Peaceful Prostration

As I lower myself in prostration, blood rushes to my temples. Inhale. I rest my forehead on the carpeted floor as I relax into the posture. Exhale. Uttering prayers in Arabic, I cannot help but to imagine other activities that have helped achieve this state of self-awareness… of complete calm. I can hear the gentle whoosh of blood gently beating in my temples as it does when we float under the surface of a swimming pool. In that moment, the eyes are closed, as we swim in a chlorine bliss, drowning out the sound of children’s joyous squeals… or volleyballs pattering against the surface. Hair floats about our bodies, just as weightless as the body. It is only so long that the lungs can hold in the oxygen that flows to the brain. Rise to the surface whenever you’re ready to return to reality. Gasping for breath, we blink several times until we can gain clear sight of our surroundings. A man lowers himself into a jacuzzi, a little boy runs the perimeter of the pool, eventually joining his friends. It is almost as though the world looks clearer than before we ducked our heads underwater… as if the surface represented a division between a painful reality and the weightlessness of a worry-free mind. But perhaps the two ideas don’t have to be separate. I can carry the calm of the underwater realm into reality, always remembering to re-fill my lungs with oxygen. Let that peace flow through your temples as you walk the earth.

I rise from prostration and eventually conclude the prayer. I turn my head to the right, and then to the left, greeting the angels on each shoulder. “Aslamualaikum wa Rahmatullah.” As I observe the prayer area, I adopt a new perspective of my surroundings. I can juggle the myriad stresses leading up to the mid-terms period because I have found balance. But I realize that my pursuit of a balanced life-style manifests itself in diverse activities that have supported my well-being for years.

When I was in high school, I found strength through the sport of running.

During my transition to an adolescent, I found peace through yoga and meditation.

And for the majority of my lifetime, prayer has been my solace during times of hardship and of ease.

I can trust that if I hold my breath underwater to drown out sound, I will always come back up. Air pressure forces the body to rise.

Inhale…

2, 3, 4.

Dip your head beneath the surface.

Exhale…

2, 3, 4.

And rise again.

Verily, after every hardship comes ease (Qur’an 94:5).

 

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Tightrope

Walking along the tightrope, I incessantly shift my weight. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Hundreds of people are watching; their judgement only mirrors my self-criticism. I glance down and see darkness. How far am I away from the ground? I try to force my thoughts to become quiet, but the mind chatter grows louder each time the audience gasps. Don’t hold your breath. Safety is only a few feet away. I observe the length of the tightrope, but my final destination seems so distant. My furrowed eyebrows reveal fear; feigned confidence is useless now. Stand up taller. Embrace your core muscles. I take another step, gradually growing more confident. The stable platform grows nearer. Open up your heart center. Don’t be afraid. The audience is here today not to grieve over my almost-falls or my imperfections. They hope for safety as much as I hope for it for myself. To them, I am more than human. I am a performer. Just a few more steps. You are so strong. I reach the platform safely, and the audience bursts into applause.Standing in the spotlight, I wave at countless unfamiliar faces. I dismount the apparatus and watch the next performer take his first step onto the tightrope. The audience is silent. His countenance reveals effortless confidence, his body long and lean: a true performer. The clock ticks; I’m worried that he might beat my record time for walking across the 50-meter rope. The performer’s footsteps are quick and agile, and in no time, he is only a few meters away from the platform. I watch him without blinking. The audience holds their breath. The finish-line grows nearer. As I begin to raise my hands to applaud, the performer stumbles. His body twists in the air, falling for hundreds of feet into darkness. My heart beat quickens as I rush to the mat where his body landed. But he was so confident. I thought he would make it to the other side. EMTs rush over to help him. You become everything that you condemn. “Is he alright,” audience members inquire. Fear masked behind feigned confidence.

 There is a sharp rift between the conscious and the subconscious mind. The former affirms that we are confident, safe, and comfortable in who we are. But the latter comes alive through our actions and is far more powerful. The performer wears confidence but isn’t confident. He hides fear, but he is fearful. Perhaps it is not falling that we are afraid of. Perhaps it is the power of our deepest wounds that we are afraid of.

“Dance is a way to tell a story through movement.”

Writer’s Note: This piece is a creative short-story that captures the effect of dance on all aspects of my personal growth and success, from academics to career-related work. I emphasize the importance of free expression on mental and physical well-being. I hope to convey my appreciation of creative expression, as it is one of the many doors to self-discovery and growth. Hope you enjoy!- Naima

“Dance is a Way to Tell a Story through Movement”

         Light reflects from the golden-brown wood floor of the yoga studio, as my iPhone plays “Apologize” by One Republic. Yoga poses and dance combine to awaken creativity. “Take another chance, take it far, take a shot through,” the musician sings. My toes and ankles contract to suspend my body into a starfish position in the air, as my arms and legs are shoulder-width apart. I land into a kneeling position and drive my fist into the wood floor. As my body becomes in-tune with the meaning of the song, I remember my dance instructor. “Dance is a way to tell a story through movement,” he said. I give myself the chance to adopt a new persona each time the song changes. My body turns in 360-degree circles as my arms alternate between first and second position. Movement begins to unravel like the chapter of a must-read. Leap. Land quickly on two feet and transition into seated postures. Perform a full-turn and stand up. Single-arm cartwheel. Plie. And another leap to bring truth to power. “I’m holding on your rope, got me ten feet off the ground,” the singer concludes.

