Changing the world one breath at a time: Black Women’s Day of Meditation
Elizabeth Boston, Ajia Munns and Dominique Mobley are on a mission to get women of colour around the world to meditate. More than a wellness initiative, Black Women’s Day of Meditation is a movement that’s advancing social justice.
The three women were led to meditation in very different ways. Elizabeth was suffering from stress and overwork, until one day while out walking her dog she decided to try the breathing techniques she usually used for running. “I started to feel a sense of gratitude, and that spread throughout my body” she explains. “I felt this beautiful mind and body connection that I had never experienced before.”
Breathwork became an everyday ritual, and she started to research meditation, mindfulness and runner’s high, discovering how people can “heal” using the breath. “I realised that this is something that a lot of people, especially women and women of colour, specifically Black women, can use in day-to-day life. Not all of us can afford a lot of the wellness products that are out there. By incorporating it into my life, I saw my life change in so many beautiful ways that I just wanted to share it with others, and that’s when I approached Ajia and Dominique about joining me and creating an organisation that can help people tap into something that we all have access to – our breath” she says.
Ajia began meditating because she was “questioning everything from a religious and spiritual standpoint. All the answers I was seeking, by going to the mountains to find peace, getting married and having children, looking for love and purpose and spirituality, I just found inside of me. I found meditation, or meditation found me, and it literally changed my life” she says.
Dominique, mother to two boys aged 12 and 8, started meditating after her youngest son was born prematurely. “It was very traumatic” she explains. “He was kept in NICU and he was so tiny, hooked up to all these monitors. It was a constant feeling of stress – I kept thinking, “I need to keep this baby alive””.
Then she began meditating, and a few months later she trained as a yoga and meditation instructor. “I really needed to do something for me. Meditation helped when things felt like they were out of control.”
When Elizabeth called her and Ajia with the idea of dedicating a day in the year for Black women around the world to meditate, they were thrilled. “I said, “oh my God – do you know how powerful that would be?”” Ajia says.
They chose the day before Mother’s Day, and the first event took place in 2019 in New York, with sound baths and writing workshops, and the option of donating to National Bail Out, a Black-led coalition of lawyers and activists supporting people in jail because they can’t afford bail.
Although originally aimed at encouraging women of colour to meditate, their group welcomes everyone. “We’ve opened our events up to everyone, but we have to honour who we are” Ajia says. “Historically, we’re not allowed to be us.”
People who’ve experienced trauma have reported huge benefits from meditating and doing breathwork. Breathwork in particular has been lauded as an extremely powerful tool to those who practice it – capable of invoking life-changing experiences for some. A specific area deals with “ancestral healing” which helps people resolve problems stemming from past traumas, and many practitioners are using this to explore issues of racism, specifically to address the trauma caused by the hundreds of years of slavery inflicted on their ancestors.
There is science to this – recent research in epigenetics has shown that traumas like war or childhood abuse can actually cause biological changes that are passed down several generations, leading to physical and psychological problems.
WE HAVE TO HONOUR WHO WE ARE. HISTORICALLY, WE’RE NOT ALLOWED TO BE US
“With meditation and mindfulness, you remind yourself that you’re okay” Ajia says. “Meditation brings you into the present. It allows you to not worry about the future, about something that might not happen, and you’re not looking at the past, like old worries, or traumas. So you’re starting from a place of safety, and in that place you can deal with the world, and with life’s circumstances. It’s really important right now, with the heightened craziness in the world, to protect your peace, and not allow external stress to affect you internally, and you can do that with breathing.”
“A lot of the issues that are going on in the world seem to be at fever pitch” Elizabeth says. “With racial issues, the environment, with politics. I mean, you name an issue and it feels like it’s at its worst point. One thing that we all know when it comes to illness, especially with this global pandemic, is that when things are at fever pitch, you rest. You don’t go out and fight a physical war, you lay down and give your body what it needs, because that is the only way that you’ll be able to fight.”
“People are protesting and that is something that will help to change things. But one thing that could be emphasised more is that we need rest as a species, and I think if more people gave credence to that we would have a civilisation that would be more beneficial to everyone, not just to a small percentage of people.”
She mentions The Nap Ministry, an organisation that explores the power of sleep as a form of resistance through immersive workshops and performance art, with the belief that sleep deprivation is a racial and social justice issue.
“That’s something we’re starting to see, Black liberation movements that are centred around rest” Elizabeth says. “We as Black people, and just people in general, need to rest. We’re constantly being told that we have to earn our place on this planet, yet there are so many people that have so much to offer other than making shareholders richer. I think it’s also a big part of protest and changing the world. It may not look as glamorous as marching through the streets with a sign, but it’s just as powerful.”
Do they see themselves as a movement? “Absolutely” all three answer in unison.
Their advice to someone who’s never tried it before is to try walking meditations, or meditate while washing the dishes. “The misconception is that meditation is just silencing the mind and sitting” Ajia says. “But it’s very intentional and there are so many different ways to do it.”
Ajia now meditates for an hour each day, but this took practice, building up from five minutes a day. Elizabeth meditates in the shower. “When I first started studying meditation I learned that five minutes every day is all it takes, and you can do that every day for the rest of your life and achieve the same benefits as someone who’s doing an hour every day. If you can incorporate it into what you’re already doing, like while you’re showering or washing the dishes, then you’re more likely to keep doing it. It’s also easier when you’re doing these things because you’re mindful – you can think about how hot the shower is, and what sounds the water is making.”
The group hosts regular sessions online, and the next annual day of meditation will be taking place on May 8th. Further ahead they have ambitious plans to rebrand, and launch bricks and mortar venues on both sides of the coast (Elizabeth and Ajia are based in LA, Dominique in New Jersey). Most importantly, they want to make Black Women’s Day of Meditation a yearly holiday recognised by the United Nations.
“Women like us aren’t really seen in yoga and meditation spaces, mostly because we’re priced out of them” Dominique says. “These are experiences you can have without paying someone, and you don’t need certain clothing or certain items. It’s accessible, and should be made more accessible. We really want to bring awareness to the fact that you can meditate and do yoga for free.”
Follow them on Black Women’s Day of Meditation