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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Survival

Writer’s Note: I wrote this creative short-story as an outlet for a powerful statement regarding safety. Although there are myriad safety threats worldwide (i.e. terrorist attacks, driving under the influence, genetically-inherited health issues, etc.), safety is very much a right– not a privilege. Despite that safety should be guaranteed to all, regardless of (social, economic, cultural, or other) background, sometimes we must fight for our right to be safe. I hope you enjoy reading this story, as it is not only one of my most extensive recent works, but it also conveys a powerful theme. – Naima

Survival

Birds tweet along to the gentle patter of rain against the wooden dock, as I lay on my back, mesmerized by the sound of rain. Tropical birds travel from tree-to-tree in this beautiful forest. I observe wildlife through the length of tall, healthy trees that surround me. Blood gently pulses against my temples as I breathe deeply, resting all muscles. The warm rain lands on my skin like gentle kisses from Mother Nature. I blink several times to clear my vision. Raindrops linger in my eyelashes, on my skin, and in my hair. Not a thought of responsibility or worry traverses these woods. There is only space for calm in a quiet, controlled mind.

My heart is full. I occasionally think about all the things for which I am thankful. I am thankful to this forest for providing sustenance for me to survive in the outdoors. I am thankful for my health; I am agile and quick enough to hunt. Breathing deeply, I naturally stop thinking about time. I can stay in this forest for eternity and be safe, calm, and present.

Suddenly, thunder roars, causing flocks of birds to relocate. Lighting strikes a tree, and the skinny trunk burns to ashes. I remember my mother’s advice before I had left home several years ago. Always be aware of your surroundings. Fear trickles down my spine; I only have two choices: fight or flight. Well, Mother Nature wins this battle. I begin to run in search of a safer location. Instinct is critical to survival. My frock becomes tattered as I leap over countless twigs. Chasing safety, my heart grows tired with every passing minute. I have no choice but to consider time now.

After almost an hour of running, I reach a clearing. The rainstorm ended. I find a rock to sit on and relax. Just as my muscles release their tension, I hear heavy footsteps. Opening my knapsack, I pull out my bow-and-arrow. Poised, I observe the distant woods, listening intently to the rustle of leaves. “Hello?” A man’s voice. Where is that voice coming from? I continue to hold my bow-and-arrow. “Anybody there?” I turn around and see a tall, muscled man appear from the woods. He looks at me from head-to-toe and gradually raises his arms. “Hi, I’m Jethro. I’m not going to hurt you, so you can put your weapon down, hun.” I lower my bow-and-arrow and push my hair away from my face. He slowly approaches me.

“Magnolia. Nice to meet you.” I extend my hand. He shakes my hand firmly. “So, what business do you have here in the clearing?”

“I water the plants here daily. I’m growing crops for the spring harvest. You?”

“I—wow. I was just looking for a safe place to stay. With the rainstorm, the other night, I was just trying to avoid getting struck by lightning.” I begin to collect wood to start a fire.

He laughs heartily.

“You’ve gotta build a shelter for yourself. I built mine out of wood and rock, but it’s located about a mile from here.”

I watch bright orange, red, and blue colors dance around in the fire, thankful to finally have a source of warmth.

Jethro stands up and begins to water the plants from a red canteen that reads ‘CAUTION.’

“Magnolia, do you believe in survival of the fittest,” Jethro asks.

“Not really. As long as you have the right mind and resources, you ‘oughta be fine.”

I observe Jethro’s features: piercing black eyes, rugged hair, and a beige cotton shirt that is frayed at the edges. He turns around to finish watering the plants, walking around the clearing in a perfect circle.

“The right mind and resources, you say?”

“That’s why I’ve got—.” My eyes dart around the ground for my knapsack.

“Magnolia, you sure as hell got the right resources, but you might want to polish your mind.” Jethro wears my knapsack on his back and stands poised with my bow-and-arrow. I duck behind a rock.

The arrow is ablaze.

Jethro launches the weapon into the ring that he poured over the plants, and suddenly, I am surrounded by a ring of fire that gradually intensifies.

“Maybe you can use your pretty little mind to collect more resources,” he says, running away with the red canteen that reads ‘lighter fuel.’

The short-lived, gentle rain was an illusion of true safety. But perhaps we must create a safe environment within our minds and bodies before we begin to search for it within the natural world. Countless illusions present themselves in these woods. Danger camouflages itself as a safe environment, waiting to catch its next prey. I will fight to get out of this ring of fire, but more important, I won’t just survive. I will live. I will thrive.

