Take a breath. Inhale and exhale. Feels good, right?
We all know common knowledge that breathwork and meditation benefit the body, mind, and soul. While it won’t solve everything, it’s a simple practice we should all incorporate into our routines to improve both our mental and physical health.
But, in our frenetic, often face-paced world and lives, most people have lost the instinct to take deep breaths and instead take shallow ones. This shift is believed to be related to various external factors, including stress, which, as of late, multiple studies have confirmed to be an almost national epidemic. In one study conducted by Everyday Health, more than half of those surveyed said that they are paralyzed by stress stemming from factors like money, work, and appearance. Once these anxieties reach chronic levels, they can spiral into various other health problems, including heart disease and digestive problems.
That’s where breathing comes in.
Jasmine Marie, an intuitive breathwork healer and mindfulness practitioner, is working to teach others about the oft-overlooked benefits of simply breathing to lower everyday stress and anxiety. She’s the founder of black girls breathing, which provides breathwork classes specifically aimed at black women, who suffer from some of the most alarming rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and other resulting disorders.
“Breathwork is really powerful,” Marie says. “So it’s not regular meditation. I think what’s in mainstream meditation right now and what’s trending is more relaxed — like a stillness of the mind. Breathwork, on the other hand, is very active.”
The term breathwork refers to a meditation technique used to shift energy through the body by reframing the nervous system. There are a variety of styles practiced, including holotropic breathwork (combining accelerated breathing with evocative music), cathartic pranayama (clearing trauma from the body) and shamanic breathwork (voluntarily inducing a state of hyperventilation to reach an altered state) to name a few.
Historically, many modern forms of yoga and meditation fall into mainstream ideas of self-care and wellness. However, breathwork has roots in many spiritual practices like tai chi and Buddhism and can also be traced back to Asian and Indian cultures.
Additionally, the role of the practitioner, who guides the classes, mimics one of ancient healers, the most traditional of which date back centuries to African traditions and practices. Marie also notes the activeness of breathwork pulls from movement and dance, again with traces across the African diaspora.
It’s not surprising that the awareness of breathwork is occurring while chronic stress levels continue to rise. The problem, however, arises when, as Marie points out, the notion of rest becomes an equivalent to anti-productivity, which can be harmful and make people shy away from such valuable self-care.
As a society, we need to change that.
“In my business, the best creative moments and innovative ideas I’ve had come from intentional rest and with intentional rejuvenation — after I complete that cycle of being still,” Marie says. “I think the resistance to stillness, beyond just deep breathing, is the programming that we always have to keep going.”
It’s also deeper than that. One of the main goals of breathwork is to release past triggers and traumas — ones you may not even know you have. As a society perennially caught up in what to do, where to go, and who to see next, we give ourselves little time to grieve and process. We’re expected, both internally and externally, to resume our responsibilities ASAP.
“You could have had a situation and when you think about it your hands start sweating and your heart beats fast,” Marie says. “That’s because of the trauma. The memory of it has been ingrained in your nervous system in your body. So we use breathwork to reframe our nervous system and its response to those triggers.”
This ties back to Marie’s focus on black women. Within the black community, many women run their families and, thus, take on the burdens of those around them. Also, black people are still impacted by both historical traumas — like slavery and racism — and the current aftershocks that ripple through black communities when injustices, like senseless police brutality, continue to occur.
But when we allow ourselves to step back from these traumas, to focus on positively moving forward with active breathwork, it can be a very cathartic experience. Marie says many women contact her months after a session to say they continue to find benefits after just one practice.
So how do you get started? Finding someone to guide you through a breathwork session is the ideal first step. There are many breathwork resources, like Marie’s classes, which include solo and group sessions, both in person and online. She’s also currently touring major cities throughout 2019.
Another option is to check if there are any local classes to take in your area. You can also find free guided breathwork recordings online, to get a taste of what the experience is all about. As there are a few different styles of practice and different ways of teaching, try out a couple classes to find one that’s right for you.
But remember, in the end, just breathe.
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