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Q: What is Holotropic Breathwork?

Q: What are the origins of Holotropic Breathwork?
Q: Why do people choose Holotropic Breathwork?
Q: What are the benefits of Holotropic Breathwork?
Q: Who should practice Holotropic Breathwork?
Q: How many people have tried Holotropic Breathwork?
Q: What research has been conducted in the arena of Holotropic Breathwork?
Q: What can I expect during a Holotropic Breathwork session?
Q: How should I prepare for a Holotropic Breathwork session?
Q: What happens after a Breathwork session?
Q: How can I integrate my experience after a Breathwork session?
Q: How often should I do a Holotropic Breathwork session?
Q: What are the contraindications?
Q: How can I get more involved in Holotropic Breathwork?
Q: How can I train as a facilitator in Holotropic Breathwork?
Q: What are the physiological mechanisms in Holotropic Breathwork?

Q: What is Holotropic Breathwork?
The term holotropic is derived from Greek roots, holos, meaning “whole” and trepein, meaning “to
turn, lead, guide”. Thus, Holotropic Breathwork may be defined as “breathwork that leads to or
turns us toward wholeness”.

Holotropic Breathwork combines accelerated breathing with evocative music and close one-on-one
supervision in order to access insight and healing in non-ordinary states of consciousness.
Holotropic Breathwork is presented by facilitators certified by Grof Transpersonal Training.
With the eyes closed and lying on a mat, each person uses their own breathing – supported by the
music -- to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness. 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.

Entering a non-ordinary consciousness, in this context, activates the natural inner healing process,
generating experiences unique to each person for that particular time and place. Breathers often
experience recurring themes, but no two breathwork sessions are ever the same.

Holotropic Breathwork is usually done in a group context, although each person has an individual
experience. People work in pairs and alternate in the roles of “breather” and "sitter." The sitter's role
is simply to be available to assist the breather by providing blankets, pillows, tissues, etc., and not to
interfere or interrupt the process. The same is true for trained facilitators, who oversee the group
and step in to help when requested.

If requested by a breather, facilitators provide focused bodywork – or other forms of support – to
help breathers relieve tension or complete the experience. After the session, participants give
creative expression to what happened through mandala drawing, and then are invited to tell their
experiences to the group. These techniques help participants integrate the process.

During the sharing and discussion sessions, the facilitator does not give interpretations of the
material. The facilitator might simply ask the participant for further elaboration and clarification ,
i.e. his or her insights from the session. Jungian amplification—in the form of mythological and
anthropological references--can be very useful in understanding holotropic experiences and
mandalas. On occasion, references to the facilitator’s own experiences in the past or experiences of
other people might be appropriate.

Q: What are the origins of Holotropic Breathwork?
Stanislav Grof, M.D. and his wife, Christina Grof, developed this powerful and natural technique in
the mid-1970's from modern consciousness research and their study of ancient spiritual systems.

Dr. Grof is a psychiatrist with more than forty years of experience of research in psychotherapy and
non-ordinary states of consciousness. His early research was at the Psychiatric Research Institute in
Prague, where he was Principal Investigator of a program systematically exploring the heuristic and
therapeutic potential of LSD and other psychedelic substances. Later, Dr. Grof conducted
psychedelic research as Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University and Chief of Psychiatric
Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. He also spent fourteen years as Scholar-in-
Residence at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.

With the ban on the use of LSD for research purposes in the late 1960s, the Grofs developed
Holotropic Breathwork as a powerful drug-free way to access non-ordinary states of consciousness.
They began facilitating workshops in 1976 and offered their first structured training programs in
1987. Together they have facilitated Holotropic Breathwork sessions for more than 25,000 people
from 1987-1994. Stanislav Grof ’s many books, including Realms of the Human Unconscious
(1975), Beyond the Brain (1985), Psychology of the Future (2002), and The Ultimate Journey
(2006) have contributed to the steady rise of interest in the Holotropic Breathwork technique and
transpersonal psychology.

Christina Grof is the author of The Thirst for Wholeness, and together the Grofs’ authored The
Stormy Search for the Self, considered an indispensible guide for people experiencing psychospiritual
crisis (“spiritual emergency”) and their friends, families and caregivers.

