For Mental Health Awareness week, BLACK ENTERPRISE is interviewing numerous individuals within the wellness community to talk about the racial disparities that affect the Black community in the hopes of creating a safe place to talk about mental health.
Meditation apps have grown more popular as more Americans begin to prioritize their health and wellness needs. Despite their popularity, many of these apps are focused on a predominantly White audience and do not cater to the specific struggles that people of color face, specifically in this politically-charged climate.
After learning to cope with the recent onslaught racial injustice and police brutality, Katara McCarty sought out to create a meditation app for women of color.
McCarty is the founder of EXHALE, the first emotional well-being app designed specifically for Black women and women of color. The content is separated into five categories for daily mindful practice including affirmations, guided visualizations, breathing, and meditations. In light of the police shooting of Jacob Blake and recent protests, McCarty is providing the premium version of the app for free in September.
BE: How did you get the idea to create EXHALE?
McCarty: During the beginning of quarantine, I was proactive and began to amp up my self-care. I did more things to get still daily, find time to rest, commit to moving my body, and meditate more often.
As the news began surfacing about COVID-19 hitting Black and Brown communities disproportionately, my heart became heavy. Almost simultaneously, while that was occurring, the video of Ahmad Arbery went viral. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness, grief, and hopelessness for my community. The weight I felt was not unfamiliar, as I have felt this before with other tragedies due to systems of oppression my community has experienced. As we were reeling about this, we heard about Breonna Taylor’s murder, and the George Floyd murder was videotaped and going viral.
What we were seeing wasn’t new to me, but it felt incredibly insurmountable. I began to ask myself what I was going to do. How was I going to lean into my community and help? I got still, tuned in to myself, and listened for the answer. After several days, I got it! I would create an emotional well-being app for Black, Indigenous, Women of Color. Putting in the app the practices I’ve adopted in my everyday life that have kept me centered and grounded.
I created this app for BIWOC because most well-being apps are predominantly White-narrated, White-owned, and are overall White spaces. The uniqueness by which BIWOC has to weave through life, I believe, calls for a unique and specific curation that speaks to us and the weight that we carry because of racism, anti-blackness, misogynoir, and all systems of oppression.
Why was creating this kind of service for Black women important to you?
The uniqueness by which BIWOC weave through life, I believe, calls for a unique and specific curation that speaks to us and the weight that we carry because of racism, anti-blackness, misogynoir, and all systems of oppression. BIWOC are some of the most marginalized in our society. I was also raised by two Black women who took me in and adopted me after my biological mother abandoned me. Creating this app feels like a full-circle moment for me as I specifically give back to the community who stepped up, took me in, and raised me.
Your service is free for September. What prompted you to make that decision?
We launched our app on August 25th, two days after the shooting of Jacob Blake. When I heard Jacob’s family speak, specifically his sister, I could feel their pain and grief. I decided that I wanted to make EXHALE completely accessible to be a resource for us as we continue to navigate our collective grief, pain, fear, anxiety, and trauma.
Why is it important for Black people to incorporate mediation into their daily routine?
According to the American Institute of Stress, deep, abdominal breathing reduces stress and anxiety. For just 20 to 30 minutes each day, “deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.”
Our parasympathetic nervous system controls the predominant state our bodies should be during downtime, which should be 80% of the time. It’s the natural state we should be living in when not in danger. Our heart rate slows down, our breath is calm and relaxed, our digestive system is stimulated, and our hormones are balanced.
Yet BIPOC are often living in what the body perceives as danger due to racism and other forms of oppression. Our chest is tight. We’re tense. Our breath is short, we’re poised to fight, fly, or freeze, and it is making us sick. It is imperative that we tap into our breath, to reduce stress, to tune into our parasympathetic nervous system, and to heal.
When we experience stress and anxiety, we can use the power of our breath to come back to a state of calm. Tools that provide guided breathing techniques and mediations help individuals harness our breath to inhale calm and exhale stress and anxiety from body.
Taking the time for ourselves and focusing on our breath as BIPOC is both an act of reclaiming our power and an act of resistance. We may not be able to control what’s happening to us outside of our homes, the daily microaggressions and racism we’ll face, but we can control our breath. Our breath is in the moment, now, and we can use that breath to ensure we’re not holding the oppression we experience in our body. Deep breathing becomes an active tool to resist the toll that racism has on our bodies and minds.