Can you step back from your own mind
and thus understand all things?
What is Holotropic Breathwork?
The Short Answer
“Holotropic” is derived from the Greek holos, - "whole," and trepein - "to move towards;" thus it signifies "moving towards wholeness."
HOLOTROPIC BREATHWORK was developed by psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, M.D. and his wife Christina, to provide an experience in self-exploration that is based on observations from modern consciousness research combined with the wisdom of multiple and diverse cultures that, over centuries and around the world, have used non-ordinary states of consciousness for healing, information-gathering and for spiritual connection.
This work facilitates access to all levels of human experience, enabling people to resolve unfinished issues from their past, clear birth trauma and residues of any trauma stored in the body, and explore deeper dimensions of the psyche for inspiration and increased awareness.
The techniques used are simple, robust and well-tested, and include augmented breathing to evocative music, expressive drawing, and sometimes focused bodywork, all done in a group setting with trained facilitators. An estimated 100,000 individuals have experienced Holotropic Breathwork journeys worldwide since the method was initiated by the Grofs.
Our workshops are valuable for persons interested in deep inner exploration, for those seeking an adjunct to individual psychotherapy, and those who wish to reconnect with self, others, and the natural world, and to deepen their own spiritual journey.
Holotropic Breathwork is a vehicle for accessing non-ordinary states of consciousness, particularly for personal self-exploration, growth and healing. Combining both ancient and modern techniques, it allows access to the personal unconscious as well as to deep and sacred realms of the human psyche. All levels of human consciousness are available to practitioners, though not necessarily “on demand,” or by intention from a mindset based in “ordinary” reality.
HB has been dubbed a “technology of the sacred” for the profound insights and archetypal connections available to practitioners. The work relies on an understanding that each of us harbors an innate capacity to heal our own psyche and emotions. This capacity, often referred to as our “inner healer”, shifts us always towards a state that is more whole when allowed to work unimpeded by our busy and judgemental “normal” waking state of mind. In this sense the work is “holotropic”.
HB is practiced in a workshop setting and involves 5 major components: intensified breathing, evocative music, focused bodywork, expressive artwork, and group process. The work is done in pairs, with one person lying on a comfortable mat and breathing with eyes closed during the first session, while the other attends as a “sitter”. The roles are reversed in the second session so that each participant experiences both situations, as "breather" and "sitter". Both experiences may feel equally powerful to participants.
This work is easily accessed, yet profound and powerful. The breathing technique is straightforward, merely a little faster and deeper than the participant’s normal rate, with the primary emphasis on simply moving a large volume of air through the lungs. Breathers find their own pace as they sink into the process.
The music is chosen to be particularly active early in the session, transitioning to more evocative and intense over time, and eventually shifting to gentler and more meditative rhythms as the session winds down. It is also chosen to exclude English and other languages that are commonly recognizable in the region where the workshop takes place, so that no breather is distracted from her/his own internal process by the words. Many forms of indigenous rhythms are used, along with classical pieces, ethnic and religious selections, movie soundtracks, and various types of chanting.
The focused bodywork is a potential portion of the holotropic process, used only with permission of the participant in cases where some physical or energetic blockage may seem to prevent completion of the breather’s process. It is not programmatic, it is optional, and breathers are guided to do the work themselves, with facilitators simply offering suggestions and various forms of resistance for the participant to work against. This often results in a release or catharsis of an uncompleted shift which may be physical, emotional or cognitive, and often brings relief on multiple levels even to longstanding tensions.
The expressive artwork, done after the breathing session, consists simply of “putting marks on paper," usually done on a sheet of paper with a circle already drawn on it. We call these mandalas (meaning “circles” in Sanskrit), and they serve as an initial and non-verbal means of starting to integrate the material from the breather’s own session into normal waking consciousness, the start towards incorporating internal shifts into daily life. Artistic capacity is not the issue; it is the process of recording the session’s material in some way that matters. Occasionally people write about their “journey," and others experiment with colors that appeal to them in the moment. As with the breathing technique itself, there is no “wrong” way to do it, as long as you do it!
The group process is the least obvious of the HB components, and yet plays a crucial role in facilitating deep work and in supporting each individual. Humans have evolved over eons as social/tribal beings, and it is only in the last few hundred years that most cultures have moved away from that more familial and supportive way of life. This work can reach so deeply into our psyches that it seems to access our genetic heritage of a once more communal lifestyle, and the level of mutual support and connection among participants is often profound.
Mandala drawings by workshop participants, with permission.