Katara McCarty has been using meditational apps to focus on her emotional and mental well-being for years. However, as a Black woman, she’s never felt represented in any of them, so she decided to make her own.
The EXHALE app, now available for Apple and Android phones, specifically addresses the needs and traumas of Black, Indigenous and Women of Color (BIWOC). McCarty, a 47-year-old life coach, came up with the idea while sheltering in place and reflecting on the stress and trauma stemming from systemic racism.
“We [BIWOC] are the most marginalized people in our society,” McCarty said. “The idea came to me in April, and it came out of grief, out of a real heaviness for my community. So I just went to work … and I really felt like the plan was divine. It felt like it was about more than myself.”
Along with her husband and two daughters, McCarty created the app using a platform that didn’t require knowing code, and despite long nights of recording meditations and learning about various breathing techniques, McCarty said it never truly felt like work. Instead, it felt like healing.
“I learned that there is even more in me than I knew,” McCarty said. “ … The more I leaned into meditations and breath work, and diving into the technical parts of creating an app … I was like ‘Girl! You just put out an app!’ It was beautiful to see there was so much more in there, in myself. It’s a reminder that there’s space in me, there’s resources and there’s greater potential.”
McCarty understands the specific trauma that Black women face in the United States. Born to a white mother and Black father, McCarty was abandoned by her mother at a hospital in Kokomo. She and another Black girl were adopted by a Black woman. McCarty recalls feeling too white for Black spaces and too Black for white spaces. It wasn’t until becoming a mother at 19 and leaving an abusive relationship that McCarty began unpacking years of repressed trauma.
“I knew there were some things that I was holding in my heart and mind for a long time that were not allowing me to show up fully, and I could feel that I was shrinking parts of me,” McCarty said. “My two girls are so inspiring. They make me want to be better and do better.”
McCarty began seeing a life coach — a friend from her church — and eventually became a coach herself. She started seeing a therapist, something many Black women don’t do. According to Johns Hopkins University, Black women suffering from mental health issues are half as likely to seek help than white women.
A big reason for that, McCarty said, is a lack of representation and cultural understanding in the mental health community. This ultimately led to the creation of EXHALE.
“There has to be representation,” McCarty said. “This is why I created the app. You cannot look at a Black woman as a white person leading a rehabilitation facility or group, without having blind spots. You have to be able to see all of her, which includes her Blackness. If those specific needs aren’t addressed or brought up, people of color are going to leave those environments.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.
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EXHALE is currently available for free in the Apple Store for iPhones and Google Play store for Androids.