The Breathwork Practitioner Who Holds Space for Racial Trauma

The Breathwork Practitioner Who Holds Space for Racial Trauma

Black Girls Breathing founder Jasmine Marie, photographed by Gerald Carter

The Breathwork Practitioner Who Holds Space for Racial Trauma

“In the moment, how many times have you felt something was off and your well-meaning friends have met you with, ‘Well, are you sure? Where’s the evidence?’” asks Jasmine Marie, an Atlanta-based breathwork practitioner and the founder of Black Girls Breathing. “Intuition is met with resistance. We aren’t given the environments to cultivate the wisdom that’s already within us.”

Marie’s critical work is about creating those environments for Black women. In her experience, breathwork forces buried traumas to the surface and helps people actively manage that stress. It teaches us to trust our bodies and our intuition, allowing us to see past gaslighting and self-doubt. She makes space to address racial trauma in an intentional way: “You can’t necessarily aspire to and acquire mental health when you’re being traumatized and retraumatized, from day-to-day microaggressions and seeing videos of someone being killed for no reason.”

(Last year, Marie’s breathwork workshop series sold out at every stop on its six-city tour, and it’s now attracting more than 250 Black women to its biweekly virtual sessions. You can support her mission to provide free breathwork to Black women here.)

A Q&A with Jasmine Marie

What was your first experience with breathwork like? How does that experience inform the mission of Black Girls Breathing?

The first time I tried breathwork, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship that, at the time, I had no idea was emotionally abusive. I had started to lose myself as a person. I was constantly doubting that what I felt was real. And I just remember doing this breathwork and feeling that I was in control of myself and the present moment. I hadn’t felt that way in such a long time.

I’ve been practicing breathwork now for four and a half years, and I finished my training as a breathwork practitioner in 2018. Once I finished my training, it was very clear to me that this is a tool I wanted to share with Black women. If you look at the data showing who in our population is most severely impacted by chronic stress, it clearly points to Black women. That stress shows up in our bodies as heart disease and stroke, severe depression and anxiety, even fertility issues and cancer-related fatality. I just knew that if there was a way for me able to provide this tool that has changed my life and changed my relationship with my nervous system with other Black women, I could make such a big impact.

How did breathwork change your relationship with your nervous system?

I remember as I was coming out of an abusive relationship, my nerves were fried. My adrenal system—which handles stress in the body—was so taxed out. I had physical weight I couldn’t lose even if I was as physically active as I could be. In order to heal the way my body handled stress, I needed to come back to myself. I needed to know that when I experience very clear signals and messages in my spirit about a situation, I’m not crazy. It’s my intuition. It’s my body telling me something.

After going through something traumatic, especially over a long period of time, your nervous system is on edge—and you feel the effects of that in every part of your life. In breathwork, you learn to really listen to your body, which helps restore a nervous system that’s overworked and stressed out. Learning to tap into your body’s intuition has implications far beyond breathwork. Being able to listen to yourself factors into how you show up in spaces, in relationships, and in jobs.

What makes breathwork so well suited to issues related to identity?

All of us naturally are empathetic and have certain intuitive gifts. The world that we live in doesn’t necessarily celebrate and promote our further cultivating those gifts. I mean, if we see someone reflect on a relationship they previously had, and they’re saying, “I thought something was off in that relationship,” we’ll be like, “Well, you should have followed your intuition.” But so often, that exists only in hindsight. In the moment, how many times have you felt something was off and your well-meaning friends have met you with, “Well, are you sure? Where’s the evidence?” Intuition is met with resistance. We aren’t given the environments to cultivate the wisdom that’s already within us.

Breathwork strips out all that mental chatter and doubt that’s been embedded in us. It gets us back into the wisdom of our bodies. Our bodies know how to shift energy. I’m thinking about when I’m crying—when I’m having a really good cry, my body automatically relaxes my shoulders, my mouth opens, my jaw unclenches. These are all things we prompt people to do when they start breathwork if their body doesn’t immediately intuitively go there. Or think about when you’re tired or frustrated and you end up sighing audibly—that’s an energy shift. That’s your body saying, “I am feeling all these emotions. Let me release.” Your body already knows how to do these things. And that’s why breathwork is a tool that helps us hop back into that innate wisdom we all possess and carry: It helps us know ourselves.

How does Black Girls Breathing address barriers to access for Black women?

After my training, I noticed there weren’t many breathwork facilitators of color. And I thought: How would my community access some of the more specific issues that they deal with when they would need an individual session for that kind of thematic tailoring, and those run from $150 to $300 a session? That’s just not accessible for a community that earns so much less on average than White men. Knowing that really fueled my passion to introduce this work to my community and make it accessible and welcoming.

Breathwork is a very specific type of tool. It’s more active than regular meditation. You’re feeling your body processing emotions and energy. And because of that, there’s education that’s needed. That’s not widely available outside of New York and Los Angeles. This is bigger: We have Black women who are in Dallas or Houston or Birmingham who are interested and need that access to learning. So that’s what we provide. Black Girls Breathing tours to bring breathwork to those cities that aren’t necessarily huge wellness spots, but where women are interested in this kind of work. Before COVID, our tour schedule was looking like twelve cities across the US—and we’ve had an increase in those tuning in internationally for our virtual sessions, so I’m putting Toronto, London, Paris, and South Africa on my wish list.

You can’t necessarily aspire to and acquire mental health when you’re being traumatized and retraumatized from day-to-day microaggressions and seeing videos of someone being killed for no reason. In a normal yoga class, you may not be able to address that in an intentional way. So we’re creating this space where we can really home in on specific issues within our community, make space to talk about how racism impacts our mental health, and then not just talk about it: We use this tool, breathwork, that helps us actively manage that stress.

It’s also inspiring to me that we have a large population of Black ladies ranging in age from their forties to their seventies who participate in Black Girls Breathing. Self-care is not just for the millennial generation. Older generations are learning and making space for themselves to undo the decades and decades of trauma that they may not have been attending to before.

With all sorts of wellness practitioners and wellness platforms, there are certain levels of access you can get for free. You can listen to free guided meditations and sign up for a newsletter for free insights. But I was pushed toward how we could offer the full hour-and-a-half breathwork session in a way that’s accessible for everyone. My whole mission is to ensure that we have a growing number of Black women who are able to opt in for zero dollars, or even in the five- to twenty-five-dollar range. That’s my goal with our virtual breathwork sessions. We have a sliding scale for payment, and our overhead for virtual sessions isn’t as much as when we’re in person, so we’re discovering ways we can be more creative to ensure that we’re inviting all types of Black women to have access to this work.

There’s a growing awareness among non-Black people of why a place like this exists for Black women. With the mainstream waking up to the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd, there’s been a rush of support from non-Black allies to buy our sessions for Black attendees. People can support our mission to provide free breathwork to Black women here.

Jasmine Marie is a breathwork practitioner and the founder of both Black Girls Breathing, a community for Black women to actively manage their mental health with breathwork, and Adulting with Ease, a practice for group and corporate programs. She has a degree in marketing and international business from New York University.

This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.