Dr. Grof is one of the founders (with Abraham Maslow) and chief theoreticians of transpersonal
psychology, and he is the founding President of the International Transpersonal Association.
Stanislav Grof and his staff in the Grof Transpersonal Training have trained almost a thousand
certified practitioners of Holotropic Breathwork, who are now practicing in many countries around
the world.

Q: Why do people choose Holotropic Breathwork?
Holotropic Breathwork is based on the assumption that we all have a mechanism that serves as an
inner healer, a drive for pursuing wholeness, which can be accessed within a suitable context such
as Holotropic Breathwork provides. Anyone seeking healing for trauma, malaise, illness or
depression may benefit from the practice, as well as those seeking insight or guidance.

Participants regularly report that HB has helped them to: a) relieve chronic pain, b) shift
depression, c) release anger, d) improve medical conditions such as asthma, migraine, or premenstrual
tension, e) support recovery from addiction, f) receive intuitive insights, and g) clarify
troublesome areas of their lives. In addition, participants report that it helped them find meaning
and purpose in their life, get rid of negative thoughts, diminish their fear of death, release
accumulated stress and trauma, and a feel a sense of greater connection with physical, emotional,
and spiritual parts of themselves.

Q: What are the benefits of Holotropic Breathwork?
In his book, Psychology of the Future, Stanislav Grof, co-founder of Holotropic Breathwork
explains, "in holotropic states, we can transcend the narrow boundaries of the body ego and reclaim
our full identity." Holotropic Breathwork assists this process by inducing a non-ordinary state of
consciousness in a safe context, enabling participants to reconnect with self, others, the natural
world, and spirit.

When the body and mind enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness through controlled breathing,
in an appropriate context, the inner wisdom uses the opportunity to work toward physical, mental,
emotional, and spiritual healing, and developmental change. Holotropic Breathwork operates under
the principle that we are our own best healers, in that each of us has an inner healing mechanism,
which can best do its work in non-ordinary states of consciousness.

Q: Who should practice Holotropic Breathwork?
Anyone who wants to:

• access healing and insight
• expand his or her consciousness
• tap into more creativity
• release stress or anxiety
• move past stuckness and re-energize their life
• release emotional or physical symptoms and unproductive behavior patterns
• transform the negative side effects of long-forgotten events buried deep in their unconscious.
• heal trauma
• connect more deeply or get in touch with their spiritual essence
• be supported through a period of mourning or grieving
• explore feelings about the state of the world around them
• work through physical illness by exploring emotional issues associated with the illness
• discover their higher calling or vocation
• experience mystical states
• move on from depression
• overcome feelings of discouragement, listlessness, or disorientation
• become empowered
• deepen their capacity to support themselves and their loved ones
• access their inner wisdom and intuition
• know themselves more deeply
• create a more fulfilling life

Q: How many people have tried Holotropic Breathwork?
As of January 2009 there were 619 Facilitators trained and certified by Grof Transpersonal Training
offering workshops in 36 countries. AHBI estimates that, in the twenty years since the first training
group graduated in 1988, approximately 100,000 individuals have experienced Holotropic
Breathwork. Internal research suggests participants, on average, return for an average of 10
sessions each; thus at least one million Holotropic Breathwork sessions have taken place the past
two decades.

Q: What research has been conducted in the area of Holotropic Breathwork?
Over 37 papers, by scholars and researchers in many countries, address and examine the healing
potential of HB; these include peer-reviewed articles, dissertations and scholarly papers.The
following are conclusions reached by researchers in peer-reviewed journal research:

• In 1994, Spivak et al analysed the dynamics of brain evoked potentials concluding,
“Consciousness alterations, occurring during HB, have not only phenomenal features but
also physiological correlates”.

• In 1995, Terekhin tested the external respiration function in HB during the course of
psychotherapeutic treatment. In conclusion Terekhin states: “The results of the tests on
external respiration during the HB(W) psychotherapeutic treatment confirm the nonordinary
consciousness inducing mechanisms described in this work”.

• In 1996, Sarah Holmes et al investigated in a controlled study the relationship between
the use of HB and therapeutic changes in levels of distress associated with self-identified
problems, death anxiety, self esteem, and sense of affiliation with others. In conclusion
Holmes states: “The HB group showed significant reductions in death anxiety and
increases in self esteem compared with the control group…” and “…results suggest that
experiential approaches to psychotherapy may be useful in ameliorating some types of
psychological problems.”

