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Jasmine Marie Wants to Use Breathwork to Help 1 Million Black Women Deal With Trauma

The founder of Black Girls Breathing set a goal to hit by 2025, here's how she's going to do it.

Harper’s Bazaar

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Jasmine Marie

Gerald R Carter Jr

In 2018, Jasmine Marie had a realization. She was living in New York City at the time, working in a high stress environment when she discovered breathwork. The holistic mental health practice changed her life: she subsequently trained to become a practitioner, left her corporate job, and founded black girls breathingan organization dedicated to bringing the self-care exercise, along with other mental health resources, to Black women and girls in the US and beyond.

Marie is also now working to transform and decolonize the mental health industry at large. She has pledged to impact 1 million Black women and girls by 2025 through breathwork, which is defined as the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises to relieve stress and enhance the mental state. What's more, Black girls breathing is working to fill the research gaps in mental health, a space that—like so many others—has not centered the Black experience in research, practice, or care. We caught up with Marie over Zoom from Atlanta where she is currently based to learn about why breathwork is so transformative in trauma healing, how black girls breathing came about, and how she and her team are working to transform the mental health industry.

Why do you love breathwork and how did you first come into contact with it?

I [studied business] at NYU and the culture was very much ‘high stress is expected in your work-life.' I was working in global haircare after school and my stress was just out of this world. At the time I was really involved in my church in Harlem. The pastor built our church to be so inclusive. There were so many things about his teachings that were revolutionary. He launched a community center and they offered free breathwork classes to Harlem residents. I was coming from a very traditional Christian background, needing it to align to my own beliefs about people and faith.

My first breathwork practitioner was a Black woman which I think was very influential to me looking back. The practice in so many ways saved my life. There was so much stress in my career and [in my] personal [life]. Sometimes our nervous systems are just so taxed and stressed that we disconnect. I remember reclaiming myself and being able to know what was going on in my body and making choices from that. I eventually left the corporate world and started my first business.


A breathwork session (Gerald Carter)

What was the process for training like and why did you want to center your business on Black women?

I make decisions from an intuitive place. I literally woke up in 2018 one day and heard my spirit say 'You need to get trained in this.' So, I followed that. My last training was for facilitating groups; I was very clear that I wanted to bring these tools specifically to Black women in a way that is accessible. Black women have unique mental health challenges as they face unique situations on a day-to-day basis—being in workplaces where they don’t feel seen or heard, dealing with different family dynamics. A lot of Black women—once they are making a certain amount of money—are then taking care of family.

How has black girls breathing evolved since you launched it?

What I love about our story is it speaks to the intuitiveness of having your ear really close to your community. The first step we have is education. Breathwork is a new tool. We are also dealing with a lot of stigmas towards mental health that we are helping women to unlearn. Even today, seeking therapy in my parent's generation is seen as crazy.To deconstruct those beliefs speaks to how we build out our marketing and really understanding the challenges our community faces. In the last year we shifted to an accessible and sliding scale model, so someone can opt in from zero to twenty-five dollars.

What we have seen in this past year is that most of our community has health insurance—90% of them. However, only 28% said they had a consistent resource outside of black girls breathing to help care for their mental health. And that’s awful. We know that many of them cannot afford out of pocket therapy.

So we've been using that data to influence how we sustain our work by getting corporate partners, individual donations, etc. We also launched our research and creative agency, where we work with healthcare consultants and have conversations with non-profit research institutions, private research institutions, and healthcare companies. I really want our work to open the doors across the entire industry.


Black Girls Breathing in session

What is your ultimate goal?

One million black girls breathing by 2025 is our mission. We said, okay, we’re fundraising for a year to make our work free and accessible. It’s not just the number of people signing up. We want to expand upon specific channels that continue to provide black girls breathing as a real-time accessible tool. I think that’s just what fueled us. There is so much work to be done. We have to have a long-term vision. If we don’t step up, then what is going to happen?

As you set this goal, what are the resources that are most needed to get there and what are the steps that need to be taken?

We’ve developed multi-year corporate and individual sponsorship plans. Allies understand how important our work is. We’ve already started speaking to community organizations that serve this target market to get this to as many Black women as possible. We also want to expand into different verticals—community organizations, community clinics, and then also school systems.

Then, through the platforms we own, we want to scale our virtual breathwork circles, and launch a breathwork facilitator program that’s based on research and has the incorporation of therapists, researchers, and other somatic practitioners as an advisory board. I work with a very specific traumatized demographic so there are different learnings that I want to pass down in a way that’s teachable. We are going to leverage all of that to make this a formal and distinct training. And then we’ll be continuing our in-person sessions with our breathwork sessions and launching a tech platform to increase that access.

Beyond just the resource aspect, what we’re excited about is the research—[partnering] with research institutions. We see the gap. We see the bias. Industry-wise, the American Medical Association [declared] racism a public health [threat]. It was huge. Even though this exists, these institutional markers—

We need institutional ownership.

Exactly. And it opens up the door for funding and more research. We’re saying, hold on, we have extreme engagement, we’ve been collecting data since inception, and also the issue is there aren't Black researchers being utilized.

Often, they’ll have one Black researcher or a community organization that’s tied to the grant, but they’re not the ones leading it and that’s an issue in and of itself, because there aren't enough Black researchers. I would love to launch our own private longitudinal study this year that selects a group of Black women to measure the impacts of breathwork over time. It will help us treat certain traumas. The daily micro-aggressions are like little individual violent subtle things that happen, so we just need a better look into specific impact of certain traumas so we can shift the methodologies of how you are being trained when you go to study to be a psychologist. We’re not just doing breathwork.


Black Girls Breathing founder, Jasmine Marie (Gerald R Carter Jr)

As you look to the future, what are you really excited about?

I’m really excited about the innovation. I’m excited about the fact that I feel like there has been some evidence in the industry and in the world that they are open to these conversations—and to an organization like ours making bold statements and goals. And having clear roadmaps on how we can help treat systemic issues. That they’ll be even more open for the funding. I’m a bull. I’m a shark as my team would say. Even though I’m a practitioner, I’m very business-minded and I lead with that. I’ve been very clear I’m not an influencer. There are certain values that you have to establish early. You have to establish: I’m going to figure out a way to pay and compensate people that work with me. No matter my size. I’m going to operate in our values when I talk to corporations. No matter how big. My whole thing is, I’m tired of the stats. I know how underfunded, resource-supported Black women are. I know. So how am I going to operate to change that narrative? We will not just partner with anyone. We really need to see the commitment to our mission long-term.

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This post originally appeared on Harper’s Bazaar and was published June 18, 2021. This article is republished here with permission.