‘I’m a Black Breathwork Practitioner, and This Is How I’ve Reclaimed My Rest’

Photo: Courtesy / W+G Creative
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a growing business and public profile, my definition of rest began to evolve. I’m the founder of Black Girls Breathing, and the self-care practices (therapy, working out, meditation and stillness) that were effective during previous chapters of life were proving insufficient.

As our work grew exponentially in response to the immense need of mental health support in the Black community (further exacerbated by Covid), I could have never predicted how exposure to the immense amount of second-hand trauma from my work and my grief would impact my body.

In February, however, it was unavoidable. I found myself in the doctor’s office and sitting across from my physician, I came to grips with the realities of consistently pushing upstream. Building in the face of systemic racism takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll. I was in the office to receive final test results, but it was clear that I needed to redefine self care.

For those of us engaged in community-impact work, traditional self-care tools only help us get to the next day. There’s no amount of weekly therapy visits, breathwork sessions, daily journaling, or hour-long workouts that can remedy the depletion you experience from constantly pushing against systemic violence and oppression.

Rest isn’t just important for those of us doing this work. It’s a matter of survival. The chronic stress we experience creates physical and mental health effects that are killing us. Learning that my health issues were connected to stress made it obvious that the shift in my routine wasn’t a mere recommendation, but an acute matter to address immediately— no matter how inconvenient to my schedule.

But that doesn’t make it easy to implement. The messages that we need to rest are all around us, but setting boundaries that would enable rest is difficult. I can attest that most women, especially women of color, do not get to enact or express their boundaries without consequence. Many of us have to tiptoe around our need for rest so we don’t want to seem disagreeable. Biases are so embedded in our culture that we cannot possibly prepare for every response for our need to rest. Understanding that your “no” will be judged is also a part of the journey.

So what changed? Rest now involves more boundaries and daily routines to help manage my stress. It’s not saying yes to opportunities that are in no way moving the needle forward in our work. It’s opting out of documenting my entire process on social media, which often feels like another job. It’s understanding that there will never be a perfect time to grieve, to take time off. It’ll always feel inconvenient, but it’s necessary. It’s me not explaining myself, my absence, my silence, my lack of availability, or the personal events that caused the need to work fewer hours.

And there are still my tried-and-true self care practices. Despite feeling like there’s no amount of self care that can remedy my exhaustion, I still find joy in these restorative moments that help me get to the next day. They’re imperative.

Below are a few ways I’m finding moments of daily rest in this current chapter. As what each person needs varies, I encourage you to take what inspires you and leave what doesn’t.

Committing to an evening routine

Everyone’s needs are different. I feel more energized and affected the next day with an evening routine vs. a morning routine. Instead of always feeling the need to critique, I work mostly with what my body communicates to me that feels good and what it needs. (Transparently, aside from a few consistent activities every morning, I don’t have a set morning routine.)

To switch my brain from work to rest mode, in my senses

It’s become increasingly important for me to separate work and life as I mostly work from home.

1. Sight: I only use dim lights and candles in the evening time. (This habit is why my friends’ go-to gift for me are candles).

2. Smell: From essential oils in my shower to aromatic sprays like the Aveda Chakra Spray (Grounded #1 is my favorite and most used), fragrances help trigger certain emotions and moods in the brain.

3. Touch: While showering, I thank every part of my body for getting me through the day. This intention has also helped me develop a better relationship with my body. During my skincare and evening routine, I focus on affirmations while doing each activity, which refocuses my attention from the day's worries to the present moment (practical mindfulness). I lean towards products that align with my existing self-care routine and habits as well. I’ve recently began incorporating Aveda Strengthening Overnight Serum to moisturize and repair my hair overnight while in my current protective hairstyle. I use a homemade mix of rosemary oil and jojoba oil to moisturize my scalp.

4. Hearing: Lo-Fi instrumentals or my favorite soothing '90s hip-hop beats.

5. Taste: As grief and anxiety have impacted my quality of sleep, a sleepytime tea or melatonin gummy assists me to get the sleep I need.

In all, I’ve learned personally that rest is not static. How I define rest and adapt it to my life will continue to evolve. Accepting that fact has allowed me to take true inventory of what I need in the present and then give myself permission to honor that.

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