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Health and wellness: First breathe, then connect

Murray- Browne, Shawna04MF featured

Shawna Murray-Browne has reached more than 1,000 women through The #HealASista Project which helps women and girls of color cope with trauma or simply life balance.

There has never been a more fitting time for Shawna Q. Murray-Browne’s work. In a year of terror attacks, police brutality, gang violence and other soul-wrenching stories on our screens and in our cities, Murray-Browne has been quietly shoring up the reserves and resolve of women and girls of color.

Two years ago, the 29-year-old social worker launched the Catonsville-based Kindred Wellness, an integrative wellness practice that primarily serves minority women and girls through therapy, but also conducts classes, trainings, retreats and coaching for passionate human service professionals. Last year, she served more than 150 women in the Baltimore-Washington region. Online and in workshops, she has helped more than 1,000 women through The #HealASista Project, which offers mini retreats incorporating movement, meditation and sacred space.

“I think folks need to ask for help more,” Murray-Browne said. “In the age of the internet, people think they need to Google all the answers.” But they are not often getting the solutions they seek, she said, and the result is that “most women are walking around with their work face on, with their game face on. Most women are not OK.”

Many had suffered trauma while others had the symptoms of secondary trauma, the feelings of being overwhelmed or even useless after learning or reading about a violent incident. Still, others struggled with a constant issue for women – life balance.

“They have gone through something difficult, but they want to create something powerful because of it,” Murray-Browne said.

The good news is that healing may be simpler than we believe. Coming together, breathing, talking and even exploring healing movement such as belly dancing are starts, Murray-Browne said, who added that at the center of her work is getting centered and being mindful. It’s something we tend to overthink and decide it’s too difficult for us for that reason. But slowing down and breathing are key steps for women to recognize when they need help the most.

For women of color, there is often a stigma around therapy that Murray-Browne wants to change. She realized she needed to stay true to her “bubbly personality” with clients and to incorporate culture in her work. And she had to be community centered – she couldn’t help people without being part of the world they lived in. For her, that has meant supporting after-school programs by offering workshops, participating on panels about community trauma and teaching mindfulness.

Murray-Browne knew she wanted to be in helping profession from childhood and thought she might help those struggling with addiction recover. “I thought that meant I would be a brain surgeon and I would go into the brain and fix what was wrong,” she said.

Instead, she took a job in the child welfare system. When 15-minute home visits turned into hour-long sessions that included vision boards, Murray-Browne knew it was time to use her social work degree in the mental health field. A graduate of University of Maryland’s School of Social Work, she has studied qigong, worked with incarcerated women and taught meditation to everyone from middle schoolers to overworked professionals.
This month, she will launch EVOLVE, an online platform that will guide members through every aspect of self-healing. An admitted perfectionist, she said that she too works to stay centered.

“It’s about making the most of our lives and discovering our purpose,” Murray-Browne said. “We can’t do that looking outward. We have to look within.”

Want to be more mindful? Here’s how to get started:
• Take deep belly breaths at red lights.

• Celebrate the victories, no matter how small, with your circle of women. “Let someone tell you it was a win, because usually we think it was a ‘regular,’ ” Murray-Browne said.

• Let it out: Have the red-faced, nose-running “ugly cry,” she said. “Nothing grows without water.”

• Turn off your phone. “Yeah. We should do that,” Murray-Browne stopped herself and smiled, because she knew how hard this can be for some busy professionals. Stick with it, she said.

• If you have to try something a few times before it sticks as a routine, don’t get discouraged. “I have honestly not met one person who has not struggled with balancing self-care,” she said.

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