolfing SI with Oriental medicine provides practical and embodied methods for the realization of this goal.


The Gravitational Field Is the Therapist

Practitioners of SI do not feel ourselves to be therapists. The gravitational field is the therapist. What we do is prepare the body to receive the support from the gravitational field which gives a greater sense of well-being.

Ida Rolf

From the viewpoint of traditional Oriental medicine, the longitudinal flow of energy along the twelve meridians structures human beings’ verticality. This concept of supporting the longitudinal vector is similar with Rolfing SI’s concept of the ‘Line’. As Monica Caspari (2005) explained in “The Functional Rationale of the Recipe”:

We have been better at defining the static line than the dynamic line in motion. Accordingly, we have been better at working with the body in a static state than with the body in motion.  While  the structural work liberates fixations in the tissues, functional work addresses fixations in movement patterns. While structural work gives conditions for the appearance of the Line, functional work gives the line life.

Caspari’s recognition of both static and dynamic aspects to the concept of the Line is crucial to understanding health. It helps us to understand how various elements of ourselves are nurtured by interconnection and  cooperation.  This   understanding  can serve to better organize bodily structure (what our bodies are), movement coordination (how we function in motion), spatial perception (how we perceive the world around us), and cognitive shape (how we think, behave, express ourselves, etc.) Broadly construed, Rolfing SI is a process that facilitates the exploration of how the human body/mind relate to each other. To understand what it means for the body and mind to relate, we have to first understand what our bodies and  minds are. This includes how we function  in  every motion as well as how we perceive our circumstances and how we behave or express ourselves in the world. Aligning  the static Line and the dynamic Line of  our clients is the vitalization process through which we as Rolfers help them to experience themselves as being physically integrated and consciously embedded in the greater body of life.

“Life is about action,” Caspari (2005) explains in the same work quoted above, “especially interaction and exchange with the environment and others. This dynamism of life is the key to its capacity to renew itself. It differentiates living organisms from machines.” We are continually under the influence of gravitational and energy fields from the entire universe. If we think about the influence of these fields, it could be said that they comprise a kind of biorhythm of the circulating universe. This is reflected in Oriental medicine’s specific consideration of life’s seasonal rhythms as, for instance, in the ancient Chinese I Ching (Book of Changes). The basic truth of the I Ching is that everything in the manifested universe is in a constant state of change. Nothing in the world is stagnant or fixed. We understand that both nature and life are constantly changing and never stop. In fact, change is just what life and nature are. This change can only come about, however, if its fundamental  root  – its underlying reality

– is eternal and unchanged. A flower, for

example, depends on a stable ground in which it can fix its roots. In philosophical terms, our perception of change is conditioned on our intuition of permanence as a backdrop. We have a foot in both worlds, as it were. As a result, we are  able

to discern, in the world of constant change, the immutable truths and laws that underlie it. From this condition, our consciousness and active participation in universal change can arise. Looked at another way, from the standpoint of Rolfing SI and acupuncture treatments, we can say that gravity is the unchanged background, while other forces comprise the ever-changing energy field.

Pendulum of Life

The ancient Chinese explained the forces and cycles of nature through the fluctuation of the principles that underlie them. Most fundamental are the primordial principles yin and yang. This duality can be conceived in a variety of ways. The well-known yin/yang symbol (Figure 1), for instance, expresses these two principles as a kind of circular motion. They may also be imagined as the swinging of a pendulum back and forth between two poles. Another foundational notion of ancient Chinese metaphysics is the concept of the Five Elements – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. These are in a constant state of mutual generation and destruction in relation to each other and this elemental interaction is the dynamo that drives the incessant and manifest changes in ‘the 10,000 things’ of outer nature.

Nature is in a continual state of flux and life emerges as an organization and rhythmatization of this flux. The essence of my treatment is to attune the client’s energy with the cosmic rhythms of yin and yang – to help the client align on both physical and energy levels with the movement of the yin/ yang pendulum (see Figure 2).


True or constant bipedal walking is a unique activity that is performed only by human beings. Kangaroos, for instance, are bipedal in some respects, but not consistently like humans.

Bipedalism is an inherently unstable act, which requires constant – but  unconscious

– balancing and re-balancing of the whole

Looked at another way, from the standpoint of Rolfing SI and acupuncture treatments, we can say that gravity is  the unchanged background, while other forces comprise the ever-changing energy field.

body. Standing on two feet involves constant adjustment.  As an acupuncturist, I see this postural fluctuation as almost identical to the energetic one between yin and yang. When, as a Rolfer, I attempt to evoke and integrate the client’s center of gravity and vertical axis, it is similar to the acupunctural work of balancing the yin and yang principles in the person’s constitution.

