Beautiful Chaos

There exists

a hunger

inside me,

A hunger that only grows

the more my body tumbles

in the center of the gym.

So I try

to satisfy

this emptiness,

by tossing my body about like a rag doll.

I hold a handstand,

toes pointed,

and quadriceps flexed.

I take a chance on myself.

Can I hold this pose with a single arm?

I lift my left hand off the floor,

and tease gravity.

My back begins to arch,

and my feet come in contact

with the earth.

But I want to be airborne,

a weightless body that is closer to the sun,

than to this universe.

Weightless,

and greater,

than trivial matters,

that beg for my attention.

But I use my body as a tool,

to shift my thoughts.

So I run,

A hesitant attempt to gain momentum.

I throw my body,

in a carefree roundoff,

pushing the ground away from me,

as my hands meet the floor.

Pause.

I am airborne.

I am here.

I am free.

My thoughts have shifted from trivial matters about the past,

to this very moment,

that my body

is suspended.

This body,

that I deeply love and respect.

But soon enough,

my feet meet the floor again,

with a disingenuous greeting.

My ankles absorb the impact.

But still, I crave.

So I tumble about this empty space,

hungry…

My body twists in a haphazard single-arm handstand,

twists in a roundoff.

My legs catch my body as I fall from handstand,

to bridge,

catch my body as I dive into a cartwheel.

My ribs blossom, as I open my body into a beautiful arch,

open my body into a standing split.

I tumble,

harder,

and faster.

Round-off,

handstand,

dive cartwheel,

forearm stand,

front walkover.

Can you feel the energy in the room?

Can you feel the emptiness that falls upon me…

as my feet become grounded,

after only a split second of suspension?

Can you feel this hunger,

even as you,

dear gym member,

applaud me from several feet away?

Can you see purpose in all this movement,

as I try to find myself in this self-made chaos,

in this beautiful disorder?

My tumbling reluctantly evolves into a dance,

as I open the palms of my hands,

open my body into an arch.

Confident,

yet hesitant.

Certain,

yet so unsure of myself.

Let go,

of this weight.

Let your mind and body become suspended.

Let go of the fear of falling.

My back hits the ground as I collapse out of bridge pose.

My ankles take the impact of my falls.

My forearms chafe with the carpeted floor.

But in this chaos,

there was control.

In this frenzy,

there was sanity…

Just a voice pleading,

am I full yet?

 

 

The Embodiment of Free Expression

Writer’s Note: This story is one of my most powerful recent works, as it challenges the notion of what it means to be alive, as I strive to become the embodiment of free expression. Thank you so much for reading.- Naima.

    The Embodiment of Free Expression

         “You’re not really living. You’re just surviving,” she says. I notice that my breathing becomes constrained, lungs filling with discomfort. It is a skill to awaken the subconscious mind and enable it to coexist with the conscious mind, as I strive to do during meditation. But to deny my efforts to live fully is nothing short of offensive. I turn red. The mind is a philosopher whose tongue is tied. My words are lodged in my throat, eventually diminishing into the back of mind so that they may arise as an afterthought. I don’t really begin to breathe until she leaves. What can I do to rid myself of frustration? How can I prove that I am truly alive, despite that I am destitute of the roots of a healthy mind? Can I build health and happiness in spite of difficult circumstances? To rise above the weight of these desperate matters? I will use my mind as a resource so that I may learn to live fully, learn what it’s like to truly fill a canvas with freedom.

My car zooms down the length of Richmond Highway as I anticipate my workout. The elliptical awaits my presence, the yoga studio growing impatient for my arrival. And finally, I have reached my solace, my euphoria, my gate to freedom. I increase the resistance of the machine with haste. My mind’s eye observes adrenaline climbing to its peak… slowly. The minutes fly, and eventually, time becomes irrelevant. There is no greater extent to which I can be present. My mind, body, and soul is here… and alive. Techno music strikes the match on adrenaline. I speed up. Euphoria grows closer to its peak, and fatigue cannot hinder my pace. I dismount the elliptical and rush to the yoga studio.

