Holotropic Breathwork is the process of using fast, deep breathing to reach a “non-ordinary” state of consciousness, which is believed to be a powerful psychological healing tool. Developed by the famed Dr. Stanislav Grof in the 1970s, Holotropic Breathwork brings forth issues from the subconscious that need to be addressed, and the participant works to resolve these issues in real time and in whatever way seems appropriate.
Translated from Greek, Holotropic means “moving toward wholeness.” An alternative, drug-free therapy that some refer to as “industrial-strength meditation,” Holotropic Breathwork is based in modern consciousness research, transpersonal psychology, and Eastern spiritual practices. Because it can bring forth suppressed traumas, Holotropic Breathwork should only be practiced in a safe environment, overseen by a trained facilitator.
The Holotropic Breathwork Workshop
During a Holotropic Breathwork workshop, clients are paired up. One is the “breather,” and the other is the “sitter.” The breather lies down on a comfortable surface and with eyes closed and breathes quickly and deeply until a deeper state of consciousness is reached. The sitter stays close to the breather to offer support and ensure safety.
The state of consciousness brought on by Holotropic Breathwork is much like a vivid dream. The breather is instructed to let events unfold as they will, and trust that the subconscious knows what pressing issues need to come forth. Each session lasts around three hours and is supported by music – first drums, then “heart” music, and finally meditative music.
The Holotropic Breathwork session is supervised by the facilitator, who is trained to let the breather’s experiences unfold without intervention. The facilitator supports both the breather and the sitter during the process but will not guide the breather’s experience other than to offer reminders to focus on what is emerging from the subconscious and trust that this is what needs to come forth at this particular time.
After the session, the participant may engage in creating expressive artwork or share highlights of the experience in a group setting.
The Mechanics of Holotropic Breathwork
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine explains that prolonged hyperventilation slows the brain’s rhythms, increases the activity of lower frequencies, and elicits other changes in brain function. Within eight to 15 minutes of beginning the breathing exercise, an altered state of consciousness is reached, characterized by perceptual distortions and visions (1).
When practiced in a safe setting, participants are exposed to deeply-seated fears or long-avoided issues that the conscious mind normally suppresses. Participants experience a catharsis similar to that of meditation that promotes a certain amount of healing on the spot, and they often enjoy accelerated progress during subsequent psychotherapy sessions.
The study found that as long as it’s properly supervised, Holotropic Breathwork is safe for participants, and it’s more psychologically beneficial than many other alternative therapies. The study concluded that this practice may reduce psychiatric symptoms in moderately distressed participants.
In an addiction treatment setting, Holotropic Breathwork can help those in recovery learn to trust the wisdom of the inner mind, understand that they’re part of a larger, universal picture, and reveal their inner truths to accelerate the path to wholeness.