As the last rays of sun filtered through the trees on the Lawn, students stretched themselves out in downward dog poses, inhaling and exhaling deeply. After several minutes of stretches, they practiced intentional breathing and concentration by sitting still while the rest of the Lawn continued brimming with life and activity. Every Sunday since early September, Muslims United has hosted guided meditations and yoga on the Lawn for their club and students of all backgrounds from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Founded in 2020, Muslims United was created to offer a platform for Muslims of any ethnic or cultural background. Jessiah Lucien, event coordinator and fourth-year Commerce student, said the organization strives to respect all members of the Muslim community, regardless of their race, sexual orientation or gender.
“We tell people regardless of where you're at in the journey, Muslims United was created [while] recognizing these issues in the community and hearing these sentiments,” Lucien said.
Muslims United stands to foster an activist and more inclusive Muslim community. For Lucien, leading guided meditations on the Lawn is a form of activism in virtue of creating awareness around mental health issues and college pressures, which he highlights durings the sessions, and thereby aids in their destigmatization.
“How can we reach peace when life in college is so stressful?” Lucien asked. “Oftentimes, so much focus is on our future, our classes, our GPAs, our extracurriculars and everything like that, just the world in general.”
Lucien leads the discussions and reflection of these issues for attendees and encourages them to look after themselves through mindful meditation. Through breathing exercises and simple yoga poses, Lucien guides the group in grounding themselves into the moment.
Students set their blankets down and disconnect from their phones at these sessions in hopes of finding some serenity in the midst of their personal insecurities. Fourth-year College student Monica Younan said the guided meditations allow her to destress.
“He definitely highlights the importance of finding time for yourself every day, '' Younan said. “Whether [that time] be you know, a whole 30-minute session or just five minutes to yourself to really sit, decompress your thoughts and throw out all the stress of life [in order to] regain composure.
Similarly, fourth-year Engineering student Maggie Salomonsky felt this past Sunday’s session brought her peace. She found out about the sessions as a friend of Lucien’s and sought to practice some more mindfulness and connect with her sense of spirituality.
“I would say that I just got a lot of self-closure, sitting with [my] thoughts and how I'm content with who I am today and how I've grown,” Salomonsky said. “So, it's a really great space to think about that.”
Lucien hopes that students walk away from the practices recognizing the impact their thoughts and words have on their perception of life. He encourages them to take a more positive approach in how they perceive themselves so that they foster a more optimistic outlook going forward.
Reem Saifudin, publicity chair and fourth-year College student, says she takes away exactly that — a sense of optimism. She enjoys the relaxation that the sessions offer for her but acknowledges the challenges of reorienting the way she thinks in the long term.
“I think sometimes it gets hard to remember, because at the end of the session he has things that we can think about for that week and so sometimes I try to keep that in mind and try to be mindful about things that I say or put out into the universe as he mentioned in the sessions,” Saifudin said. “Then sometimes maybe the week might be too busy. So I can't really keep thinking about it as much, but coming back to the session helps to bring it back”
While Saifudin is an executive member in the club, neither Salomonsky nor Younan are Muslim. However, Muslims United and Lucien welcome all students to their meditative sessions on the grounds of creating a more supportive community, recognizing the common struggle of being a student at the University. Saifudin emphasized the importance of inclusivity and visibility in hosting these sessions.
“[It’s] really a good way to bring people into it,” Saifudin said. “And we're still a relatively new club. It's only been [our] third year, so [we’re] definitely getting more outreach, people knowing about the club — and it's open to anyone, even if you're not Muslim as well. So having that be portrayed like through our dedication, literally anybody can come whenever they want.”
Going forward, Lucien hopes that someone will continue to lead the sessions after he graduates this coming spring. These sessions, he believes, are an avenue for all students at the University community to find support amongst each other. For the future of Muslims United, though, Lucien wishes to see inclusion across all types of groups at the University in order to continue to make a more inclusive student body.
“I would like to see in the future for the organization that a lot of groups like the [Black Student Association] or white fraternities partner with us,” Lucien said. “I want every group to know that we’re here to support the community.”