Holotropic Breathwork: What It Is, And What Happens During An Experience

Holotropic Breathwork: What It Is, And What Happens During An Experience

Breathing techniques have become extremely popular in recent years due to their relaxing and de-stressing properties. Often linked to meditation and yoga, focusing on your breathing helps bring people to the present moment. It calms down nerves, which, in turn, promotes good overall health and wellbeing — and a popular method is holotropic breathwork.

While there are many different types of breathwork training, holotropic breathwork is an advanced and intense breathing practice. In fact, it is officially trademarked, and can only be led by certified instructors. The 600-hour certification course is held by the Grof Foundation, named after Stanislav and Christina Grof. The two are the creators of this specific breathing technique.

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Holotropic Breathwork

Described as a “powerful approach to self-exploration and personal empowerment,” holotropic breathwork is a breathing technique that involves accelerated breathing combined with a special kind of music in a special kind of setting. Since it can only be taught by certified teachers, it follows the same music and ethical principles no matter where an experience takes place.

Devoted practitioners follow holotropic breathwork for many reasons. From its relaxing and calming properties, to the spiritual aspect, they believe it helps them reach new levels of consciousness and personal empowerment. Each person has their own experience and journey. And while some may need help with stress, anxiety, and trauma, others use it for personal growth or self-discovery.

The Backstory of Holotropic Breathing

In the 1970s, Freudian-taught psychiatrists Stanislav and Christina Grof, were big proponents of LSD therapy. They used it with their patients to help heal from trauma, relieve stress and depression, and create a better relationship with themselves.

However, LSD eventually became a banned substance. So the two needed to find a different avenue or substance to achieve the same (or similar) kind of experience.

As supporters of psychedelic therapy, they moved from Chezchoslovakia to the U.S., where Stanislav held high positions at the famous psychedelic centers, Johns Hopkins University and Maryland Psychiatric Research Centre.

Through research, they developed holotropic breathwork. This was a natural way of inducing a psychedelic state, rather than using LSD or other drugs.

Ever since their work became famous, they’ve traveled the world far and wide to help people find their purpose and enlightenment, heal their traumas, and reach the self-awareness that everyone has at their very core. Science chimed in as well, with studies showing great results in treating PTSD in veterans, and enhancing various treatments in hospitals.

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How To Perform Holotropic Breathing

The technique of holotropic breathwork is very simple. It begins with lying on the mat, with eyes closed, listening to music, and starting to tune into your own breath. You slowly begin to speed up your breath as the music intensifies. Breathing evenly (but rapidly) is thought to bring you to altered levels of consciousness. This creates a deeper form of meditation, and induces a sort of psychedelic experience — without the use of any hallucinogens.

If it’s your first time performing holotropic breathwork, it’s important that you do it with a guide and have someone observe you. The rapid breathing could easily transition into hyperventilation. This could potentially increase anxiety and stress, creating panic, and making you feel like you’re losing your breath. For this reason, holotropic breathwork often takes place in a group setting.

At the beginning of a session, before laying down, two people pair up, with each having a specific role. While one person goes through the process, also called a “breather,” the other sits next to them and observes, also called a “sitter.” The sitter has a very important role in supporting the breather going through the experience and being there in case panic occurs.

The lead guide of the session directs your breathing patterns and instructs you to pay attention to even out your breaths while increasing their speed. Making sure you stay even with your breaths will prevent hyperventilation, but if you’re new to this type of breathwork, it can be really hard to do so without any help.

Sessions may last up to three hours, and practitioners report how each experience is different. There is no end result or a certain goal you’re looking to achieve, no expectations, and no judgment. Every person gets to experience holotropic breathwork in their own way. After each session, practitioners talk about their experiences, draw mandalas, and share their thoughts, feelings, and potential epiphanies.

Who Should Abstain From Holotropic Breathwork?

Although it has an array of health benefits, holotropic breathwork is intense, making it harmful for certain individuals. These include people with the following conditions:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Glaucomas
  • A history of panic attacks or psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Aneurysms
  • Pregnant women
  • Those on specific medication

The Takeaway

Holotropic breathwork is a powerful breathing technique that mimics a psychedelic experience. The purpose is to take you deeper into the present moment, while helping become more self-aware.

Since holotropic breathwork is an intense process, always be sure to do it under the guidance and supervision of a certified instructor. This ensures safety, and will help you reap the benefits of this life-changing practice.

Karla Tafra

View all posts by Karla Tafra

Karla is a freelance writer, yoga teacher and nutritionist who's been writing about nutrition, fitness, yoga, mindfulness, and overall health and wellness topics for over seven years. She's written for numerous publications such as Healthline, Livesavvy, Psychology.com, Well + Good, and many others, sharing her love of storytelling and educating. She loves talking about superfoods and another amazing plant powers that people can benefit from if they learn how to use it properly. Her passion lies in helping others not only eat healthier meals but implement good eating habits, find a great relationship with food & achieve a balanced lifestyle. She believes that the only diet and lifestyle that's worth creating is the one you can stick to, so she aims to find what that means for each and every individual. Teaching WHY we eat, and not only WHAT we eat, is the premise of her approach.

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