• In 2003 Binarova investigated the effect of a single or repeated Holotropic Breathwork
session on certain personality properties, attitudes, and values orientations. In
conclusion, Binarova states: “Subjectively, all participants evaluated the experience from
the Holotropic Breathwork session as contributing to better communication with people,
to a deeper knowledge of the surrounding world, and to a higher acceptance of
previously rejected opinions and thoughts.”

Additionally, multiple peer-reviewed journal articles and papers on the topic of Holotropic
Breathwork have been published in recent years, including Rhinewine (2007), Robedee (2008).
Visit the Research section of the AHBI website a to find out more.

Q: What can I expect during a Holotropic Breathwork session?
Holotropic Breathwork combines use of controlled breathing, music, and body work with an
intention to heal. The process involves working in pairs where one person is in the role of
“breather” and the other takes the role of "sitter". Sessions last for two to three hours. The sitter's
role is simply to be available to assist the breather, not to interfere or interrupt the process. The
same is true for trained facilitators, who are available as helpers if necessary.

Breathers lie down on mats on the floor while the sitter sits nearby. Participants are advised that it is
better not to have a goal or specific agenda when beginning a breathwork, but rather to trust that
whatever happens is the best outcome for healing. The facilitators lead a guided relaxation to help
the breather relax the body in preparation for the breathing. The Holotropic Breathwork experience
is, for the most part, internal and largely nonverbal, without interventions. Although facilitators
suggest to breathers, at the beginning of the session, that they increase the pace and depth of the
breath, breathers are also encouraged to find their own pace and rhythm. Thus, after the breathwork
session begins, breathers are not "coached" in any particular way of breathing. The facilitators play
evocative or rhythmic music as the breathing deepens.

With the help of the breath, evocative music, a safe atmosphere, relaxation, and a willingness to
embrace the experiences, breathers are guided by their own inner healing function to whatever
experience will bring them healing and transformation.

The music continues for two to three hours. Sitters watch over their breather, providing a sense of
shelter and support. During the breathwork process, the breather can have quite a wide range of
possible experiences. What is visible from the outside varies. Some people are very still while
others rock, cry out, or move to the music. Experiences can include a variety of physical sensations,
deep feelings of joy or serenity, “yogic sleep,” meditative states, or re-experiencing and releasing
trauma or traumas or the birth process. Some people report encounters with mythic or archetypal
storylines, past-life experiences, or direct spiritual or religious awakenings. Many see emotionally
charged visual images, feel energy moving through their bodies, receive intuitive insights, and
clarify troublesome issues in their lives.

Often participants report that they release accumulated stress, release emotions from old traumas,
gain an increased trust in themselves and their bodies, and feel that they have understood and can
now transcend old patterns of behavior that have brought unwanted results.

The experiences vary from individual to individual and from session to session. The same
individual will often have different experiences each time he or she does Breathwork.

At the end of the session, the facilitator checks in with the breather. If the breathwork has not
resolved all of the emotional and physical tensions activated during the session, the facilitator may
offer focused work to help release any stuck energy .

Q: How should I prepare for a Holotropic Breathwork session?
You might want to read an introductory book by Stanislav Grof, such as The Holotropic Mind or
The Adventure of Self-Discovery, to get a deeper understanding of the process. Stan and Christina
also published the book Holotropic Breathwork together in 2010, which is dedicated to this technique. 
Get in touch with a facilitator near you, ask any questions you have, and make sure that you have a
good feeling of trust with that facilitator.
(Many facilitators offer introductory talks that are open to the public.) Be sure
that you have discussed, in advance, any possible medical contraindications. If you are currently in
therapy, it is a good idea to talk about your intention to attend a Holotropic Breathwork workshop
with your therapist in advance.

In the week prior to attending a workshop, you might find that you start to dream more vividly, feel
more emotional, or even some fear or anxiety about attending the workshop. This is all normal:
your unconscious is aware that you are about to go on an adventure. Some of these feelings could
simply be resistance to change, and others could be the “first edge” of the holotropic process
making an appearance.

