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Holotropic Breathing: Guide to Holotropic Breathwork

Posted by Narek Mirzaei on

Breathwork is one of the many techniques that people use to relax during stressful situations. By deliberately relaxing one’s breathing pattern and practicing mindfulness, you can disengage from distracting thoughts and sensations, thereby lessening the chances of increased anxiety and helping alleviate depression.

One type of effective breathwork is holotropic breathing–a therapeutic breathing practice intended to help make personal growth and emotional healing easier to reach.

Holotropic Breathing - Guide to Holotropic Breathwork 

What is Holotropic Breathwork?

Holotropic breathwork is a breathing practice that was developed in the 1970s by Stanislav Grof, MD, and his wife, Christina, at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. This New Age practice was developed to achieve altered states of consciousness without the use of drugs, turning it into a potential therapeutic tool.  Through their different experiments, the pair found that rapid or deep breathing from this technique can positively affect the brain.

According to many supporters of this practice, holotropic breathing can actually transport people to higher consciousness.

In a 1996 study that combined holotropic breathing with psychotherapy over six months, participants significantly reduced death anxiety and increased self-esteem compared to those who didn’t participate.

In a 2015 study, it was discovered that holotropic breathing could bring about higher levels of self-awareness, helping make positive changes in temperament and character development. People who were more experienced with handling this technique reported less tendency to be needy, hostile, and domineering.

Essentially, holotropic breathwork uses accelerated breathing to increase awareness of self while coping with past traumas. By continuously practicing this technique with the right facilitators, people can access parts of their psyche that can’t be reached under normal circumstances.


How Does It Work?

Holotropic breathwork starts with you lying down on a mat. After settling down into a comfortable position, you close your eyes and breathe in a fast, deep, even circular pattern without any pauses between inhales and exhales. During this, feel free to make any natural movements or sounds while still keeping your eyes closed.

This rapid breathing technique may be done for minutes or even hours. Playing music like soft melodies or quiet drums during the session may also help you enter that altered state of consciousness. It’s highly recommended that sessions for this practice are done with a certified breathwork facilitator. These trainers will be there to guide and assist you in the event of any problems arising.


A Breathwork Technique Paired with Music

At the beginning of the session, powerful music would capture the participants’ attention during the beginning of the session. At the same time, this music establishes the exercise’s rhythm and is often accompanied by meditative music at the end.

More or less, the music should be unknown to the participants and should not have any recognizable words or music with a recognized meaning that may break one’s focus on breathing techniques.

A common suggestion includes lesser-known songs that are musically complex but still contain lyrical content. Some good examples include monk and shaman chants, instrumental music with drumming, or religious music that can facilitate spiritual connection.


The Benefits of Holotropic Breathing

Holotropic breathing is usually done to cope with painful memories, to begin a healing process, or for self-exploration, since people usually experience a “high” during these sessions. With these “highs”, people are able to see various things like moments from their past. Aside from this, holotropic breathing can be beneficial for things like stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, premenstrual tension, avoidance behaviors, depression, and addiction.

Breathwork may seem like a simple practice, but like every other practice, there are minor dangers that can arise when it’s done without the guidance of an expert. If done wrong, holotropic breathing can cause reduced carbon dioxide and other alterations in the blood chemistry. This can result in spasms of the hands and feet, dizziness, fainting and weakness, and even seizures.

Sometimes, vulnerable individuals like those at risk of psychosis can even get distressed, while some can also experience hyperventilation due to the deep experiences this breathing technique activates.

Considering this, holotropic breathing is a controversial technique as it can involve amplifying symptoms in a problematic way rather than healing a person, triggering what’s called to be a “healing crisis”.


Is Holotropic Breathwork Safe for Everyone?

This breathwork technique is one that may bring out intense feelings or strong physical and emotional releases. Hence, experts strongly suggest that participants ask their physicians whether it’s a good choice to continue or not.

For those with a history of cardiovascular disease, panic attacks, high blood pressure, psychosis and seizure disorders, recent injury or surgery, or any condition that requires regular medication, holotropic breathing may be too intense a practice and should be done with careful guidance.

Note that this practice also isn't recommendable to women who are pregnant or are still breastfeeding.


__Written by Music Of Wisdom team
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