How to Induce Altered States of Consciousness Through Your Breath

Holotropic Breathwork is a term for inducing altered states of consciousness through breath, coined by the scientific researcher, Stanislav Grof.

With over 50-years of ground-breaking work, and research on consciousness, and psychedelic states, his life’s mission has been dedicated to exploring the healing (and transformative) potential of “non-ordinary” states of being.

Grof’s groundbreaking theories have helped influence the integration of Western science with his brilliant mapping of the transpersonal dimensions.

What is Holotropic Breathwork?

Holotropic Breathwork™ is a powerful approach to self-exploration and healing that integrates insights from modern consciousness research, anthropology, various depth psychologies, transpersonal psychology, Eastern spiritual practices, and mystical traditions of the world. The name Holotropic means literally “moving toward wholeness” (from the Greek “holos”=whole and “trepein”=moving in the direction of something).

The tenets of HB, according to Stanislav and Christina Grof are as following (via Grof Holotropic Breathwork):

Theoretical Position:

  • The theory of Holotropic Breathwork encompasses a broad understanding of the human psyche that includes the biographical, perinatal, and transpersonal dimensions. Phenomena from all these domains are seen as natural and normal constituents of the psychological process; they are accepted, and supported without preference.
  • Recognition of the fact that non-ordinary states of consciousness induced by Holotropic Breathwork, as well as similar states occurring spontaneously, mobilize intrinsic healing forces in the psyche and the body.
  • As the process is unfolding, this “inner healer” manifests therapeutic wisdom which transcends the knowledge that can be derived from the cognitive understanding of an individual practitioner or from any specific school of psychotherapy or body work.

Practical Approach:

  • The basic elements in Holotropic Breathwork are deeper and accelerated breathing, evocative music, and facilitation of energy release through a specific form of bodywork. This is complemented by creative expression, such as “mandala” drawing, and discussion of the experience. Holotropic Breathwork can be conducted on a one to one basis, or preferably in a group situation, where participants alternate in the role of experiencers and “Sitters”.
  • Before the first breathing experience, participants receive an in-depth theoretical preparation that includes a description of the major types of phenomena that occur in holotropic sessions (biographical, perinatal and transpersonal) and technical instructions for both experiencers and Sitters. Physical and emotional contraindications are discussed and if there are any concerns, expert assessment is obtained. The facilitator makes clear agreements with clients that they will not damage persons or property or engage in sexual behavior with others during a Holotropic Breathwork session, and that they will stay to participate in and complete the entire session.
  • Holotropic Breathing is faster and deeper than usual; generally no other specific instructions are given before or during the session as to the rate, pattern, and nature of breathing. The experience is entirely internal and largely non-verbal, without interventions. Exceptions are constriction in the throat, management problems, excessive pain or fear threatening the continuation of the session, and explicit request of the Breather.
  • Music (or other forms of acoustic stimulation —drumming, nature sounds, etc.) is an integral part of the Holotropic process. Typically, the choice of music follows a characteristic pattern that reflects the most common unfolding of the holotropic experiences: at the beginning, it is evocative and stimulating, later it becomes increasingly dramatic and dynamic, and finally it reaches a culmination. Following the culmination, it is appropriate to shift gradually to quieter music and end with peaceful, flowing, and meditative selections. Although this seems to represent the statistical average, it should be modified if the energy in the group suggests that a different pattern is indicated.
  • The role of the Sitter during the session is to be responsive and non-intrusive, to ensure effective breathing, create a safe environment, respect the natural unfolding of the experience, and provide assistance in all situations that require it (including physical support, help during bathroom breaks, bringing tissues or a glass of water, etc.). It is important to remain focused and centered while facing the entire spectrum of possible emotions and behaviors of the Breather. Holotropic Breathwork does not use any interventions that come from intellectual analysis or are based on a priori theoretical constructs.
  • It is important to leave sufficient time for the sessions, usually between two and three hours. However, as a general rule, the process is allowed to reach a natural closure; in exceptional cases, this can take a few hours. In the termination period the facilitator offers energy release work, if the breathing has not resolved all of the emotional and physical tensions activated during the sessions. The basic principle of this work is to take the clues from the experience and create a situation where the existing symptoms are amplified; while the energy and awareness is held in this area, the subject is encouraged to express fully his or her reaction, whichever form it takes. This form of energy release work is an essential part of the holotropic approach and plays an important role in the completion and integration of the experience.
  • Facilitators of Holotropic Breathwork should recognize that, when they utilize a technique that evokes a non-ordinary state in a client, there is a potential for unusually intense projections, including regressed longings for nurturing, sexual contact, or spiritual connection. These projections are often focused on the facilitator. In such cases the facilitator should be sensitive to the imbalance of power in the facilitator and client roles and take care to assist clients with such feelings as they arise. Facilitators make agreements to conduct their practice of Holotropic Breathwork in an ethical manner.
  • Discussion groups take place on the same day after an extended break. During these sessions, the facilitator does not give interpretations of the material, based on a specific theoretical system, including that of Holotropic Breathwork. It is preferable to ask the experiencer for further elaboration and clarification reflecting his or her insights from the session. Jungian amplification in the form of mythological and anthropological references can be very useful in the discussion of the holotropic experiences, as well as the mandalas. On occasion, references to the facilitator’s own experiences in the past or experiences of other people might be appropriate.
  • There are many approaches that complement Holotropic Breathwork —Gestalt practice, Dora Kalff’s sandplay, bioenergetics, various forms of massage, acupuncture, etc. However, whenever these are used, it should be clearly indicated that these are not a part of Holotropic Breathwork. If the practice of conducting the sessions itself departs significantly from the above descriptions, the name Holotropic Breathwork should not be used for such a procedure. We ask that it be replaced by a different term and not associated with our names.

