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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 work through and transcend their trauma while minimizing the amount of emotional pain experienced in the process. One tool 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 you to tap into parts of the brain and central nervous system that are usually inaccessible. 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 mind awakening may alter consciousness and processes occurring 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. They found that around 80% of the synapses in the brains of the normal mouse group shrunk during sleep, with the most vital synapses remaining unchanged. This study suggested that the altered brain-wave activity (and state of consciousness) during sleep helps us 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 efficiently. Holotropic breathing techniques allow us to explore and uncover those experiences.

Natural Healer Dr. Stanislav Grof Creates Holotropic Breathwork™

One of the researchers who explored this possibility in depth is the Czech psychiatrist Dr. Stanislav Grof. In the 1960s, Dr. Grof studied 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 adverse side effects, he started using altered breathing patterns (known as breathwork) instead to induce these trance-like states. Eventually, Dr. Grof, and his wife Christina, developed what is known as guided 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.”

Integrating this life-changing therapy into individual treatment plans has proven hopeful and yielded promising results, in particular in the treatment of PTSD with upcoming studies in the treatment of veterans managing PTSD with guided holotropic breathwork techniques.

The inner eye revealing transformation and awarenessWhat Is the Process Used in Holotropic Breathwork?

In a holotropic breathwork session, a group of participants lies down, close their eyes, and alternate a series of quick breaths with a succession of long breaths for an extended period. This process will last between one to three hours while listening to evocative, rhythmic music.

During the group session, people will pair off and alternate being either the “breather” or “sitter.” The sitter is simply there to assist the breather and does not try to interfere or guide the breather in any way. A trained practitioner facilitates the exercises and offers guidance and instructions.

The result of this process aims to achieve a state of mind that can activate the natural healing action of the person’s psyche.

Holotropic Breathwork Infographic

What to Expect in Guided Holotropic Breathwork

When the holotropic breathing technique is utilized, the recipient can expect to feel tingling sensations, an increased mind-body connection, and a surge of clarity. Depending on the level of suppressed trauma, some may experience an emotional purging, which is a process of eliminating emotions that no longer serve you.

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,” and the list of benefits is powerful.

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.

Other emotional health benefits include a better mental focus, decreased addictive behaviors, improved self-awareness, and decreased feelings of PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

Physical health benefits include more balanced blood pressure, a more robust respiratory function, and a better immune system.

Breathing itself is known to provide benefits. When we inhale, we nourish the mind and body with oxygen. When we exhale, we release toxins and stress. So, is this safe for anyone to utilize these holotropic breathing techniques?

Is Holotropic Breathwork Safe?

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, which in an uncontrolled environment could contribute to a heightened risk of panic or feeling ill.

While holotropic breathing does alter the levels of C02 and oxygen in the bloodstream, it does not seem to present the same risks as hyperventilation or hyperventilation syndrome—as long as the breather keeps their inhales and exhales even, as well as ensuring they are working with someone trained specifically in the practice of guided holotropic breathwork.

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 try 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.

Rediscover Your True, Most Inspired Self at Miami Hypnosis and Therapy

If holotropic breathing techniques sound like tools that could help you experience a personal breakthrough, then our therapist Anna Marchenko can guide you through the process in a safe, supportive, 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.

Letting go of whatever is holding you back from enjoying life by simply breathing is what holotropic breathwork does, so contact us to book a consultation today.

Anna Marchenko

Anna Marchenko, LMHC, M.A., Ed.M. is the principal therapist at Miami Hypnosis and Therapy. She holds a bachelor's degree from NYU and dual masters degrees from Columbia University. Marchenko’s hypnosis certification is from the only hypnosis program in Florida that has been certified by the state’s Board of Education. She helps her clients by utilizing an integrative approach to psychotherapy, tailored to each individual’s mental health journey, drawing from hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, NLP therapy, EMDR, and more.

1 Comment

  • Camilo

    Will Holotropic Breathwork help with money issues? How much for a session? Thank you

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