Rolfers are helping clients to evolve vertically by improving their balance under this inherent instability. As Jim Gates (2018) expresses his understanding  of our work, “I am contributing to human evolution, both personal and cultural, by organizing people’s physical, emotional, and energetic bodies around a central line in relationship to gravity.” To me, this bears clear similarity to what I am trying to do when I work as an acupuncturist.



We often refer to the SCPM-G (Structure, Coordination, Perception, Meaning, and Gravity) relationship, as is shown in Figure 3. It is difficult not to notice the parallel structure in Figure 4, which is a depiction of the Five Elements of ancient Chinese philosophy. Just as Rolfers strive to encourage circulation and interplay throughout the SCPM-G elements, so Oriental medicine emphasizes the circulation and  interplay  of Fire, Metal, Water, Wood, and Earth as a hallmark of health.

The ancient Chinese carefully observed the continuous, organic changes in  nature and the universe, which they found to be integrated by the influence of the sun. They discovered that these natural cycles result from the fluctuations of yin and yang and the orderly interaction of the Five Elements. The Five Elements are all related to each other and each of them affects the others. They discovered a universal law that recognizes the nonlinearity of complex systems as the organized interaction of nature.

In one primary variant of classical Chinese thought, the Earth element is located in the center of the circle, with the  other four elements in orbit. Thinking about the constant cycle of generation, Earth is the center of our bodies and beings, and the center of the elements. Especially during the transition to the next element, the Earth element is always involved.

I think that this connection can shed light on the role of gravity in the SCPM-G system. Creating  better  organization with how each of the four aspects relates the gravity can improve bodily structure, movement coordination, spatial perception, and cognitive shape by providing them with a center of integration and locus of orientation.

The interrelationship between static and dynamic Lines is a key concept of Rolfing SI, which forms the basis of much of our work. I believe that the efficacy of our work will be enhanced by adding the Oriental concepts of the fluctuations of yin and yang and the constant generation and overcoming cycles of the Five Elements into our consideration. It is my belief that this could help us more effectively orchestrate and harmonize the static / dynamic Line interaction.

The twelve meridians organize the static and dynamic  Line  properties,  because the concept of the meridians involves physicality, functionality, perception, and cognition. Yin/yang and the Five Elements underlie and support the twelve meridians. Rebalancing the twelve meridians has the potential to help you relearn your body-mind and enhance the experience of ordinary life in subtle and profound ways. As well as psychic and emotional experiences, these can even be muscular sensations you have not had before and bone sensations that had gone unnoticed.















Clinical Perspective: The Relationship Between Meridians and the Interosseous Membrane

Since I first learned about interosseous membrane work in my Rolfing training, I have been fascinated by it from the perspective of Oriental medicine. In this chapter, I wish to explore this relationship between Oriental medicine and the forearm interosseous membrane. I hope to consider this relationship from the perspective of Oriental wisdom and scientific research into acupuncture, as well as my own firsthand experience.

During my initial Rolfing training, I was introduced to an interview that Valerie Berg (2009) conducted with Jan Sultan, in which they discussed the interosseous membrane. Sultan recounted: I had been observing for years that when you work on the interosseous membrane in the forearm, there would be a corresponding volumetric change in the thorax. Lower-leg work would correspondingly affect the intra-pelvic volume. When both distal arm and leg were done together, the rib cage and pelvis would shift accordingly . . .

Working flexors and extensors and hands, not purely but including the interosseous membrane. This would reliably create volume in the thorax.

I was delighted to discover a reference to Oriental medicine later in the same interview:

Acupuncture meridians are at the surface   on  the  extremities   and  it  is at the elbow and knee that they dive and go to the organs. In order  to get  to the interosseous membrane in the extremities, you have to  go  through the surface, so it occurred to me that maybe what was happening was an information barrage that was released by doing extremity work that informed the whole energetic system in the traditional Chinese medicine paradigm. This is exemplified in the microcosmic orbit. The apparent opening  of vitality in people might have something to do with the set of reflexes set along the meridian lines.

I would like to further explore this issue from the perspective of Oriental medicine. There are two meridian lines that regulate the interosseous membrane of the forearm: the Pericardium Meridian and the Triple Warmer Meridian. The Pericardium and  the Triple Warmer are channeled, paired meridians related to the Fire element.


