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Holotropic breathwork is a healing practice. This form of breathwork aims to help us develop personal growth and emotionally heal ourselves. Dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, the activity has become wildly popular all across the Western world. Within this in-depth guide, we will take a look at what it is, how it started, and how to try it.
What is Holotropic Breathwork?
Before we delve into how you may practise holotropic breathwork, it’s worth learning about the theory. The basis of this approach is that we each have an inner radar that identifies the most important experience in real-time. However, the theory states that we are not aware of this happening within us and cannot see the experience clearly when it happens.
When we engage in holotropic breathwork, we may undergo what is known as a ‘therapeutic crisis’. This is the formal name that we give to the moment that negative energies leave the body and are replaced by a sense of healing and fullness. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s experience is different. The way in which this activity affects a person will depend on their individual personality and approach to life.
While the breathing pattern has been designed to avoid cases of hyperventilation. Despite this fact, some of the side effects that people experience during the practice may be attributed to the unbalance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your system. While the jury is still out on this fact, it’s important to approach the activity in a safe way, at all times. Should you have any discomfort, you need to stop this breathwork activity immediately.
The History of Holotropic Breathwork
Holotropic breathwork dates back to the 1960s era. Soon after the drug LSD became legal, psychiatrists, Stanislav and Christina Grof, started to look into this technique. The duo were interested in the New Age benefits of this breathing approach and wanted to see whether you could achieve a psychedelic-like state without the use of drugs.
The two psychiatrists had previously trained in the realms of Freudian psychoanalytic therapy. For that reason, their belief system was rooted in the theory of self-exploration and how altering our mental state can lead to healing. Armed with this information, the two set about looking into how breathwork can affect both the mind and the body in sync.
Along with Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof was the co-founder of transpersonal psychology. During his professional career, he worked at both the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague and then Johns Hopkins University in the United States. At that time, he became a master in his field. His impressive body of work spanned a whole variety of patients, focusing largely on those with mental ailments and drug addictions.
How Holotropic Breathwork Works
Now that you understand how holotropic breathwork started, let’s delve into how it works. Much of the time, this breathwork takes part in a group setting. You should not try to do it yourself at home. If you are attending a session, you can expect the following to happen:
1. You will be paired off
Holotropic breathwork relies on one ‘breather’ and one ‘sitter’. At the start of the session, the leader of the group will divide you into pairs to facilitate the session.
2. The sitter may help the breather
As the name suggests, the breather is the person actively taking part in the holotropic breathwork. When they are engaging in the practice, the sitter watches them. The sole aim of this is to ensure that the breather is safe and supported at all times.
3. The leader will offer instructions
As we have already covered, you should not try to engage in this practice at home. When you attend a session, the leader of the group will give you instructions.
You should listen closely to what they have to say from the start. The leader will tell you what rhythm to follow when you are breathing and how fast you need to inhale and exhale. Your breathing pattern will get faster when you are undertaking this type of breathwork.
4. You will lie down on a mat
As the breather, when you first come into the session, you will be asked to lie down on a yoga mat. By being on the floor, you will have ultimate movement and freedom.
5. The session will longer than you expect
One of the most surprising things about holotropic breathwork is how long it takes. When you attend a session, you should set aside a matter of hours. This type of activity typically takes two-to-three hours to complete in total. Keep that in mind before you get started.
6. The leader will put on high-tempo music
Throughout the session, the leader will play loud and repetitive music. The beat of this tune will help you keep your breath in rhythm. As the session starts to reach its climax, you will find that the music increases in tempo encouraging your breath to get faster.
7. You will have a quick debrief afterward
When you have completed your session, you will swap places with the sitter. That means that each person in a pair will have the opportunity to engage in the holotropic breathwork. Once that part of the session is over, you can expect a debrief. During this time, you and the other attendees may talk about your traumas or draw a mandala.
The Benefits of Holotropic Breathwork
Since holotropic breathwork was first established, researchers have found that it holds countless therapeutic benefits. Some experts believe that this activity can help people overcome the common symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Despite this fact, more research is needed to prove that the breathwork approach can manage mental illnesses.
However, there is research to suggest that holotropic breathwork can lead to a greater sense of relaxation, stress relief, and personal growth. With that in mind, if you are looking for a way to expand your mind and gain a sense of calm, it may be worth trying for yourself. To get started, look for holotropic breathwork classes in your area, or even online.
See more: Learn the Meditative Breathing Practice: Sitali Pranayama