You wouldn't know just by looking at her, that Sumaya Alnasser would have to struggle to stand up and greet you. Her cane is inconspicuous, often leaning against the wall to her side or left half-hidden behind a piece of furniture. She is always perfectly turned out, and there is absolutely no hint of the troubled pre-teen she once was, when she sank head first into "a deep depression" and was almost suicidal.
Today, Alnasser is Saudi Arabia's first internationally certified female life and career coach. Having grown up in Riyadh before settling in Los Angeles, she often travels to the UAE to conduct training workshops and one-on-one sessions with clients. She has authored numerous books and articles, and has delivered coaching and training – in Arabic – to more than 200,000 clients around the world, as well as conducting over 12,000 hours of coaching through workshops and seminars. She holds a PhD in theology, studies awareness sciences, trains clients on how to meditate, is celebrated as a motivational speaker and, this month, released The Back Door, a meditation CD entirely in Arabic.
Born with congenital hip dysplasia – an abnormality of the hip joint in which the ball and socket joints fail to form properly – Alnasser spent the first 12 years of her life in and out of hospitals and clinics. “It was a childhood spent having surgeries and wondering if I’d ever walk,” says the 35-year-old. “Everything changed for me around the age of 12, when I discovered some self-help and self-development books that we had around the house.”
These books, she says, became her friends, her confidants. They told her it was OK to be different, to be struggling. “No one had spoken to me that way before, telling me I could still have a life despite how I felt. I had always considered myself an outsider, sitting in the shadows or on the sidelines, just observing life. I was always stared at in the street, at school. Everything was punctuated with sadness, pain, anxiety. The books became a shelter, they became my therapy.”
Through them, Alnasser says she reached a level of self-awareness she didn’t know existed. She learnt how to overcome sadness, how to focus, how to form goals and aim to succeed. “It’s the first time I realised that I could become someone, or achieve something. In the Arab world, when you’re born with a disease like mine, you’re pushed aside and not much is expected of you. I began to change my way of thinking. I wasn’t so lost anymore; I was a person of value, despite my disease.”
She began taking life- coaching and awareness courses wherever she could. “I realised this is what I wanted to do,” she says. “I wanted to learn how to help others find a goal and prosper, and feel better about themselves and their lives. I wanted to give them what I had found for myself.”
Despite her many accomplishments, Alnasser’s life is not without pain. Sometimes, the ache in her hip can be so debilitating that she can’t get out of bed for days. Discovering meditation, she says, changed her life in infinite ways. “I had always been taught that I have to just put up with the pain, but I thought, how? My research and studies led me to learn more about meditation, and it has helped me so much. It’s not that it would alleviate the pain itself; it would make me able to handle it, through easing my connection to the pain, or dispelling the idea that I’m waiting for this pain or expecting it. The more I meditated, the more I noticed everything improving for the better: my thoughts, my emotions, my positivity, my energy to tackle life and my sensitivity towards others. Often, in sessions, I guide my clients through meditation to calm their breathing and regain clarity.”
Creating The Back Door allowed Alnasser to provide a "smarter and calmer" way to teach meditation practices for those who need it. "You will see the world in a different way. You will relax, you will rid yourself of negativity. It's like having your own personal life coach," she says.
The two-disc album features 14 tracks, with music written by Jordanian film composer and pianist Ghiya Rushidat. Alnasser provides the voice-overs on all the tracks, having written the affirmations that go with the music. Each track focuses on a different topic: titles include Gratitude, Self Realization, Abundance, Face Your Fears, Detox, Attracting Love and Living With It.
Most importantly, it’s in Arabic. “As humans, we find comfort in different things – but something as simple as speaking and listening in our mother tongue easily creates feelings of familiarity and security,” she explains.
The Back Door, an Arabic meditation CD by Sumaya Alnasser, is on Amazon (US$18.98, Dh70) and Apple Music. The CD will be available soon in local bookstores and on Souq.com