The Pericardium Meridian

The Pericardium Meridian (see Figure 5) follows the flexors on the forearm and traverses nine different acupuncture points. For the purposes of this article, I would like to focus on one of them, the Nei Guan (PC6; see Figure 6) as an especially representative point.


About the Nei Guan (PC6) Acupuncture Point

According to traditional Chinese medical literature, the main usages of the Nei Guan point are for the treatment of

sensations of fullness or illness in the abdominal region, especially nausea and vomiting, as well as cardiac disorders such as chest pain and palpitations.

Western-style medical research performed in China has revealed that Nei Guan (PC6) can regulate neurophysiological issues, including hypothalamic rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM), arcuate nucleus (ARC), ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (VLPAG), and medullary raphe. It can also serve   as a means to address neurotransmitter issues such as excesses or deficiencies of GABA, opioids, 5-HT, etc. Modulation (acupuncture treatment) of Nei Guan is, therefore, believed to be effective for the treatment of cardiovascular disorders (see Li et al., 2012). Another study (Zhang, 2014) found that needleless transcutaneous electroacupuncture (TEA) stimulation at the Nei Guan (PC6) and Jianshi (PC5) points could have antiemetic effects that are possibly mediated via mechanisms involving serotonin and dopamine.

Both of these references are research studies of acupuncture and needleless TEA conducted according to the standards of Western medicine. In  addition  to these individual studies, a major meta- analysis of research findings regarding the effectiveness of acupressure applied to the Nei Guan (PC6) acupuncture point (Yang et al., 2019) concluded with encouraging results. The authors describe their study as the first systematic evaluation of the effectiveness and safety of acupressure on the Nei Guan (PC6) point compared with different antiemetic drugs. It is suggested that stimulating Nei Guan (PC6) may

affect the body’s endocrine system by

regulating the level of beta-endorphins in cerebrospinal fluid as well as enhancing the transmission of endogenous opioids and 5-hydroxytryptamine in serum. It is also hypothesized that stimulation of this point may inhibit the secretion of gastric acid and regulate gastrointestinal function, thus stopping nausea and vomiting.

The Triple Warmer Meridian

While this article mainly focuses on the Pericardium Meridian, I would also like to briefly discuss the relationship between the interstitium and the internal organ associated with the Triple Warmer Meridian (see Figure 7). The Triple Warmer Meridian follows the extensors along the upper side of the forearm. See Benias et al. (2018) for a scientific study on the global distribution of the interstitium through the physical structure of the body.

In traditional Chinese medicine, every meridian is associated with an organ, but among them the Triple Warmer organ is unique. It is referred to as an organ that has function but no form. According to the traditional Chinese medical literature, this function is the production and circulation of nourishing yin energy and protective yang energy. It is not a single self- contained organ, but rather a functional energy system involved in the regulation of the activities of other organs.

The image traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have of the Triple Warmer organ is a combination of space and fluids that wrap and network throughout the body,  enabling  the  transformation  of qi (the Oriental concept, also  called chi or ki, and  sometimes  conceived  of as ‘life force’ or ‘life energy’) and the metabolization of bodily fluids. According to the scientists (Benias, et al., 2018) who (re)-discovered the interstitium (after Ida Rolf spent the greater part of two decades pioneering the method of SI that bears her name and that assumes the notion of an interstitium as a postulate), it both relates and differentiates all the major organs of the body. This includes the lungs, the digestive system, the urinary tract, blood vessels, and fascia (as regarded from the narrow standpoint of standard anatomy). In other words, given the integrative function of the interstitium, all of these seemingly discreet organic instruments function as a symphony. Of course, for Rolfers, ‘fascia’ has always implied this integrative function. In fact, the Rolfing community has already conducted a number of studies on the connective tissue system, and it has been a topic    of discussion at the Fascia Research Congress meetings for many years.

In any case, Dr. Michael Nathanson, Professor of Medicine and Cell Biology and Chief of the Digestive Diseases Department of Yale University’s School of Medicine, said of the interstitium: “I would think of this as  a  new  component  that is common among a variety of organs, rather than a new organ in and of itself. It

would be analogous to discovering blood vessels for the first time, in that they are in every organ but they aren’t an organ themselves” (Howard, 2018). If anything, Nathanson may be  faulted  with  a  lack of originality, but not with a fundamental mistake in his understanding. In the research to  which  Nathanson  referred,  it was asserted that the interstitium also performs the  function  of  transporting and metabolizing fluids throughout the body. The researchers’ description of this function is remarkably similar to the ways the Triple Warmer Organ is discussed in traditional Chinese medicine.