Euphoria

My socks reduce the friction between my feet and the wood floor, as I perform turns, scorpions, and standing splits. I imagine dancers who discovered this euphoria before I did. When the sticks hit the drums, did they experience the same surge of energy run through their veins? Did their pulse hammer against the walls of their rib cage as the song’s beat quickened? Could they feel their worries fall out of their heads as their bodies tumbled and turned?

My rib cage opens to its greatest extent when I bend into a front-walkover, making room for oxygen, peace, and energy. I pull myself back into a standing position, subsequently throwing myself into a carefree round-off. Hands close into fists, and then open. Legs form parallel lines in a handstand, and then stretch into a split. Heart finds safety within the walls of my lungs, and then expands to invite peace. The beat abruptly picks up, as the musician sings, “Don’t let me down.”

And the final moment of anticipation. Drumsticks hit the bass, igniting a spark of energy that makes the heart weightless. I rush to strike a single-arm handstand. Lyrics dance along each rib, similar to the way vibrations linger upon the strings of a harp. Blood rushes to the temples as I inhale deeply. Stress crashes onto the floor and shatters. Worries wither away beneath the floorboards. I slide into a split and observe my soft, feminine features in the mirror. My rested muscles. My relaxed poise.

The heart has wings. The lungs house the lyrics of talented musicians. The veins reignite euphoria, sparking a chain reaction of energy throughout my body. The mind is free.

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Meditation

All alone in my gym’s yoga studio, I wonder how much longer it’ll be until I head home. But there’s something in my heart that tells me I’m not ready to walk away from this gym, from the one place that can be my solace when everything is slowly crumbling. It feels as though I have been running away from myself all day. I let Beyoncé’s song overpower the voice of my own cloudy thoughts, but it fails to appease the storm in my head. I need a moment to slow down, turn off the quick-paced music that only helps me forget about my problems temporarily. So I tell myself to stop running and turn down the lights. I hear the gentle click of the dim lamp as I turn it on, a confirmation that I’m ready sit in the front seat of my well-being. I recline on the yoga mats beneath me, encouraging myself to take deep breaths.

Typically, I meditate in a roomful of gym-goers who are eager to improve their physical and mental health. But today, they are all here with me in spirit, as our hearts gently beat in unison. Relaxing every muscle, I close my eyes. I listen to my pulse, as well as Hozier’s voice as he sings “Like Real People Do.” We can be alone but still sense the accompaniment of those who support us. We can be in a room full of people, yet feel so alone. My lungs expand and contract slowly, as I breathe in to all my areas of tension. My thoughts have become quiet, but I can still hear the calm voices of my yoga instructors. Remember to be patient and persistent with yourself, Wanda’s voice echoes. From my heart to yours, Namaste, Mary says. Their uplifting words intertwine with Hozier’s lyrics as he sings, “I knew that look, dear. Eyes always seeking.”

I acknowledge the blood that gently pulses through my calf muscles, as my legs rest against the yoga mat. Counting my breaths, I find complete solace in this cool, dark room. Inhale 2, 3, 4. Exhale, 2, 3, 4. I listen to Wanda’s voice as she says, Start to bring awareness back to your body by wiggling your toes and your fingertips. I continue to breathe. And when you’re ready, roll onto your side in a fetal position, using your arms as a pillow. I roll onto my right side, tuck my hands under my head, and pull my knees into my chest. And on the count of 3, I’m going to ask you to sit up. 1… 2… 3. I use my arms to push myself into a seated position. I imagine there are yogis behind me whose eyes are closed as they wear rested facial  expressions. We gently stretch the muscles in our neck by tilting our heads to each side and holding it for a few moments. And let’s take our last in-breath and inhale the arms above the head. We do as instructed, eventually lowering our hands into our chests. From my heart to yours, Namaste. The class concludes.

The corners of my mouth form a sweet, tired smile. A smile that expresses that I’m ready to walk home and enjoy the sun. I take a moment to appreciate my peaceful surroundings, as the dim lights beautifully illuminate the clean wood floor. Meditation encourages me to adopt a positive attitude, take control over my thoughts and well-being, and just breathe. Notice what happens when you breathe. Your thoughts become quiet. I listen to Wanda’s voice one last time before I leave.

Yoga Studio2
Gold’s Gym Mind and Body Studio