On Sunday, nearly 1,000 people in Brooklyn gathered in Herbert Von King Park to meditate together. The final moments were devoted to the memory of the unbearable time when George Floyd, whose murder sparked a worldwide wave of protests, was pushed to the ground and a policeman put his knee on his neck.
Today, just breathing feels like self-care.
The troubles and inconceivable losses that have occurred since 1619 when the first enslaved people were brought to America, including Jim Crow, mass imprisonment, and police brutality, have caused incalculable trauma to blacks.
Direct trauma experiences can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, body tension and chronic fatigue, according to Dr. Andrea Roberts, Senior Scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which studies the health effects of trauma.
"Physically, it manifests itself in increased hormonal responses that stimulate freezing of bodies," said Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, the author of "The Body Keeps The Score". "Life expectancy is shorter and the immune system is changed by trauma."
While research into the trauma of an individual is more established, research into "intergenerational trauma" – trauma that is passed down through the generations – and its effects is still emerging.
There is a small study from 2018 that suggests that trauma shapes a person's genes and turns the trauma into something that could be passed on.
This study met with serious skepticism. More established, however, are traditional behaviors that affect the children of people who have been abused.
"The research is in a state where we can tell offspring are affected, but we don't really understand the mechanism," said Dr. Rachel Yehuda, the director of the Department of Traumatic Stress Studies at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
According to Dr. Yehuda is the first step in understanding people in context, who their parents and grandparents are and what cultural identity they have.
"We are under enormous stress today," said Dr. Kirkland C. Vaughans, a clinical psychologist at Adelphi University. "These murders wake up old wounds and do not allow them to calm down. You cannot resolve past trauma because you are constantly under the stress of just surviving today."
Past traumas, generational trauma, and current trauma are exacerbated when black people today still face difficulties imposed on them by systems – education, health, criminal justice – that were not designed to serve them, even though they always are Protests still strive for basic rights and recognition in every state of the country.
Self-care, resistance, exhaustion, wisdom
Feminist writers like Audre Lorde and Bell Hooks have written about self-care as a tool in the ongoing fight against oppression. "Taking care of myself is not forbearance, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare," wrote Ms. Lorde of living with cancer and the need not to overwhelm yourself.
Many black people may still be trying to survive, but things may be different now. Healers and facilitators who focus on meditation, yoga, breath work and rest – all of which, as they say, can trigger trauma in the body – are gaining momentum.
Breath work can be viewed as body-based or thematic therapy.
"A lot has to do with ancestral feelings," said Siedeh Foxie, 34, a therapeutic breathwork facilitator who focuses on trauma. "Black people here in the United States have and are reliving all of this as a result of slavery."
Ms. Foxie uses accelerated breathing, or quick, deep diaphragmatic breathing, which she said creates a lot of energy and warmth in the body. Your meetings last at least two hours. The first 15 to 30 minutes is about listening and actively looking for what is to come. Then Ms. Foxie goes into active meditation or breath work. She then goes into the more spiritual aspect of healing, including energy clearing. Sometimes she uses sound healing, Reiki with active touch, and visualization techniques. In the last 30 to 45 minutes of the session, your clients can share their experiences.
"Getting a face mask, watching a funny TV show on Netflix and having some wine, I don't knock at all," said Ms. Foxie. But she also suggests using breath work to learn how to respond to, rather than respond to, her trauma.
For Tricia Hersey, the founder – or bishop as she calls herself – of Nap Ministry, an organization that believes the power of calm, slowing down, and lying down is the best way to deal with trauma. She learned the skill from her grandmother, who grew up in Mississippi and immigrated to Chicago for fear that she or her brothers would be lynched. She remembers meditating for 30 minutes during the day.
"The fact that we are still here shows that there is also intergenerational wisdom," said Ms. Hersey. "We forget to talk about it, how do we move past the trauma to see the wisdom?"
Ms. Hersey believes one way to access our wisdom is to take a nap: “Rest is a great thing. Rest is resistance, it is reparation. "
From a biological point of view, sleep appears to restore the brain. Scientists have found that proper sleep can allow your brain to get rid of what it doesn't need and start over.
"Our legacy is a legacy of exhaustion," said Ms. Hersey. “Tranquility is the key to reconnecting with the wisdom of our ancestors and creating a new world. It pushes back against white supremacy and capitalism. "
Lauren Ash, yoga and meditation teacher and founder of Black Girl in Om, a wellness website, uses yoga to stay present.
"With yoga, it is in communion with what is," said Ms. Ash. "It's the process of going back to the present moment over and over again."
While these various methods are some form of support for those dealing with trauma, the ultimate healer would be, according to Dr. Vaughans a national recognition of the suffering and loss black people have faced for 400 years.
"One of the prerequisites for healing is grief," said Dr. Vaughans. “In order to mourn one's pain and suffering, the trauma itself must be recognized. This country did everything it could not to recognize. Not only have they been made victim again, but they have been held responsible for the condition from which they suffered. "
"This trauma is not post," said Dr. Vaughans. “It's very timely. It goes on every day. "