Before attending a workshop, it is helpful to plan for your return to your regular environment.
Returning to a pleasant, relaxed and loving environment, will allow you space and support to
integrate whatever has taken place in your psyche during the Breathwork session. In anticipation of
your process, you may want to create a sacred space at home, arrange to stay with a sympathetic
friend, or at least alert your family that you will need some space.

By all means, do not plan to attend a party or an important meeting – or any occasion at which you
have to ‘perform’ -- on the evening after your workshop. You will need some quiet time to be with
your thoughts and feelings. It’s also a good idea to arrange to have a day off, or at least a very light
schedule, for a day or two after the workshop. You might also want to schedule, in advance, a
follow-up massage or other form of bodywork, which might help you integrate the experience
afterwards. Many people find that, for about a week following a workshop, they have heightened
sensitivities (emotional and physical), and an increased need for reflective time, so it is best to plan
for this in advance.

Q: What happens after a Breathwork session?
When the breathwork session is complete, the breather is invited to paint or draw what happened
during their session within the form of a circle, called a "mandala.” Those who wish to share what
happened in their Breathwork session, often using this mandala as a map or guide, are given the
opportunity to do so in small groups. These groups provide a supportive and non-judgmental
environment in which the breather can begin to integrate her or his experience.

Q: How can I integrate my experience after a Breathwork session?
Exploration of images and insights received allows Breathwork participants to integrate them more
fully and deeply into daily life. People do this in a variety of ways, including psychotherapy,
bodywork, creative expression, dance, meditation, and prayer. It’s a good idea to keep your
mandala present and look at it, or contemplate it, often: it will keep teaching you. If you are feeling
spacey or ungrounded after a workshop, it’s a good idea to use your body, do some gardening, and
eat heavier food. Alternately, you may feel the need to de-tox: to eat lightly, meditate more, take
lots of baths. If you have any concerns about how you feel or your state-of-mind after a workshop,
please contact your facilitator to discuss this.

Other modalities like direct body sensing, inquiry, naming, and allowing also help people learn to
trust their own inner wisdom to guide their healing process.

The Inner Door journal has published several articles about integration, including:

Integrating Insights from Breathwork, by Julien Devereux Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
and Holotropic Breathwork and Integration of the Breathwork Experience, by Sandra Phocas, Part 1 and Part 2.

Q: How often should I do a Holotropic Breathwork session?
There is no ‘right’ answer here. Some people have a life-changing experience in their very first HB
session, and feel no need for another session. Some people, if they are in an active or intense
healing process, might choose to do HB regularly – sometimes as often as once or twice per month,
during this acute phase of their process. Many people feel that HB gives a boost to their regular
form of therapy, so they will do a HB session perhaps every six months, or whenever they feel
blocked, and then explore the insights from that session in the following months with their
therapists. Other people consider HB to be their primary form of therapy, or might attend a
workshop every couple of months to relieve stress and maintain contact with their inner life. Many
HB participants find that it opens the door to a particular spiritual path, one that feels authentic to them,
and they then stop doing HB to focus more on that spiritual path.
Then again, for others, HB is their spiritual practice.

Q: What are the contraindications?
Because this workshop can promote strong physical and emotional release, it is not advised for
persons with a history of cardiovascular disease, including angina or heart attack, high blood
pressure, glaucoma, retinal detachment, osteoporosis, significant recent physical injuries or surgery.
This workshop is also not advised for persons with severe mental illness or seizure disorders or for
persons using major medications. It is also unsuitable for anyone with a personal or family history
of aneurisms. Pregnant women are advised against taking this workshop. Persons with asthma
should bring their inhaler and consult with the facilitators. Persons with infectious or communicable
diseases are asked to avoid Holotropic Breathwork.

This workshop is deeply experiential. It may involve intense and energetic emotional release. The
workshop does not substitute for psychotherapy, but it can significantly deepen and enhance
psychotherapy and other healing and personal growth efforts.

Q: How can I get more involved in Holotropic Breathwork?
Start by participating in the AHBI online community, asking questions, and getting to know people.
Or find a Holotropic Breathwork™ facilitator near you, go to an introductory talk, try a workshop
or attend a training module – no experience is required. You can find facilitators, workshops, or
upcoming in the Events section at And by joining AHBI (Association for Holotropic
Breathwork International) you will be supporting the development of Holotropic Breathwork.