During the gym’s final open hour, I turn down the lights, let lyrics flow into the mind. I focus on breathing. Inhale peace, exhale release. My eyes gently close, as I pedal my feet in downward dog. Listening to the sound of my breath, I notice as peace flows through my temples. Open the body as you stretch into three-legged dog. Inhale peace. Ground your heels on the mat, and tip your hips toward the ceiling. Exhale release. Movement begins to flow, as energy surges through my veins. This mode of self-expression leaves no room for shame… or judgment. I am present and aware of my body. My back arches to make space for oxygen, my body performs countless turns as I lose myself in a whirlwind of pure joy. One Republic’s “Apologize” begins to play. I place my hands in prayer and sit at the center of my mat. The eyes close. Oxygen fills my lungs, and serenity grounds itself in my heart. Tears fill my eyes, nearly tipping over the lower eyelid. “Alhamdulillah.” I whisper.

Gratitude floods my heart and spills over the expanse of the yoga studio. Pure joy sits in my throat, waiting for the tears to spill over the edge. Can I whisper the word “alive”? Better yet, can I bottle this feeling and hand it to those who told me I was merely surviving? Can I paint the town in the word “living”… in the word “present”? Place my name right beside them. I am alive. I am present. I am awake. The conscious and subconscious mind have found unity in this very moment, and I have only the shadows as my witnesses… the very reflections in the mirrors. I don’t need to repeat “alive” until I become that which I strive for. We are what we repeatedly do, and I—I have chosen health and exercise as an eternal realm of freedom. Free expression will imprint itself in my very being until I have become the embodiment thereof.

Tell me that I am merely existing. Tell me that I am merely surviving. But it is in the wake of these euphoric peaks, in the exhilaration that forces tears of joy to spill over the eyelids, that I become alive. Alive, and awake, and present. Here. Present.

I prepare to leave the gym, slowly putting my shoes on. Attention is diverted, as I cannot help but to replay the beautiful dances that I performed. The mind’s eye watches my graceful body, my arched back, my pointed toes… as I made space for freedom. Still, I crave to relive these moments that occurred in the very recent past. But without a doubt, I will recreate them. Undeniably, I will become them.

Ever-burning Fire

The roots of an active lifestyle often begin in childhood. When I was 11-years-old, my sister encouraged me to take part in physical activity by getting me a gym membership. Mental and physical health disorders are no rarity in either my family or the country. Over several years of cardio obsessions, love-hate relationships with the sport of running, and tumbling in my pastime, I decided to try something new. Outdoor track season had ended, and that meant I was off the sidewalks of Alexandria and dragging myself to the gym. I needed a break from cardio; even thinking about running was exhausting. So, why didn’t I stop going to the gym altogether? Sounds like a pretty simple escape, huh? Working out was a bonding activity between me and my sister, and saying, “no,” to exercise was the equivalent of giving up on holding our bond together. Even thinking about making such a choice was dangerous territory.

So I put my love-hate relationship for cardio behind me and tried a Body Flow class, which was a 1-hour workout that combines tai chi, yoga, and pilates. My instructor was a tall, energetic woman in her 50s named Wanda. I didn’t know what to expect from the class, but I liked the idea of not knowing. I needed a break from the predictability of interval training. Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” began to play, as Wanda guided us through various postures, from downward-facing dog and forward fold, to mountain pose and upward-facing dog. I’m going to be real with you. I thought all of these movements were just plain weird. I couldn’t help but be aware that my butt was in the air while I was in downward dog. Well, everyone was doing it, so there was no point in wondering if other people were staring (but who cares, right?). During the last five minutes of class, Wanda guided us through meditation. At the time, I had neither meditated nor thought about completely emptying my mind. My thoughts were always loud. I was always thinking, and if I were doing anything besides that, I was overthinking… reanalyzing, reflecting, replaying… you get the point. I rested on my back in corpse pose, my thoughts gradually becoming quiet. Wanda had turned off the lights. I felt safe and comfortable to be honest with my mind’s activity. Thoughts of attachment to people who served little purpose in my life kept coming to mind. My thoughts shifted from calm to critical… but I eventually found a balance. I let myself accept the state of my well-being… accept my body… accept my circumstances… accept who I was. But above all, I was free from judgement and criticism. It was okay not to be okay. I focused on breathing. My lungs expanded and contracted, my thoughts swimming in a sea of peaceful darkness. Tears began to spill from the edges of my eyes. I was saddened by the thoughts that occasionally interrupted my peace, yet empowered by self-acceptance. I was a step closer to personal freedom. Wanda eventually invited us to sit up. We took our final in-breath of the class, and Wanda said, “Namaste.”

