Alexandra Mazerolle on the accessibility of breathwork and existing mindfully in a demanding world.
At twenty years old, after an earlier life of dance, Alexandra Mazerolle was burnt out. Physically and emotionally exhausted by the industry, she started yoga as a practice that at once satisfied her love of movement and supported her inner being.
“When I found yoga, something really shifted in me,” Mazerolle explains. “I was doing all the things that I love but in a way that felt so much more honoring and nurturing.” She became enamored. Now, 15 years later, Mazerolle is the founder of Girlvana Yoga a program for teenage girls, a teacher with the online mindfulness studio Open, and author of Girlvana a handbook published by Penguin Random House on self-love, yoga, and making a better world. They are all applications of the same practice, Mazerolle says: “My heart is with yoga, meditation, breathwork, and real conversations for female-identifying young people coming of age, trying to figure out who they are and how to have a voice in this world.” With so many valuable intersections, it was easy to get lost in the conversation I had with Mazerolle but every juncture was punctuated by the same thing—breath.
Existing in the world today demands so much of us. Pre-pandemic was quite literally a different time and today, not everyone has the capacity or desire to carve out so much of themselves in the name of wellness. But that doesn’t make it any less important. In fact, we likely need it now more than ever. But if donning a pair of leggings, lacing up trainers, or the idea of being in a studio among others is too overwhelming, it makes sense to turn to breathwork. An active meditation, breathwork is a simple way to incorporate a wellness practice into your day.
“All of this stems from pranayama at its roots,” Mazerolle acknowledges. “All of this is ancient, nothing about this is new.” From Sanskrit, prāṇa meaning ‘breath’ and āyāma meaning ‘restraint,’ breathwork uses certain techniques to regulate the breath. Though it is straightforward, its benefit and impact on our being is immense and oftentimes, immediate. Being kind to ourselves, offering up gentle ways to contend with the world is powerful, and breathwork can help you achieve that. Regardless of whether you have an hour or just five minutes, remembering to breathe does wonders in every situation.
An intriguing aspect of breathwork is its accessibility. Whether it’s a time constraint, ability, or lack of space, the barrier to breathwork is almost non-existent.
“Breathwork is such a cool entry point, especially if people are new,” Mazerolle says. “Sometimes with meditation you feel, ‘okay, am I doing this right?’ And with yoga, you think, ‘I'm not flexible or not strong.’ But with breathwork, if you can breathe, you can do it.” And eventually, when we operate from a place of stillness within ourselves, there is an ease of being that can be palpable in contrast to the state of the world we’re living in.
So often we look externally to find pockets of serotonin and dopamine, whether that’s through alcohol, streaming binges, or even excessively working out, but all that does is numb our abilities to find grounding in something more sustainable.
“You know, I think about myself 15 years ago,” Mazerolle begins to recount. “God, I was so hard on myself. Who I am today, I am so kind to myself truly and it's wild that I could be this kind or access this type of love for myself. It just takes time and it takes practice often.” In this regard, incorporating a breathwork practice is like establishing your skincare routine, something to do daily that will likely be just as personalized too.
Women and female-identifying folks are inundated with messages about bettering our image. But for people who love skincare, finding balance and focusing on how that routine can make you feel—and help one find their oasis—allow us to enjoy our daily rituals instead of turning them into a burden.
“I think it all comes down to intention. I love skincare and playing with makeup too,” Mazerolle says. “When I was younger, I was doing it for everyone else. Now I'm 35 and I think I look great. I'm not trying to look younger or keep up but I just love taking care of myself and taking time to just be with myself and really go into a ritual.”
Whether it’s a seven-step morning and nighttime routine or a guided inhale-exhale, skincare and breathwork are something to be enjoyed on your own terms and for yourself.
“These rituals are for me and not for anyone else. It's just taking time and the intention is to feel good for me and support me. It's coming into the morning which feels really beautiful, waking up. And then at night it's cutting the cords from the day and drawing back in.”
For more on how Mazerolle finds her oasis through skincare, click here.
Written by Sheila Lam for Youth To The People