How to Do Holotropic Breathwork

1. Breathe Deep

To begin the HB practice, start by finding a comfortable position laying down. Close your eyes, and begin doing deep breaths in through your nose, and out through your mouth.

Breathe in as deep as possible, breathe out as deep as possible. While, it may feel uncomfortable, keep pushing through the discomfort as you breathe this way for a few minutes.

If you begin to feel dizzy or light headed, take a break and collect yourself. If you start to over-think, just focus on your breath and try to calm into the present moment.

2. Pick Up the Pace

As you proceed with your deep inhales and exhales, now pick up the pace. Take a breath, and as soon as you inhale – immediately exhale, as soon as you exhale, immediately inhale (as hard as you possibly can).

It will feel like you’re not taking in much air, because you are hyper-oxygenating your lungs. Again, this will feel really uncomfortable, but push through and keep doing this until it becomes second nature.

3. Experience the Non-Ordinary

After a while you’ll begin to feel as though you’re in a highly meditative state, and you may experience sensations of light-headedness, closed-eye visuals (or colors), bliss, and heightened emotions. It’s recommended you do this for about an hour before completing your session.

As you begin to practice and refine your breath, your experience will begin to differ, and each time may be a completely unique journey.

Learn More

For other ways to tap into deeper levels of consciousness, different meditation modalities can also allow you to look within and achieve enlightenment.

From August 13-20th, world-renowned meditation instruction, Ben Decker, will be hosting a retreat at Rythmia – providing the tools necessary for you to “KNOW THYSELF”.

Declared by Conscious Lifestyle Magazine as “one of the world’s leading meditation teachers,” and praised by Well + Good as a “superstar meditation instructor,” Ben Decker has shared his love of meditation with thousands. Ben’s work is universal, well-rounded and rooted in ancient wisdom & modern pragmatism. His gift is facilitating the conditions for students to access their inner guidance, cultivating patience, discipline, and a deep sense of self-understanding and connection to others. In Los Angeles, Ben is a founding Meditation Teacher at Unplug Meditation, Wanderlust Hollywood, The Den Meditation & Mystic Journey.

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The Ancient Greek aphorism Know Thyself was said to have been written on the entrance to the front courtyard of the temple of Apollo, the god of Light. In Buddhist tradition, the state of cosmic wisdom and divine understanding is often referred to as Enlightenment. In the Judeo Christian Islamic traditions, we read that Light is the first creation of God.

Join us as we take the journey within, declaring the divine imperative in the darkest places of our inner worlds, saying with confidence, bravery and strength, “Let there be light!”

During Ben’s workshop, guests will explore:

– Refining the 6 Natural Senses of the Eastern Traditions to Deepen and Expand Consciousness

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– Compassionate Listening; Both Within the Temple of Our Own Mind, and the World Around Us

– The Principles of Self Care, Routine and Ritual to Support the Implementation of Transformational Insight

– The True Meaning & Implications of Unity, Reincarnation, and Prana

Guests will be guided through meditations designed to bring the individual into their present state in such a way that gestalt is invoked, facilitating the conditions for deep clarity, insight and inspiration. As an added benefit, Ben will share guidance on how to fully utilize your Rythmia experience for your best personal results. This includes participation in yoga, mindful eating practices, and luxurious health treatments to facilitate the peace and clarity of mind to explore what it means to examine our own psyches and confront our own unwanted behaviors. As the light of our awareness rests in the deepest corners of our minds, we begin to heal and grow beyond our past, our limitations, and our fears.

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu

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