I exhaled. Yoga was transformative. I was powerful not because I was one of the youngest people in the class or because I had the flexibility of a dancer. I was powerful because I knew how to gain control over my mind. I could practice controlling my thoughts, which were ultimately the root of my dying motivation for cardio training. I ran for every cross-country and outdoor track season until the end of my high school career, and my subconscious mind began to actively search for activities that made me feel just as full as I had felt in my first Body Flow class. I craved euphoria. I craved the adrenaline rush of crossing the finish line. And I eventually found another high… one that taught me how to keep the door to free expression wide open and even break the walls down if I needed to. Contemporary dance enabled me to unite my mind, body, and spirit, as I learned what it meant to truly live in the present moment. I began to perceive self-expression as more than just a 1-hour class at the gym on a Sunday morning. Self-expression was a limitless world in which I could move, speak, and dance in any way that brought freedom and dignity to my being. I lit a fire on all of my passions, from cross-country and track, to yoga, dance, and even weight-lifting. The fire still burns, and eventually, I will pass the torch, as I will begin a 200-hour yoga teacher training in February. I hope to inspire my students to become walking examples of creative expression, to make healthy choices that enable them to live more fully. Regardless of the decisions that we make for ourselves, we all truly want to live more fully. The greatest difference is, is our perceptions of what it means to live in such a way. It’s vital that our passions enable us to unite the mind and spirit.

To my generous and caring sister, Areeba, who helped me build the heat that would fuel my fire, I am thankful beyond what words could ever express. At night, I stand in front of the mirror and observe my figure. My long arms, my soft skin, my gorgeous pixie cut… I whisper positive affirmations, let them ground themselves in my mind, for mental health is equally important as physical health. These positive affirmations, this healthy body, are the product of those who supported me for years. To Coach Geraty, my former cross-country coach, whose cheers I can still hear in my mind to this day. To Coach Viviani, my former track coach, whose unwavering support led me to believing in myself more firmly. To Ms. Jessica Scharl, my former English teacher, who guided me in maintaining healthy relationships and often provided academic advice.  To Mr. Nelson, my former Creative Writing teacher, who encouraged me to start a blog where I have experimented with diverse genres of writing. To Wanda, who inspired me to become a yoga instructor. And to so many more. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. My success and well-being is due in part to each and every one of you.

My ever-burning lantern will remain lit. I will find myself on the sidewalks of Northern Virginian cities, running road races with hundreds of unfamiliar faces. I will dance on the floors of my yoga studio, let lyrics climb up every one of my ribs as exhilaration crawls through my lungs. I will continue to share my stories through this wonderful blog where creativity knows no bounds. But above all, I will walk through the doors of free expression and pour gasoline over creativity. Watch it kindle in times of darkness, let it shine in times of ease.

 

 

Freedom Living

Lying on the ground, I acknowledge the rough carpet touching the small of my back. Blood pumps through my temples, my arms, my neck, as I rest calmly. I close my eyes, placing my left hand over my stomach, the other over my heart. Visualizing the dance that invited this restfulness, I relive the burst of creativity that I experienced as I improvised dances to countless songs. My mind’s eye watches as my body stretches into a standing split before gently collapsing into corpse pose.

As I was dancing, I occasionally closed my eyes. I couldn’t see my body but I could feel… feel energy rush into my lungs, fueling a fire in my veins. The music notes have become a part of me, they live through my very being so that they, too, may be present in this moment. I arch my back to open my lungs, briefly resting both hands behind my head. Oxygen is a luxury, neither scare nor too abundant. My heartrate quickens as the dance intensifies. Standing split. Bridge. Warrior two stance. Corpse pose. Stretch every muscle in the body, feel the limbs take up more space. I open my eyes. It appears that the ceiling is growing further and further away from me. Creativity has no bounds, space is limitless, and I— I have found my outlet for free expression.

Alive

Heartbeat

Echoes against

The walls of my lungs.

Breathing

Deepens

As I settle into

The pace.

