Jasmine Marie Is the CEO of Helping Black Girls Breathe Easier

Gerald Carter
Gerald Carter

There are so many aspects of health that disproportionately affect the Black community, and yet less than six percent of US doctors are Black — a deficit that only further harms public health. Many of the Black folks who work in healthcare have dedicated their careers to combating inequities. That's why, this Black History Month, PS is crowning our Black Health Heroes: physicians, sexologists, doulas, and more who are advocating for the Black community in their respective fields. Meet them all here.

In the midst of earning her breathwork certification, Jasmine Marie looked around the class and noticed she was one of the only Black women in the room. "I would call breathwork at the time — the way I would see it — luxe wellness," she tells POPSUGAR. For reference, a typical group breathwork session at a major studio in New York City can run you anywhere from $40 to upward of $55. In 2018, Marie was lucky enough to find a free class through her church's community center after a burgeoning career in business left her with no real room to breathe. "It was just an unspoken culture of 'Stress is normal. You do it to succeed. This is New York City,'" she tells POPSUGAR. "Work hard. Be stressed. It is what it is." At 22 years old, Marie was leading global development projects and working for one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world, all while coming out of a narcissistic relationship. She didn't realize it was time to slow down until the stress she had grown accustomed to began to manifest on a physical level, leading her to seek medical attention.

Doctors agreed that the stress was likely the root of Marie's problems, but quickly placed the burden of care right back on her shoulders. "It was like, 'Stress is expected. See if you can figure out how to reduce your stress,'" Marie recalls, summing up her providers' advice. Taking matters into her own hands, Marie attended her first breathwork class.

She'd spent so much time in an environment that didn't allow for a moment of hesitation, and breathwork gave her the much-needed opportunity to slow down and ground herself. "Breathwork didn't take away my problems, but it allowed me to have some mental space in my mind to see things differently," she explains, comparing this newfound mental clarity to the "claustrophobic" headspace she was living with previously. "I went and started going consistently, fell in love with the tool, and just adapted the tool throughout all the ups and downs of my career journey."

Beyond addressing career burnout, breathwork was also a way for Marie to deal with the trauma caused by her past relationship. "[I] leaned further on the tool and knew how it helped me heal that trauma," she says. "Anyone who's had that experience knows how debilitating it can be."

"[W]ho fights for the Black women who fight for everyone else?"

Seeing how breathwork positively impacted her life, Marie wondered what it would take to make the practice more easily accessible for other Black women. In particular, she wanted to create a space for Black women to work through their specific stressors. "You're navigating a deep level of trauma that's not covered in [a] general breathwork class telling you to think of the life you want to manifest," Marie says. "That's a different reality than the day-to-day of a Black woman who's dealing with microaggressions and continuous traumas."

With this unique understanding, Marie recognized an opportunity to step up. She founded Black Girls Breathing in October 2018 and built a platform for Black women and girls to take breathwork classes, find accessible mental health resources, connect with one another, and just breathe. "People don't realize how tiring it is to be in a position where you always having to fight . . . for something. Fight for respect; fight to be taken seriously as a young, Black female leader; fight to be seen as equals; fight for your community," Marie says. "It had me wondering: but who fights for the Black women who fight for everyone else?

"Black women are not allowed to be imperfect. We're not allowed to make a mistake. We're not allowed to learn. We're not allowed to grow. There're so many ways that we feel that pressure, not only externally, but within our community and the traumas that our communities has faced."

Only 37.1 percent of Black people received mental healthcare in 2020, compared to 52 percent of white people, despite similar levels of mental illness. One study published in the journal Nursing Research found that participating Black men and women were "not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, [were] very concerned about stigma associated with mental illness, and [were] somewhat open to seeking mental health services." Part of what makes breathwork such a great tool amid mental health stigma is its ability to be contextualized. "Every day, you breathe," Marie points out. "I'm asking you to just be intentional with it. That's all that breathwork is."

It's easy to get caught up in breathwork's spiritual reputation, but in practice, research shows that slow breathing techniques can increase relaxation, comfort, and alertness, while reducing less desirable symptoms like anxiety, depression, and anger. "What we're doing with the breath is we're healing our nervous system," Marie explains. "We're activating our parasympathetic nervous system and our vagus nerve, which is already within our system to help us navigate anxiety and stress."

Marie describes the parasympathetic nervous system as a muscle that needs training in order to get strong. She notes that so many traumatized Black women exist in a constant state of fight or flight, dealing with high levels of cortisol that can eventually lead to disease. "You have the research that supports that consistent chronic stress leads to heart disease, high blood pressure, fatality from breast cancer, and ovarian cancer," Marie says. "Not only are Black women over-indexing on these diseases more than any other demographic — they're dying from them."

Breathwork, then, is not just a tool — it's a saving grace. A preventative practice for when doctors continue to tell women their stress is just par for the course. "I believe in therapy and the power of it, but it needs to be coupled with a somatic tool in order to heal trauma in the body," Marie says. Whatever trauma you can't talk through, you can breathe through. "It has to be addressed in the body because that's where it lives."