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Healing BIPOC and Us All with Mindful Breathing

articles Jan 31, 2023

This powerful talk and practice by Valerie Brown, an activist, lawyer and Zen practitioner, explores healing from fear and anxiety and delves into the teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Valerie shares that while this practice is especially for those who self-identify as black, indigenous or a person of color, all of us can relate to this practice through the concept of interbeing.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in a letter from the Birmingham Jail about this concept of interbeing, sharing, 

“We are caught in an indescribable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Valerie also shares that healing is not an “individual thing” and that, 

“As we heal, we heal our ancestors, our mom or dad or grandparents, and we also heal our descendants. We heal our communities. We heal society, and we heal the natural world.”

By practicing mindful breathing, you can learn to calm your body and mind, even amid chaos. By becoming present to our breath, we can connect to the wisdom of our bodies and learn to cultivate inner peace and resilience.

We’ve brought together this 4 step guide, created by Valerie Brown, to help you regularly practice mindful breathing. This practice is from one of the Mindful Society Global Institute’s annual learning events for members exploring diversity and inclusion.

Before you listen to the above audio recording or follow the below 4-step guide, it can be helpful to find an inspiring or relaxing environment for this practice and to remind yourself to practice in a way that is comfortable and accessible for you. You can do this practice lying down, standing, or sitting with your feet on the floor, and you're back straight.

Step One - Breathe In and Out

So, step one is to breathe in, know that you're breathing in, and to breathe out and know that you're breathing out. This kind of knowing is not up in the mind like a cognitive mentalizing, it is knowing that is located more in the heart and maybe the belly space. So it's a deeply embodied knowing.

Step Two - Follow the In and Out Breath

Step two, we follow the in-breath all the way through, from the moment we feel the in-breath to the moment we feel the out-breath. This is a practice of concentration. We breathe 50,000 times a day, but we’re often unaware of this, so we’re practicing staying with that in-breath entirely. So this is the practice of concentration to follow the breath all the way through.

Step Three - Become Aware of the Whole Body

In step three, we become aware of the whole body. This is recognizing I have a body. I am alive. I can appreciate this breath. I can appreciate the condition of my body, whatever shape or size. This is the practice of gratitude.

Step Four - Release

And then fourth and final is: I can release the tension to soften, to feel a sense of ease. And this is the practice of self-love and self-care.

Close this practice by stretching or reflecting in a journal. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn in the Plum Village community shares, "You are not alone. We inter-are. There is interbeing. Mindful breathing is always with us and can help to restore a sense of calm and ease in the body and mind. We can feel gratitude for this moment for being alive.” 

We hope that this practice is helpful. Valerie Brown shares that these are simple practices that provide deep insight into the nature of our way of being and our interconnectedness and can help heal us all.


 Michael Apollo MHSc RP is the founder of the Mindful Society Global Institute. Prior to founding MSGI in 2014, he was the Program Director of Mindfulness at the University of Toronto. He is an educator, licensed mental health clinician and certified facilitator in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.

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