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What Is Holotropic Breathwork?

Breathing: The Gateway to the Unconscious Mind

Therapists are continuously looking for new and effective ways to help their clients recover from trauma while minimizing the amount of emotional pain experienced in the process. One tool that has been reviewed in literature as a possible approach in counseling and therapy is holotropic breathing.

What is the goal of holotropic breathwork? The idea of using altered breathing patterns or breathwork in therapy can allow the clients to tap into parts of the brain and central nervous system that are usually inaccessible. In fact, altered breathing (such as that experienced during sleep cycles) can even change the speed of our brain waves!

Sleep States and Psycho-Emotional Healing

What is holotropic breathwork’s relationship to sleep and healing? Consider this example: Have you ever felt anxious, upset, or indecisive about something in the evening and then woken up with a new sense of clarity in the morning? This may have to do with altered states of consciousness and processes that take place in our neurons during sleep.

A mouse study out of John Hopkins University explored the behavior of synapses (connections) in the brain during sleep in a group of mice. What they found was that during sleep, around 80% of the synapses in the brains of the normal mouse group shrunk during sleep, with the strongest synapses remaining unchanged. This study suggested that the altered brain-wave activity (and state of consciousness) during sleep helps us to integrate new experiences and forget information and memories that we no longer need.

Sleep States and Altered Breathing

What is the relevance of holotropic breathwork to this sleep study? In the context of psycho-emotional therapy, using an altered, dream-like state during therapy sessions could help clients integrate and heal from traumatic experiences more easily.

Dr. Stanislav Grof and Holotropic Breathwork™

One of the researchers who explored this possibility in depth is the Czech psychiatrist Dr. Stanislav Grof. In the 1960s, Dr. Grof set about studying the potential for trauma healing during trances induced by the psychedelic substance LSD. However, wanting to find a safer way to achieve a trance-like state without the negative side-effects, he started using altered breathing patterns (known as breathwork) to induce these trance-like states instead. Eventually, Dr. Grof, together with his wife Christina, developed what is known as Holotropic Breathwork™.

The word holotropic comes from the Greek words “holos” (whole) and “trepein” (moving in the direction of something). Put together, we can understand “Holotropic” as meaning “moving toward wholeness.”

What Is the Process Used in Holotropic Breathwork?

In a holotropic breathwork session, a group of participants close their eyes, lie down, and alternate a series of quick breaths with a series of long breaths for periods of time between one to three hours while listening to evocative, rhythmic music.

What is the Goal of Holotropic Breathwork According to Grof?

According to Dr. Grof, holotropic breathwork enables the participant to access unconscious experiences that include their conception, gestation, and birth. By experiencing the perinatal period more fully, the subject is said to be able to experience a birth-death-rebirth experience and achieve inner transformation faster as a result. Due to the focus on reliving these early experiences, holotropic breathwork is also known in some circles as “rebirthing” and “transformational breathing.”

What Is the Benefit of Holotropic Breathwork?

Professional opinions on holotropic breathwork are still somewhat divided. However, research indicates that it could have benefits for reducing death anxiety and increased self-esteem. The practice may also reduce avoidance behaviors that prevent people from facing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and overcoming trauma.

What Is the Safety of Holotropic Breathwork?

The primary concerns about holotropic breathwork relate mainly to its similarity to hyperventilation. Hyperventilation occurs when the amount of C02 in the blood drops too low due to rapid and uneven breathing and the person can begin to feel sick.

While holotropic breathing does alter the levels of C02 and oxygen in the bloodstream, it does not seem to present the same dangers as hyperventilation or hyperventilation syndrome—as long as the breather keeps their inhales and exhales even.

What is the suitability of holotropic breathwork for people with asthma? Clients with asthma or another respiratory condition should only attempt holotropic breathwork under the supervision of a trained practitioner. Those with heart or retina problems are advised not to attempt this kind of breathing. Please consult with your primary care physician before introducing breathwork therapy into your lifestyle if you have a history of respiratory issues.

Discover the Benefits of Holotropic Breathwork at Miami Hypnosis and Therapy

If holotropic breathwork sounds like a tool that could help you experience a personal breakthrough, our primary practitioner Anna Marchenko can guide you through the process in a safe and professional setting.

Anna is a professional counselor and Holotropic Breathwork™ practitioner with experience helping clients through clinical hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Contact us to book a consultation today.

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