To summarize the manner in which the Pericardium and the Triple Warmer are conceptualized according to traditional Chinese medicine, they are channeled, paired  meridians  that   both   correspond to the Fire Element. The Triple Warmer also bears a secondary relationship to the Water Element, which is responsible for the movement and transformation of various solids and fluids throughout the body. Based on Five Element Theory, the Fire and Water Elements have a closer connection to the fluctuations of yin and yang than the other elements of Wood, Earth, and Metal. When acupuncture treatment dissolves














blockages along the Pericardium Meridian, it decreases excessive Fire energy (yang) and simultaneously rebalances the Triple Warmer Meridian, which can then activate Water energy (yin) and the system’s fluid regulation. Traditional Chinese medicine’s twelve-meridian theory stemmed from the concepts of yin/yang and the Five Elements having both static and dynamic properties that involve physicality, functionality, perception, and cognition.

Combining the results of Western research such as the interstitium report with traditional Oriental wisdom has enabled  me to deepen my understanding of various physical and energy systems, as well as potential treatments of conditions  related to them. For example, it has helped me understand how pressure applied through the flexors to the interosseous membrane

  • along the  Pericardium  Meridian   – can modulate neurophysiological and neurotransmitter issues globally and also effectively regulate thoracic and abdominal cavities Similarly, pressure applied to the interosseous  membrane  through the extensors – along the Triple Warmer Meridian – can be effective for fluid regulation globally and dealing with issues related to the connective tissue around the lungs and the digestive system locally.


Case Studies

Below I will present two case studies to show how I incorporate Oriental medicine into my Rolfing practice.


Case Study 1: Focal Dystonia

My client is a pianist who suffers from focal dystonia. Standard Western medicine regards focal dystonia as a strictly neuro-kinetic issue, but looking at it from the standpoint of both Rolfing SI and Oriental medicine, we find that it also has a psychosomatic aspect.

My main goals and challenges for her initial Rolfing ten-session course of treatment were:

he release of connective-tissues units

  • the relationship of cervical and lumber lordosis and the ligaments of the thoracic cavity
  • re-educate her movement coordination pattern
  • how to set up the longus colli before starting to move (pre-movement aspects)
  • bringing about re-awareness of her spatial perception
  • where to and how to sense the outer space around her upper/middle back (kinesphere aspects)

Her right hand was the  focal  point  of  her disorder and the right side of her diaphragm was stiff due to the influence of her right forearm. She has also had functional scoliosis due to years-long compensation, especially while she is playing the piano. In addition, the tonic function of her pelvic floor was insufficient to support her movement.

From the perspective of Oriental medicine, the condition of her  right  side  is  related to the Liver and Gall Bladder Meridians. Notably, the tightness in her right diaphragm can indicate that it is necessary to pay attention to its relationship  with the emotion of anger. She had also been suffering from some other emotional issues, including anxiety, impatience, despair, and resentment. These were largely the result of a positive-feedback cycle due to the fact that her condition had not improved for a long time prior     to the start of my treatment. Primarily through Rolfing SI, I was able to sever the unhealthy cycle of emotional reactions that had been restricting her body’s functioning in terms of the static and dynamic Line properties.

As I had hoped, this led to significant improvement. Regarding the condition of her interosseous membrane, the extensor side – corresponding to the Triple Warmer Meridian – was tight. To encourage holistic improvement, it was important to use acupuncture treatment to regulate fluid metabolism in the thorax region.

Although her focal dystonia has been gradually improving, she is not yet in remission and is continuing with ongoing sessions  after  the  initial  course,   based on a movement and awareness-oriented approach integrating both Rolfing SI and acupuncture. In working with her, I have seen how the perspective of Oriental medicine can be a key to grasping how functional compensation develops and accumulates.

Case Study 2: My Gravity-Meridian Method

A client came to me with pain in her left shoulder area and limited range of motion. In such cases, acupuncturists think first about which meridian might be blocked. After this diagnosis, the treatment ordinarily involves a regulation of the stagnated meridian and/or  energy  nourishment  of the effected organ, etc. In general, this and other acupuncture treatments are performed only with the client in a lying down position.

After administering general acupuncture treatment, I had her assume a standing position and inserted one or two needles just 2-3 mm deep on specific calf points related to gravity and corresponding meridians, creating an effect similar to




tracking under gravity. Because the calf muscles (i.e., gastrocnemius and soleus) play an important role in maintaining an upright posture while standing, shoulder motion is dependent on the condition of the calf muscles.