Dismount the elliptical,

And rush to the yoga studio.

Dim the lights,

And bask in solitude.

Hit the ‘play’ button on Daughter’s “Smother.”

Open your lungs,

Creating a beautiful arch in your back.

Feel your body

Blossom like a flower

As you confidently

Open

Your chest,

Your hands,

Your lungs.

 

Dance.

Carefully

Cartwheel,

Landing gently

Onto the floor.

Strike a

Split,

Handstand.

Round-off.

 

Run!

The pace

Has quickened.

Let emotion spill out of your body.

Let lyrics flood your mind.

Let blood continue to flow

Through hard-working veins

And beautiful skin.

 

Heartbeat echoes

Against

The walls of my lungs.

I wrap my arms around my body,

Let movement

Ignite energy,

Ignite shamelessness.

Run,

And crawl,

And tumble,

And turn,

Until you can’t take anymore.

I want every emotion to come alive

Through movement,

Through the steady heartbeat that quickens

As the rhythm of music

Quickens.

 

Sweat glistens,

Along the temples.

Blood flows

to the brain,

Breathing

Deepens.

 

This is how it feels

To be alive.

“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.

Creative Thinking in the Classroom

Writer’s Note: This short-story is an account of my dance class with Professor Dan Joyce at George Mason University. My goal in writing this piece was to point out the lack of creative thought within the traditional classroom. With this short-story, I leave you with one question: if you were finally given the opportunity to use your imagination in a classroom, how would you express your creativity?

Creative Thinking in the Classroom

“Dance is a way to tell a story through movement,” my dance instructor, Dan, told my class today. Will, the drummer boy, sat behind his drumset with neat red hair and a stern expression. Dancers stood in lines behind their classmates, waiting to demonstrate the skills our instructor taught us. Students begin walking forward for four beats and strike a pose of their choice, as Dan instructed. “I want you to use your imagination,” Dan says, as I notice the passion in his voice. I continue to count on beats of eight until it’s my turn to dance. Poised, I walk forward for four counts. Strike any pose and let the imagination thrive. Standing split. Walk forward for four more counts. Kick into a carefree front-walkover. I reach the other side of the room and get back in line behind a dancer. Exhilaration crawls into my veins and laughter is drowned out by the drumbeat. I observe students dance as I wait for my next turn. Their eyes dart in a million directions. Watching themselves in the mirror and watching others watching them. In this room, fear of embarrassment hides behind a creative imagination. But I can’t help but wonder, if all dancers stretched the boundaries of their discomfort and unleashed their creativity, what would happen? Would we find ourselves telling stories through movement? Expressing ourselves without shame or hesitation?

So to the other dancers, I ask, what is the worst that can happen if you just express yourself? If you’re broken and tired, wear your emotions on your sleeve. 1…2… 3… 4. Strike any pose you want. Wrap your arms around your body, open your lungs, and look up toward the sky. A proud warrior. If you crave to tap at the edges of your boundaries, turn your body in a 360-degree circle and open your arms. Celebrate your presence…here. Stay present. The room, this space, this is all yours. No restrictions, no boundaries, no regulations.

In a traditional classroom, we are so used to being told how to behave, how to think, and how to express ourselves. But strict conformity has no place in a mind that thrives with creativity. As you are given the chance to be and do anything you want, will you take that opportunity? Will you stretch your arms, open your lungs, and move without hesitation? In this studio, free expression thrives… so that we may thrive.

Transformation

For years, I struggled to express and define myself without fear of being judged or criticized. Little did I know during my underclass high school years that my “friends” were girls who masked their insecurities beneath heavy layers of make-up. Yet, I aspired to be just like them and quickly fell victim to the “halo effect.” I didn’t know how to define or conduct myself because I lived within the confines of my own fears. As I had recently begun wearing a hijab, I was afraid of being ridiculed for who I was or how I dressed. Making a transition from dressing liberally to wearing clothes that expressed my religious devotion required me to redefine my persona. So between all the confusing times that I’d wonder why I found social interactions stressful, I eventually found healthy ways to express myself and build a positive self-image. Many of the subconscious decisions that catalyzed my self-growth are choices that I consciously make on a regular basis. I strive to surround myself with a diverse group of confident and intelligent students. I also run and work out several times a week to promote my well-being, solve personal obstacles, and celebrate my health. Reflecting on who I am today—a self-assured and independent woman, a prospective college student, passionate writer, avid athlete, and more—I am so thankful to have overcome the obstacles that shaped me into who I am.