My iPhone plays Alessia Cara’s “Scars to Your Beautiful,” singing, “She just wants to be beautiful. She goes unnoticed. She knows no limits. She craves attention.” I begin with my arms in eagle pose, crouched on the wood floor, slowly transforming into a tall standing position. “All that beauty goes deeper than the surface,” Alessia continues to sing. My body opens like a flower, as I strike a standing split. Patiently waiting for the chorus, I hold these straight lines of energy and beautifully pointed-toes. “There’s a hope that’s waiting for you in the dark. You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are.” Pick up the pace. Quickly alternate between first and second position as you perform countless turns. Lyrics and dizziness coalesce, and I’ve lost the beat in a whirlwind of creativity. Pick it back up again. Strike a single-arm handstand. Slide into a left-leg split. Stand up, and stretch your legs as far in front of you as possible. Take up as much space as you can. Run, and dance, and tumble, until you’ve had enough.

The song changes. I settle into a yoga pose, knees bent, shoulders facing the mirror, arms relaxed. Tove Lo’s “Stay High” remix begins to play, as I take the opportunity to slow down. Breathe. Let blood flow through the temples. Soften the eye gaze. Stretch your arms above your head one at a time. The music continues to flow into my mind, but the dizziness has faded.

Today, I danced on every inch of this wood floor, took up as much space as possible, felt the liberation of pointing my toes just a little further. I observed my reflection in the mirror as I adopted various personas and told stories through movement. The door to free expression remains wide open. But maybe there’s more than just a door. There are the classrooms where I become the group leader. There are workplaces where I am on a constant journey of self-improvement. There are restaurant outings where I discuss the past week’s accomplishments with friends and family.

I open each chapter of my story through dance and am extending the manuscript. My movements and gestures are edited to satisfaction. With each page, I awaken my creative drive, tell my stories in a world of free expression.

Can Sports Help Students do well in School?

Running cross-country in high school yielded greater benefits than improving my mental and physical well-being. Balancing time for the sport with academics helped me build a determined mindset. As I am a college student now, I am confident that I will be able to manage fatigue, long days, and piles of work. I’ve had enough experience with pushing past internal conflict to achieve academic success. This skill can only be learned through experience. Anyone can say that they can stay up late to get work done. But when you’ve already put in eight hours of work at school, three hours at cross-country practice, and every bit of energy during interval workouts, you’ll build a greater level of strength. Your mind might be half-asleep at the end of the day, but you better believe that your history assignment will be turned in the next morning. And that you sure as anything will be waking up at 6:30a.m. just to do it all over again.

On the first day of IT 104, my professor informed the class that a 1500-word, APA style research paper is due in four weeks. Sounds pretty daunting, ay? Let’s talk about writing a quality, 1500-word essay at 3a.m. not because you’re fighting for your grades but because you’re fighting for your beliefs. Let’s talk waking up early because I’ve gotten up at 5:40a.m. on race day mornings when the crisp fall breeze tempts the eyes to close. Put naps aside until after you’ve beat your greatest competition (yourself) on that dewy cross-country course.

My sister informed me that college will be “hard.” So I meet all challenges with the persistence of a distance runner, the thoughtfulness of a writer, and the mind of a student who is determined to thrive as a George Mason Patriot.

Foggy Truth

Why do we make truth seem like such a blurry matter? As I continue to weigh diverse perspectives, I find myself constantly wiping away the fog from a mirror through which I can hardly see my own reflection. I don’t know what ideas to adopt because I’m not sure which of them can be defined as “clear-cut” right or wrongs. Yes, having strong morals is a key aspect of who I am, but not being able to identify what’s right makes it difficult for me to live up to my own idea of “morality.” I’ve stepped inside so many other pairs of shoes that I lost my own in the process. Yet I continue to try on other pairs, bending and contorting them until I can finally see through that foggy mirror. I stare at the tan-skinned girl with the thick black eyebrows who stands across from me. She wears a blank look on her face, but I can tell she’s always in deep contemplation. The process of defining my own idea of morality and truth can revolutionize the self, so I’ll be patient with this reflection as she carefully tiptoes around a million points-of-view.

Balance

The mirror’s fog gradually fades, revealing the clean, transparent glass beneath it. Staring at the girl whose eyes dart around every contour of my face, I consciously acknowledge who she is. I can see her heart as it calmly pulses, asking for anyone to offer her another perspective in the hope that it’ll prevent the mirror from fogging again. But this balancing act of weighing opinions that lie on two extremes forces me to learn how to walk again. I know what I believe in, I tell myself repeatedly, but the voice of my own ideas whispers beneath the yells of the counter-argument. My head spins, eventually coming to a stop, where I find yet another foggy mirror, a girl who can hardly walk, and shoes that no longer fit. For a moment, I convince myself that I can stand, that I can find my own shoes. I insist that religion is an inarguable truth, yet I leave my heart right out on that table in front of me. It is no fault to be open to differing view-points, and my own thoughts have now blended in with the opinions of others. Maybe it’s not a problem for them to intertwine. All I’m doing is being open-minded, while discarding the cloudy label of “truth.” Let me hold onto my own values, thoughts, and opinions, while keeping my mind open to other perspectives. Let me clear the mirror of all its fog, find shoes that make this balancing act a little bit easier.