Black women waiting to exhale, there’s an app for that

Founded by Black female app developer Katara McCarty, the Exhale breathwork and meditation app prioritizes the Black experience.

When Katara McCarty first sought out meditation apps amid the pressure of the global shutdown in 2020 and nationwide racial reckoning following a string of high-profile unarmed Black deaths, she logged out of the app store disappointed. McCarty was seeking something that spoke to stress and anxiety specific to the Black experience. So, in August 2020, she launched her own.

Exhale is a meditation app not only created by a Black woman but created for Black women. Speaking with theGrio, McCarty, based in Indianapolis, explained that instead of generalized coaching, her app coaches users through breathwork and meditation with exercises geared toward the Black experience. Now in its second version, the app has a highly stylized, minimalistic interface featuring pale pastel colors, vibrant artful pictures, and McCarty’s soothing voice.

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Exhale app founder Katara McCarty wants to grow her user base. (Photo courtesy of Exhale)

There are three categories to pick from: “breath,” “sound,” and “guided journey.” Within each category, users can select five, ten, or 15-minute exercises that target specific topics like connecting with the ancestors, calming the mind, or centering on inner peace. Of Exhale’s latest features, McCarty said she was most excited about its new “breathing orb” that greets users when they launch the app.

The orb is a bright yellow animated circle that expands as it directs users to inhale and contracts upon exhale. “It kind of breathes with you,” said McCarty, who added that the orb is intended to assist instant relief from stress — for instance, she said, after experiencing a microaggression at work. 

“There’s so much power in our breath,” she said. “Our breath can literally shift us from our fight or flight mode over into a state of calm.”   

McCarty also noted that since launching, Exhale has grown to be much more meaningful to Black women’s mental health. 

“Exhale is really more than an app,” she told theGrio. “It’s a movement that centers Black women in wellness.” 

This movement, she said, is “calling people in,” not only addressing a void in the meditation app world but providing valuable insight into Black women’s mental health. Just ahead of the release of the app’s latest version, Exhale released “The State of Self-Care for Black Women” report, which surveyed 1,005 Black women nationwide of different age ranges and socioeconomic statuses. 

“We decided to do ‘The State of Self-Care for Black Women’ report to really fill a gap in survey data pertaining to Black women’s experience in their mental, emotional, and even their physical health, in the context of their intersectional identities,”  McCarty explained.

“We want to really bring awareness around what Black women are saying,” she added. “We want to listen to them, and we want other people to listen to them.” 

Overwhelmingly, McCarty said those surveyed expressed a strong desire for something exactly like Exhale, a wellness resource tailored specifically to Black women.  

“I think what the report really points out is that while [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] initiatives are now pretty common, fostering a safe place for Black women requires us doing more,” she said. 

McCarty created Exhale on a “hunch” that Black women widely felt this way. “To see that reflected in the report was like, ‘Okay, we’re onto something,’” she said, adding it’s imperative for institutions to ask: “How are we really supporting Black women, truly supporting them?” 

The Exhale app exemplifies what happens when a Black woman is fully supported. McCarty explained she doesn’t come from a tech background; she had never even thought of creating an app before 2020. However, when she decided to launch a meditation and breathwork app focused on Black women, her community had her back from the start. 

“I really leaned into my community. They showed up in really big ways to help me with the lifting of getting this up off the ground,” she said. 

That community includes her husband and children, friends, social platforms like Be Nimble, initiatives like the Black-run Highland Project (which helps Black women launch and sustain business ideas), and others in the industry.  

“We’ve gotten a lot of support. And I sit in gratitude with that every day,” she said.

While both the report and the app’s new version are still fresh, McCarty already has ideas for what’s next. She intends to continue her mission of educating the community on Black mental wellness and grow Exhale to become a staple in a Black woman’s emotional toolbox. She’s also hoping to incorporate more resources, including ways for users to find local therapists or further assistance if necessary. 

Above all else, McCarty said, “I don’t want [Black women] to continue to stay on the margins and to be left out of movements toward equity and justice. I want us to be front and center. I believe if we prioritize Black women, everybody else will get taken care of.” 

Kay Wicker

Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands. 

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