I constantly reflect on how I felt during my Adobe Dreamweaver Certification exam that I took yesterday. The girl who sat behind that computer desk is someone I never would have imagined myself to become. Dressed in a beautiful golden-tan hijab and rich ruby-red peplum top, this student overcame doubt so many times that being confident became a habit.

I am thankful for all the praise I continue to receive, as my friends and family kindly tell me that I am beautiful, intelligent, and mature. But I find that these compliments only acknowledge the qualities I possess now, not how hard I worked to attain them. The latter subject demonstrates a form of strength that is often overlooked. I am perceived as someone who stands at the top of a hill, not someone who exerted the strength of her heart, mind, and body to reach its peak.

I neither blame nor criticize those who express uplifting words about who I am. I just want people to understand that this transformation didn’t happen overnight. I fought self-esteem issues and other personal obstacles to reach this point in my life. I mention these adversities not because I want you to feel sympathetic toward me. Rather, I mention the idea of overcoming obstacles because it is a form of strength that we don’t acknowledge. As with other beautiful, intelligent, and successful young women, I don’t want people to wonder, How does she make it look so easy to be confident, strong, independent, etc.?

My friends, teachers, and other members of my community would find it shocking if I were to disclose some of the adversities that I have undergone. This astonishment is the result of the surface-level perception people form of who I am; standing at the top of the hill, not fighting to get there. The obstacles we overcome throughout our lifetimes play such a crucial role in shaping us into who we are and building the type of character that people admire.

A thank-you to everyone who encourages me to become a better “me.” But please understand that any successful person you admire did not gain success with the simple flicker of a light. When you compliment someone, you should not only praise her for who she is but also the journey she travelled to become a better version of herself.

ADDENDUM

During one of my classes, a friend asked if I wanted to play computer games. I immediately accepted his offer and sat at the desk next to him. As I became mentally immersed in a game called Agar.io, I let the sound of my laughs carry throughout the walls of the quiet classroom. The students around me knew I was playing games on my computer because I had finished all of my classwork. But what they didn’t know is what those gentle, light-hearted laughs symbolize. Freedom from years of struggling to express myself. Freedom from irrational fears deeply rooted in social anxiety. And freedom from uncomfortable uncertainties. Not knowing how or when I would find a way to define myself; find friends who celebrated and accepted me for who I was, not someone who strived to achieve something unattainable. So let me share these laughs, this joy, with the boy who invited me to play computer games with him… because he let me be reminded of how alive it felt to be wrapped in so many certainties. Knowing that I have the strength to shatter countless personal barriers, express a limitless happiness as we enjoyed a simple activity.


 

Unlimited

Writer’s Note: Even though I’ve had trouble determining the theme of my blog, I’ve decided that I will feature various posts relating to the art of creative writing. That way, I’m not limited to any topic or genre. I rarely write poems, but I decided to take a shot at it. Below is a poem I wrote that captures a glimpse of who I am with the theme ‘Self-expression shouldn’t be limited.’ Hope you enjoy!- Naima

Unlimited

Do not limit the way I express myself,

Whether they are college word limits or your impatience to listen to everything I have to say.

When I tell you about my day, let me tell you all about all those little details that play a part in the bigger picture.

Let me tell you all the silly jokes that brought a smile to my face,

Whether it takes 30 seconds to tell the punch line or five minutes.

Self-expression cannot be hindered by a meager time frame or a simple summary of who I am.

I am a conservative style of dress during the weekdays and a t-shirt and shorts on the weekend.

I am formal language when uncomfortable and colloquial talk when I’m with my friends.

I am a tanned-skin Pakistani girl who could easily pass for Syrian, Indian, or any ethnicity from the middle-East.

I am the girl who claims to know herself so well but entirely forgets when you ask, “Tell me about yourself.”

I am business professional at interviews and a passionate track athlete at practice.

I am athletic and feminine,

Powerful and graceful.

Limited yet infinite,

My thoughts cannot be confined to a word count,

Nor time frame.