Mindfulness, breathwork expert preaches value of ‘slow living’ to Black and brown communities
In a fast-paced society with so many pressures, Zee Clarke preaches the values of slow living in a frantic world.
Clarke, a Harvard-educated author, has gone from the private sector to become an expert in “mindfulness and breathwork for BIPOC communities to reclaim our flow at work and in life” according to her website, zeeclarke.com.
She wasn’t always into the slow living lifestyle. Clarke worked for Fortune 500 companies and successful Silicon Valley startups, and was always on the go.
“You know when the clothes (in the dryer) get spun when they’re wet, they’re just going,” Clarke told theGrio. “You have no control. That’s what I felt my life was like. I was just getting flung around.”
Clarke decided to go to India to learn mindfulness and other healing techniques. She now helps people of color manage stress and health conditions from microaggressions and systemic racism “so that we can feel our best despite these challenges,” her website says.
Her new book, ”Black People Breathe: A Mindfulness Guide to Racial Healing,” focuses on breathwork and mindfulness for people of color, and in June, she’ll launch an online course called Breathing Through Microaggressions and Racism.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Clarke talked about what slow living means to her, its advantages for people of color, and the mantra she lives by.
The conversation has been condensed for brevity and clarity.
What is slow living?
It means being intentional about everything we do, especially how we care for ourselves. Slow living is even a thing because our status quo is to move too fast, especially as Black people. We are always hustling. Slow living is the opposite of that. It is slowing down, paying attention to how we’re feeling, making sure we’re taking time for self-care, and doing everything we need to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.
It sounds like a lifestyle paradigm shift.
It is exactly that.
How do you get people to embrace slow living?
I love to share with people what happens if you don’t pursue slow living. That means a lot of mental health issues. Stress. A lot of people feel like stress is just a mental health thing and it’s not that important. Chronic stress affects your physical body. It (causes) high blood pressure and weakens your immune system. It can cause diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, in addition to anxiety, depression, and all sorts of mental health challenges as well. You don’t want to get there. Don’t wait until you get there. Take care of yourself now.
What was life like before you became a slow living advocate?
I was working in Silicon Valley. I, on paper, looked like I had a successful tech career. I went to Harvard for undergrad. I went to Harvard Business School. I was on leadership teams of companies, and I was working so much harder than everybody else. Why? Because I was the only Black person. So people would question my competence. I would get microaggressions daily. If it were at a new job, somebody would say, ‘Hey, are you the new diversity hire?’ I have a track record that says I’m awesome, yet people would doubt me. They didn’t believe that I deserved to be there. I felt like I constantly had to prove to everybody that I deserved to be there. So I worked nights. I worked weekends. I said yes to everything. And ultimately, that led to a decline in my mental health. My self-esteem was in the gutter. I didn’t believe, even though I had this résumé; I didn’t believe in myself because I started to doubt myself.
How did that affect you?
All of that stress led to anxiety. I wasn’t sleeping well at night, and all of that led to a decline in my physical health, and at a certain point, my doctors (said) something’s got to change with your stress levels. So I quit my job. I went to India. I studied mindfulness. I studied breathwork. I studied yoga. That’s what it took, real rock bottom, to get me to pay attention to my health.
What was the transformation to slow living like for you?
Let’s talk about the first moments of peace. My mind was blown. What did that feel like? My shoulders relaxed. My whole body relaxed. I wasn’t worried about something. I had a sense of peace inside, knowing I would be OK. It was a huge ‘whoa’ moment. I’m usually the only Black person in many of the classes I attend, which is why I knew that my mission was to share these tools with Black people.
You’re now teaching slow living classes. What’s your philosophy?
I create a safe space for folks to learn these tools in the context of problems they understand. Let’s say you go to a yoga class. And the yoga teacher tells you to take a deep breath, everybody relax, and you’re like, ‘You don’t have any problems. You have no idea what my life is like when I leave this yoga studio.’ My class and my workshops are about the problems that we face.
What’s your mantra?
I want to share one I love that has been very powerful for me: ‘ Today I choose me.’ Especially as Black women. We’re just doing everything for everybody, all the time. Kids, parents, the people at work. It just always falls on us. Did you ever see your mother rest? I know so many people who never saw the women in their family rest because they were always doing everything. Today. I choose me, though. I invite folks to have that lens when being intentional about what they do and how they spend their time. I always felt like I automatically had to be the one to do everything for everyone. And I’ve learned that that is not the case.
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