What is Holotropic Breathwork?

An inner exploration tool

Stan Grof (Image courtesy of Conscious Lifestyle Magazine)

Holotropic Breathwork (HB), from Greek « holos » – whole – and « trepein » – turning toward –, was developed in Esalen, California, during the 1970’s by Stanislav Grof, a Czech psychiatrist, and his wife Christina Grof. With Abraham Maslow and Anthony Suttich Grof is one of the founders of the transpersonal psychology field and a most renowned researcher in the use of modified states of consciousness for exploring, healing and transforming the human psyche.

 

Modified or holotropic states of consciousness

Since thousands of years shamans are using modified states of consciousness to heal the body and the soul. A research over near 500 cultures studies by anthropologists – more than half of the world’s cultures – has shown that 90% of these cultures have integrated in one way or another  modified states of consciousness1.  These states of consciousness are at the very heart of the mystical branches of  the main world religions : Sufism in Islam, yoga in Hinduism, Cabbala in Judaism, the Christian mystics of the desert. Various cultures and religions use a variety of techniques to achieve those modified states of consciousness: sacred medicinal plants, meditation, prayer, fasting, isolation, sleep deprivation, chanting, drumming, dancing, extremes of temperature, mutilation, vision quests, etc., and of course, the breath.

HB provides a safe container and without any substance, only with the help of the breath supported by evocative music, gives us access to modified states of consciousness that allow us to contact dimensions of our being otherwise out of touch.

Grof’s cartography of the psyche and Inner Healer

Grof has developed a cartography of the psyche that helps interpreting and integrating what has been experienced. He proposed three wide territories that can be explored.

  • The first one is our biography from birth to the present time including potentially repressed wounded areas as well as moments of care or warm presence where we were supported in our growth and identity, and that have been forgotten.
  • He names the second territory the « perinatal », from our conception until our birth. We can revisit various moments of our intra-uterine life and birth process. Already, the quality of what was offered to us in the womb and during delivery as well as the shocks that may have happened during that period of our life have left imprints that still hold an influence on how we live our present life.
  • The third territory is the “transpersonal” which is close to what Jung called the collective unconscious. This territory is vast and allows for so many experiences: being an element of and participating in the mineral, vegetal, animal or sidereal worlds; meeting power animals, archetypal, historical, mythological or imaginary beings, gods and goddesses, ancestors, etc.

These experiences under modified states of consciousness can be physical, energetic, emotional or visual and metaphoric. They cover a wide spectrum, ranging from ecstasy and delight to confronting more intense and charged areas of our being. Grof proposes the hypothesis that we carry in our psyche an « Inner Healer » that sustains our growth and moves towards our healing just like the physical body mobilizes itself to cure an injury. Thus, we come out of a workshop relieved and more awakened, most often with compassion for ourselves, others and the world.

Holotropic Breathwork is an easy, accessible and safe way to fully experiment what we carry within and what is carrying us.

1: Bourguignon, Erica (Ed.) (1973.) Religion, Altered States of Consciousness and Social Change. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press.