By: Ebony Johnson
“You may cry but I think you’ll really get a lot out of it.”
The words from my friend hang in the air. I didn’t know what to make of her warning. Without any understanding of what breathwork was, I questioned what I just got myself into. I never heard of the practice and could only compare it to meditation, which I preferred to do in solitude. However, I have been attracted to the idea of healing as a community. At this point in my life, I started to understand my pain and trauma didn’t exist in a vacuum and was curious about what it could look like to release it in a group setting.
Since crying may be involved, I was apprehensive. I’ve cried in public on multiple occasions. Sometimes, life pulls these emotions out of us that are forced to come to surface. However, the anguish I often felt, would come from explaining my sadness and even more difficult, my rage. That would require me to fully show up in a way that was unfamiliar. Furthermore, nearly impossible in spaces that disguised themselves as safe.
We entered the studio in midtown. We were welcomed by a long hallway with white walls, crystals all around and an abundance of calming fragrances. My friend and I were catching up on work and life post-grad school, when we were told to lower our voices. We both laughed it off like schoolgirls once I realized it was the Breathwork Coach for our session. My friend assured me she was great and likely wanted to be considerate of her colleagues. We whispered amongst ourselves until we were called into a larger room. It reminded me of dance studio. The lights were dim. There was a yoga mat for each of us. There was some light talking as a few other women entered, followed by introductions, and then we began.
I wish I could say I was immediately warped into a world of serenity and peace; My chakras were aligned, and I realized how amazing I am. That didn’t happen. I spent most of the beginning struggling to be present. I was so wrapped up in the stories I created of my self-worth being solely reliant on professional growth. My identity was in tandem with my job title. I was operating from a place of fear and desperation but didn’t have the vocabulary to express it or make the time to address it. The only time dedicated to practicing some form of self-care was in therapy. Even then, it was me trying my hardest to summarize a week’s worth of chaos in a 45-minute session.
At some point, the Coach came over to me and placed her hands ever so gently above my belly. She told me it doesn’t have to be hard. My breathing didn’t have to be hard. The Type A, over-achiever in me didn’t have to perform here. I didn’t have to take care of anyone else in this room. I just had to be. Breathe in and out. That was the moment I was able to let go and sink into myself. I was given permission to just be. It was scary and exhilarating.
When we all slowly arose from our mats to debrief, everyone said I looked refreshed. The Coach stated I looked like a completely different person. While I didn’t feel like a different person, which I don’t think is the point of any kind of self-care practice after one exercise, I felt aware of how tired my body and mind were and that resting allows space to repair both.
I still attend breathwork sessions with the same Coach. Her courses give me an opportunity to engage with my physical being and a great reminder that healing is an everyday process. I have cried. I have let go. And I have felt connected. At the last in person session I attended, the same friend and I congratulated one another for showing up. I am continuing to learn what it really means to surrender and finding my voice in the process.