Of course, this is well understood by Rolfers, but how  to  correctly  identify  the specific point or tissue where the root problem lies is very important  for  our clinical practice. Depending on the specific case, this point can be located on either the ipsilateral side or contralateral side. Releasing the flow of energy along the  meridian  enables  the   practitioner to locate the problem point on the calf muscles, and leads to a great reduction  in shoulder pain and improved range of motion in many cases. I call this technique the Gravity-Meridian Method.

Moreover, many clients feel a great improvement while standing during and after treatment with the Gravity-Meridian Method. In my experience, it also helps  to improve movement coordination and reshape the client’s negative cognitive images. Put another way, it helps break down  the   client’s   negative   gestalt  and mental barriers, and encourages transformation into a more positive state. Gravity can also influence the meridian itself. For me, the traditional Oriental medicine concept of meridians becomes even more meaningful when combined with the Rolfing concept of gravity. Incorporating Rolfing’s philosophy and techniques into an acupuncture session (or vice versa), can facilitate the gravity















integration process, especially as it relates to the aspects of re-education  and re-awareness.


Some people understood that clients were to be evaluated based on the degree to which  their  structures  were congruent with the Line of gravity – verticality in relation to the ground. Rolfing was directed to the liberation  of  soft-tissue   restrictions to permit the emergence of a higher level of organization around a central vertical axis, and they believed that the goal was to harmonize each person’s reality, within the limits of each person’s individual process,  with an ideal. That ideal was, in fact, unattainable (Prado, 2009)

Since I started practicing Rolfing SI, integration has become a very major theme in my acupuncture practice as well. From the standpoint of traditional Oriental medicine, integration means finding a central point, called Taiji, in which the fluctuations of yin and yang can be transcended (see Figure 2). Taiji is the fundamental root – eternal and unchanging even amidst the flux of the 10,000 things. Discovering this universal central axis, which Rolfers may recognize as the Line, and incorporating it into your life is an ongoing integration process that is coextensive with life itself. Through this we learn to accept constant change and adjust to the organized fluctuation of life.

Because the calf muscles (i.e., gastrocnemius and soleus) play an important role in maintaining an upright posture while standing, shoulder motion is dependent on the condition of the calf muscles.

In my practice, I have seen that there are many similarities and synergies between Rolfing SI and acupuncture, and I have attempted to present some of the most important ones in this article. On the surface, these two systems might seem quite different, but when we examine them more closely – and especially when we experience them for ourselves in our practices – we find that they are really two sides of the same coin. Connective tissues are essential elements through which we can bridge the two paradigms. Moreover, as I hope to have shown, it is largely a difference in nomenclature that conceals profound similarities in the philosophies that ground Rolfing SI and acupuncture. I believe that an understanding of this connection can serve to deepen our appreciation of the profound genius of Ida Rolf. By herself and in her own way, she directly connected to the collective consciousness of traditional healing wisdom. I might even venture to say that she was passed the sacred baton of healing directly from our ancient collective healing wisdom. Now, it is our turn to emulate our founder and carry her work forward. With her as our guide, but also following our own intuition and learning from other synergistic traditions such as acupuncture, we can continue to contribute to the health and wellness of our clients.

In more than fifteen years as a professional practitioner, Naoki Hattori has treated a wide variety of clients from all over the world. This has led him to think deeply about what good health really means, and the kinds of treatment that can help achieve it. Using both acupuncture and Rolfing SI synergistically, he developed The HATTORI Method, which is specialized for treating the musculoskeletal issues and is very effective for any kind of pain or discomfort, including stress, anxiety, and other mental conditions. In the summer of 2019, he and his wife moved to Chamonix, France, where he now carries on his practice and continues to explore the synergy between acupuncture and Rolfing SI. To find out more about Hattori and his work, please visit https:// chamonix.naokihattori.com. He can also be contacted at [email protected].


Benias, P.C., et al. 2018, March 27. “Structure and Distribution of an Unrecognized Interstitium in Human Tissues.” Scientific Reports 8,4947.

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Caspari, M. 2005 March. “The Functional Rationale of the Recipe.” Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute® 33(1):4–24.

Gates, J. 2018 July. “Some Psychological and Spiritual Dimensions of the Rolfing® Ten Series” Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute® 46(2):24–29.

Howard, J. 2018 (Mar 31). “Newfound ‘Organ’ Could Be the Biggest in Your Body.” CNN Health. https://edition.cnn. com/2018/03/27/health/new-organ- interstitium-study/index.html (retrieved 11/9/2020).

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