This New App Is Teaching Black And Indigenous Women How To Exhale
The emotional well-being app designed specifically for women of color takes users on guided meditations and coaching sessions.
November 10, 2020 at 8:59 pm
While some facets of the Black community hold its breath in anticipation of the progressive change they hope to see under the Biden-Harris administration, others sigh a sense of relief, vindicated by the national ousting of the nation’s 45th president.
Katara McCarty, author, mother and podcast co-host, said she was inspired to design an emotional well-being app for women like her while she searched for solid ground throughout a turbulent 2020.
Amid the chaos of police killings and the unrest that has ensued in response, a pandemic disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities, and a tone deaf wellness industry intent on searching for the “bright side,” McCarty told Blavity she was inspired to launch EXHALE, an app focused on the emotional healing of Black, Indigenous women of color.
“I was listening to these meditation apps that felt like such a disconnect. In real time, the Black community felt like it was hemorrhaging, and these apps were saying ‘look on the bright side,’” she explained. “I thought, ‘Do you not f**king know what's happening in the community?’ So EXHALE came from my own reach for some emotional well-being resources to manage my stress, anxiety, and the collective grief of the Black community.”
EXHALE, launched on August 25, is an emotional well-being app designed specifically for Black, Indigenous and other women of color (BIWOC). McCarty said the platform aims to inspire self-care, relaxation, stress reduction and inner strength. In order to do so, the app provides users with five categories of well-being practice: guided meditation, coaching talks, affirmations, guided visualizations and breathing exercises. Key features of the app include, Soul Medicine Meditation, prompting users to check in and uncover the source of any pain, Calm Breath, a tool to quell the fight or flight response to anxiety, and Ancestor Guided Imagining sessions.
McCarty told Blavity that the latter was born out of her own tendency to reach back and summon the power of the ancestors. The Ancestor Guided Meditation takes EXHALE users on an internal journey back to their roots, where they use the power of imagination to visit their ancestors and draw personal power from their lineage.
“As a certified coach, one of the tools we are given is guided imagining, similar to meditation, but using your imagination to visit your future self, or your inner child or your ancestors,” she explained. I decided to write the Ancestor Guided Meditation because one day during meditation, I explored visiting my ancestors on my own and had such a powerful experience. I was sitting in my basement relaxing, focusing on my breath and then intuitively thought ‘I want to invite my ancestors into the room.’ Which sounds kind of bizarre. But I felt this energy — with my eyes closed — in the room, this connection to my roots, to my ancestors.”
McCarty said she was eager to share this powerful experience with EXHALE listeners to encourage them to draw power from those whom they come.
“I wanted to be sure to include Ancestor Guided Meditation in the app, because we are our ancestors. We carry their victories, as well as their pain, in our bodies. I think this is a really powerful way to connect to healing, but also for EXHALE users to know that when we walk into a room, we are not alone. When we’re suffering, we are not suffering alone. When we have victories and joys, our ancestors are in the room. They have passed the baton generation after generation, and now it’s our turn. But we don't have to do it alone. They're cheering us on.”
EXHALE’s aptly named Soul Medicine Meditation feature piques users’ sensitivity to their current state of being. It's a way to increase their sense of presence to any of the pain and latent emotion that they may be experiencing unbeknownst.
Soul Medicine Meditation prompts EXHALE users with three questions: How are you? Are you in pain? What is the source of your pain?
In McCarty’s view, it is the last question of the three that carries the most power.
“It's imperative that we trace our pain back to the root. We’re really good at covering that up. We say, ‘Let’s just bury that pain, that trauma, let me keep moving.’ Even me,” she admitted. “I tell myself ‘Girl, you got really far burying all that.’ But, there comes a time in our lives when that just doesn’t work for us anymore. It’s like leaving the underbelly unchecked while a storm is brewing.”
McCarty explained that the Soul Medicine Meditation feature builds a bridge towards self-awareness as an invitation for BIWOC to journey back and conquer the things that continue to haunt them.
“We have to journey back to these things that lie beneath the surface and stare our truth in the face to look at the source of the pain and really understand it,” she said. “Today, I'm a 48-year-old woman, fully equipped to make this journey. I am ready, resourceful, creative and whole. I actually can look at the root of my pain. I am powerful enough to dig that up and get it out of my life.”
McCarty said she hopes EXHALE’s Soul Medicine Mediation will invite BIWOC to lean into the quiet space.
“A lot of times it's hard for us to sit with ourselves because there’s pain there,” she said. “But we have to dig that up to heal. It may not feel good. But it is good. And we can handle it. In our society, people are so busy, we don't really carve out the time to be still. You really can't journey back to the source of your pain without stillness, practicing mindfulness, being intentional about your emotional well-being and really carving out time to be with you.”
McCarty is based in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she advises a roster of clients as a certified life coach and public speaker. She is also the author of "Pretty Girl," and co-host of the "Red Lips & Eye Rolls" podcast.
