Q&A w/Jasmine Johnson
Interviewed by Stella Ikuzwe
In a world that is constantly demanding our time and our minds, it takes conscious effort to create a time for us to explore who we truly are. Meditation is a practice that can be traced back to 1500 BCE which focuses on finding connection with our body in the everyday moment and creating stronger awareness of how our emotions affect our behavior. Black Zen is a movement focused on removing any social and financial barriers that restrict black and brown communities from discovering the benefits of meditation and making all communities feel included and seen in the wellness space. I had the opportunity to speak to Jasmine Johnson (She/Her), co-founder of Black Zen, about her own meditation journey and the importance of meditation as a resource for POC communities.
Tell me a bit about yourself
I’m Jasmine Johnson (She/her) and I’m a co-founder of Black Zen. I was born in Cali and raised in New York because I went to school in New York and spent a lot of time out there in my later teens and throughout my twenties. I would say the mixture of those two cities has influenced my personality and it has also made me really deeply appreciate meditation. These two cities aren’t the easiest to navigate so having a grounding practice like meditation really changes how I saw myself but also how I navigated in the world.
How did your meditation practice begin?
So when I started it was actually by accident. I was working a 60 hr/week job in New York and everything just felt like it wasn’t going well. So one day I had come home with the intention to pray, and I decided that I needed to figure out what was happening and why things weren’t working. I was so overwhelmed that when I sat down to pray, no words came out because I didn’t know what I needed, I didn’t know what to say. So instead, I just decided to sit still until I felt better and figured out what to do next. That silence was only about 10 minutes but it felt like hours to me. because I had never actually stopped for that long. That night I had the best sleep of my life and I remember waking up the next morning and wondering what had I experienced that caused that type of release and caused a shift in my perspective, energy, and thought processes. So I called my sister who is my co-founder, explained what I had experienced and she told me it was meditation, and from there I just wanted to know more. That very intentional pause is the catalyst that started me on my meditation practice.
So how has the meditation journey been so far?
I have gone to school for it, done some personal development with it, and formal practice as well because I wanted to learn as much as possible about it. The more I learned, the more deeply invested I became in wanting other people to learn about it. Which is how Black Zen came about.
How did meditation change or impact your well-being? and maybe life?
It took me a while to find some consistency with it but once I did, I definitely noticed changes. I noticed a difference in how I felt about my life, how I felt about my choices, things didn’t bother me the same way, and I felt like I could pick and choose what got my attention.
What are some benefits of meditation, especially for marginalized communities?
Meditation practice is important for everyone, but especially BIPOC communities because so often we are sold narratives about ourselves that are untrue, distorted, or monolithic and it's so crucial for us to create our own personal narratives. The empowerment and agency that comes through meditation in choosing how you get to respond, how you show up in this world, who you get to be in that moment is really powerful. That allows you to make moves that are truly boss moves, dictated by the work that you see for yourself and not based on other people’s narratives about you.
Is there a stigma in POC communities around meditation?
The stigma is there because in a lot of BIPOC communities, our wellness and self-care practices are rooted in the church, and they typically don’t talk about meditation in the church. So one way that I think about it, is that in any conversation, you talk and you listen. So if you think of prayer in the context of a conversation, prayer is you talking and meditation is you listening, so it’s not a one-sided conversation. The beautiful fact about meditation is that the act of listening to your breath can be done by anybody, with any religious background, and with any comfort level. The stigma is also unfair because it attributes different things to it when the truth is it's just learning how to be still and quiet your mind. it learning how to sit down and skillfully shut up (laughs)
The stigma is there because meditation hasn’t been described in a relatable enough way for someone to understand that it’s actually not a difficult practice to begin. It’s also about teaching it in a way that makes it relatable and demystifies it.
How can we educate, destigmatize, and make that space more diverse and inclusive?
I think talking about it helps normalize it in our communities. When more people talk about it and normalize it in our conversations, it can get more people interested in it.
What has your experience been as a black-owned business in the wellbeing space?
It’s been an interesting road. We have had to create our own lane and we have had to stay really true to our mission. Once you are in the wellness space, there are a lot of people who will reach out to you but for us, we had to get really specific about our intentions in our work and be intentional about choosing opportunities that connect with our mission, which is to get more BIPOC people to meditate.
So often, people assume POC will just take any opportunity, but by exercising our own agency it has definitely thrown some people off. So similar to a meditation practice, you have agency and power and we have taken those same tools into our business.
Beyond meditation, what are some other ways to take care of yourself?
Sleep is one that’s very important but also one that nobody ever mentions. We live in a society that’s designed for ‘go go go’ that nobody ever sees sleep as an option but honestly when we sleep, our bodies restore themselves. if we just do simple things like sleep, it gives our body and minds a chance to restore. This is another place where we have some control. So we get to decide when we rest our body, and when we wake up. By making that a priority, we are making ourselves a priority.
Eating well is also important because it makes a difference. We(Black Zen) actually did a podcast about food and happy hormones, and how to support happy hormones in your body. There are certain foods that will naturally generate really good feelings in your body.
What would you say to someone who is hesitant to start meditating or make time for their well-being?
I think reframing it is really important. When you say make time, what it really means is making the choice. It goes back to empowering yourself to take the best care of the mind and body that you have. So when you make the choice for stillness each day, literally one minute of silence can make all the difference in how your day flows. When we learn to be comfortable with silence each day, it’s less about taking the time but about making the choice each day to prioritize our wellbeing. It really benefits you and every person you come in contact with, you are setting yourself up for success.
What advice would you give to our readers in general who wants to do what you are doing?
I would say definitely work on your practice first. Meditation isn’t the type of thing you can teach if you don’t have a very deep and consistent practice. Also being able to understand what other people are experiencing through exposing yourself to different groups is really useful.