Older Than a Trend: The Roots and Benefits of Holotropic Breathwork
“…our deepest identity is with a divine spark in our innermost being (Atman) that is ultimately identical with the supreme universal principle (Brahman). The name for this principle could thus be the Tao, Buddha, Cosmic Christ, Allah, Great Spirit, Sila, and many others.”
― Dr. Stanislav Grof, Founder Holotropic Breathwork
Conscious breathwork is rooted in ancient yogic and spiritual practices. For centuries, yogis, monks and sages have used controlled breathing practices to bring about altered states of mind and shifts in energy. In yoga, breath control is called pranayama, one of the eight limbs of yoga that translates as “extension of our life force.”
More recently, holotropic breathwork has emerged from the field of transpersonal, or spiritual, psychology. Drawing from ancient traditions, Dr. Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D., and his wife Christina Grof created the practice to help people experience psychedelic, altered states of consciouness to deal with the effects of trauma and rediscover a state of wholeness.
Prior to his exploration of holotropic breathwork, Dr. Grof was one of the earliest researchers of the therapeutic effects of LSD. He also spent four decades researching the science of the ancient shamans, who used breathing techniques to reach altered states. When funding for psychedelic research was cut in the seventies, the Grofs developed holotropic breathwork to bring the beneficial aspects of altered states to their patients.
So what exactly is holotropic breathwork?
The breathing pattern involves taking short, fast-paced, rhythmic breaths followed by long, deep inhalations and exhalations. The practice is supported by evocative music and a witness guide, who will sit with the person who is breathing and make sure they feel safe. The sessions typically last 3 hours. Following the practice, leaders often offer creative outlets for the participants to record their experience such as drawing, narrating, or writing.
There has been some concern over the years about holotropic breathwork causing hyperventilation, a condition where levels of CO2 in the blood and brain become dangerously low. Depsite the supportive atmosphere and conscious approach to this breath control, it does pose some risk, but has benefited thousands of people around the world without any dire consequences.
The benefits have been researched and reflect some of the reported effects of psychedelic drugs. They include:
- Decreased anxiety
- Improved self-esteem
- A sense of wholeness and oneness with the world
- Openness to new ideas
- Improved communication skills
- Ability to heal from past trauma
- Access to the subconscious mind
Ready to get started?
Learn more about holotropic breath work from founder Dr. Stanislav Grof:
Photo by Fabian Moller via Unsplash
- Indigenous Medicine & Culture,
- Self Cultivation,