Her life’s work had been centered on balance and wellness, but then, she said, 2020 shifted her work on its axis.
“COVID hit, and we see how it was impacting the Black community disproportionately, but then the Ahmaud Arbery killing was recorded and went viral — Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. I was already managing a lot of stress because what felt like overnight — I lost over half of my clientele after getting quarantined at the end of March,” the wellness advocate explained. “And then everything that we all know happens in the Black community — systemic racism, police brutality — hit our news feeds. We know it happens, but watching it was a whole ‘nother level of trauma that I had never experienced in my lifetime.”
Thus, EXHALE was born. McCarty called the app her “hydration” in the dark, deserted moments of the year that left her feeling drained. As an app designed specifically for BIWOC, EXHALE was engineered to meet the unique needs of one of the nation’s most marginalized communities.
The reality that Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience psychological distress is cited as a reason for the emotional well-being resource, according to a press release announcing EXHALE's launch. What’s more, women are twice as likely to experience episodes of major depression, but Black women are only half as likely to seek treatment, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the press release continued.
The timely app focuses on the issues that present challenges specific to today. The press release included emerging findings by the Journal of Adolescent Health on the psychological impact of witnessing members of one’s own ethnic group experience state-sanctioned violence. While this illustrates the impact of police killings on Black and Latinx people, it also speaks to the trauma experienced by immigrant communities as they consume news of abandonment, abuse and neglect inflicted on those detained at America’s southern border.
The EXHALE creator said she believes that the health of the nation can be measured by the experience of those living on its margins. In her assessment, a U.S. BIWOC faces disparities in healthcare, wages, intimate partner violence and even life expectancy.
This, McCarty said, is the price BIWOC pay for unprocessed trauma inflicted upon them by an anti-Black nation.
“Simply weaving through life in our brown bodies, I don’t think we fully grasp the level of trauma that produces,” McCarty said. “It’s commonplace to look at the news and see kids in cages at the border, to see Black people getting killed. I don't think we truly understand the level of trauma that is actually happening inside our bodies when we are seeing these things, as Black and brown people. This stress is wearing down our immune system and making us sick, because we are not unpacking the trauma. This is what’s happening as we lie in bed watching Black people die on our news feed.”
According to studies reported by The Atlantic, cumulative stress has long been tied to negative health outcomes for communities of color.
In its mission to create a space for self-care, mindfulness and rest, EXHALE offers an ‘inner child’ coaching session, sending listeners on a journey back to themselves, in order to understand and affirm the child that lives within. McCarty said she finds that repairing this relationship is another key resource to healing and accessing personal power.
The inner child coaching experience, like much of the app, is deeply personal for its biracial creator. McCarty was raised by her Black adoptive grandmother, after her white biological mother left her at the hospital out of fear of what her family would think of a biracial child in 1972.
“I’m 48 years old and I felt that I had some unfinished business with my inner child. There were still some wounds, some healing needed to happen,” she said. “A lot of times, we’re still carrying hurt from our childhood. But when we journey back, we see that we actually were there for ourselves, we just didn't realize it. We have an opportunity to go back and visit our inner child and give them what they need that maybe they didn't get, or calm their fears or ask them what they’re curious about.”
On her own journey back, McCarty said she was able to set down her burden and lean into self-love.
“I had been wrapped up in this story of ‘Oh, you were abandoned. You’re not enough. You're too much. You're not worthy of love,’” she explained. “But when I did this journey to visit my inner child I was able to remember how happy she was. What's true about my story is that my mom abandoned me. What's not true is that I'm unlovable. Those were my mom’s issues that left me at the hospital, not mine. As a 48-year-old woman I had to go back and tell my younger self that. It's a powerful interaction that lends to our healing and taps back into our truest, most authentic self and understands our power.”
With EXHALE, McCarty aims to help BIWOC catch their breath, and heal their wounds.
“I believe that breath work, practicing emotional well-being, helps to get trauma out of our body,” McCarty explained. “Unfortunately, as Black folk, as brown folk, we’re gonna go out and experience microaggressions at work, we're gonna face systemic racism everyday, but we can create this haven, with EXHALE as a resource, to acknowledge when we experience trauma and say ‘In this moment, let me center myself. Let me ground myself. Even though I know potentially it's gonna happen again tomorrow. Let me get this trauma out of my body,’ because it’s making us sick.”
Today, the mother of two said EXHALE feels like an ode to the Black women who have supported her through it all.
“When I didn't have anybody, when I was a no-named baby, Black women stepped up and brought me into their family,” McCarty said. “I became a Waters and I was raised by these amazing Black women. And while I’m biologically biracial, I identify as a Black woman. With the app, I’ve been able to come full circle and give back to Black women in a way that they gave to me at my darkest hour as an abandoned baby. It feels like coming home.”