Holotropic Breathing Technique

Smiling African Woman Lying on the Yoga Mat
A woman is lying on her back on a yoga mat. (Image: LuminaStock/iStock/Getty Images)

Holotropic breathing is a technique developed by Dr. Stanislav Grof and his wife in the mid-1970s. As a psychotherapist, Grof was involved in earlier tests on the therapeutic potential of LSD. When psychedelics were peremptorily banned in the 1960s, Grof developed holotropic breathing as a means of simulating the psychedelic experience of LSD without the drug itself. Grof defines holotropic as "that which leads to wholeness." Before you begin, ask your doctor if holotropic breathwork is safe for you, especially if you have cardiovascular problems, high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, pregnancy, recent surgery, epilepsy, asthma or mental Illness.

Setting

Holotropic breathing is designed to allow the breather to experience deeper levels of their psyche than are usually available in a normal waking state. Thus, breathwork typically begins by creating an appropriate setting. A quiet location, such as would be used for a retreat, is often used, and a comfortable room that can be darkened should be chosen. The breather is usually accompanied by a sitter and, sometimes, a more advanced facilitator. Relaxing music should be chosen in advance and played in a format that will allow continuous play for several hours.

Relaxation

The breather lies supine on a mat with eyes closed. The sitter or facilitator then leads the breather through a meditative visualization to create deep relaxation. If you are the breather, you would breathe slowly and deeply during this period as you allow all parts of your body to relax. At the end of the guided meditation, the lights are dimmed and the music is allowed to play at sufficient volume to block any external noise.

Breathing

Once the music begins, you as the breather accelerate your rate of breath to a point near hyperventilation. The goal is to continue breathing deeply, but to do so quickly. Breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. Remaining on your back, continue breathing in this way for two to three hours, focusing on the internal experience and feelings reached through the shift in your awareness. The sitter and facilitator are there to assist in any way you need. Some coughing or choking feelings are not unusual, particularly in response to emotionally charged experiences. You may find yourself writhing, dancing, crying, laughing, shivering, speaking or any of a variety of other possibilities.

Drawing

After about two hours, the music is faded to silence. You, the breather, gradually resume a normal rate of breath. When you’re ready, open your eyes and allow the light in the room to return to normal. Take up a pen, crayon, marker or similar implement and draw a mandala to represent your experience. A mandala is a circle with shapes, scenes or symbols inside. If you have more artistic skill, you may choose to forgo the mandala form and draw a more expressive picture.

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