Q: How can I train as a facilitator in Holotropic Breathwork?
Certification in the GTT (Grof Transpersonal Training) requires about 600 hours of training that
takes at least two years to complete. This allows time for integration of the life-changing material
that inevitably arises when people do breathwork over an extended period and provides a
community context for support of rapid change.

All of the training modules are six-day residential retreats. Some of them do not require any
previous experience with Holotropic Breathwork (or an application to the training) and may be
taken by anyone with an interest in Holotropic Breathwork. Each person can participate at their own
pace depending on their own process, available time, and financial considerations. Modules are held
at retreat centers in the United States and many other international locations.

For those who wish to become certified, there are two tracks, Educational and Practitioner. Both
require attendance at seven modules (four on required topics and three optional), and a two-week
closing intensive. In addition, the training includes ten hours of consultation with a certified
practitioner and an additional150 total hours (including those done before starting the training) of
participation in HB workshops led by Stan Grof or a certified practitioner. In addition, those
wishing to become independent workshop leaders (Practitioners), must apprentice at least four
times at workshops with previously certified practitioners before leading groups of their own.
Practitioner certification is not guaranteed, but is at the discretion of Stan Grof and the training
staff. For more information on training as a facilitator, visit

Q: What are the physiological mechanisms in Holotropic Breathwork? (excerpt) from Holotropic Breathwork, Stanislav and Christina Grof, 2010, SUNY, pages 161-163

Many people assume that when we breathe faster, we simply bring more oxygen into the body and into the brain; they believe that this is the mechanism responsible for the experiences in Holotropic Breathwork sessions. But—due to intricate homeostatic mechanisms operating in the human body—the situation is actually much more complicated. It is true that faster breathing brings more air and thus oxygen into the lungs, but it also eliminates carbon dioxide (CO2). Since CO2 is acidic, reducing its content in blood increases the alkalinity of the blood, more specifically the alkalinity/acidity index called pH. The blood pigment hemoglobin binds more oxygen in an acidic milieu and less in an alkaline milieu. This is a compensatory homeostatic mechanism that guarantees effective oxygen supply during physical exertion, which is typically associated with increased production of acidic metabolic products. The alkalosis during rapid breathing thus leads to reduced oxygen transfer to the tissues. This in turn triggers a homeostatic mechanism that works in the opposite direction: the kidneys excrete urine that is more alkaline to compensate for this change.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that certain areas in the body, including he brain, can respond to faster breathing by vasoconstriction, which naturally causes a reduction of the oxygen supply. Observations in Holotropic Breathwork sessions have shown that this is not a mandatory built-in response of these organs to faster breathing. Where this vasoconstriction occurs and how intense it will be reflects the involvement of these organs in traumatic situations in the individual’s past. It tends to disappear when a person relives and works through the memory of these events. The physiological changes also depend on the type of breathing involved. Deep breathing leads to a more complete exchange of gasses in the lungs, while shallow breathing leaves a significant part of the gases in the “dead space,” so that less oxygen reaches the pulmonary capillaries and less carbon dioxide (CO2) is expelled from the lungs.

As we have seen, the physiological mechanisms activated by faster breathing are quite complex and it is not easy to evaluate the overall biochemical situation in an individual case without a battery of specific laboratory examinations. However, if we take all the aforementioned physiological mechanisms into consideration, the situation of people during Holotropic Breathwork very likely resembles that of being in high mountains, where there is less oxygen and the CO2 level is decreased by compensatory faster breathing. The cerebral cortex, being the youngest part of the brain from an evolutionary point of view, is generally more sensitive to a variety of influences (such as alcohol and anoxia) than the older parts of the brain. This situation would thus cause inhibition of the cortical functions and intensified activity in the archaic parts of the brain, making the unconscious processes more available.

Many individuals, as well as entire cultures, that live in extreme altitudes are known for their advanced spirituality. Examples are the yogis in the Himalayas, the Tibetan Buddhists, and the Peruvian Incas. It is therefore tempting to attribute their advanced spirituality to the fact that, in an atmosphere with lower content of oxygen, they have easier access to holotropic experiences. However, we again have to take into consideration the intricate homeostatic mechanisms operating in the human body. While short-term exposure to high altitude might be comparable to Holotropic Breathwork, an extended stay in high elevations triggers physiological adaptations, such as increased production of red blood cells. The acute situation during Holotropic Breathwork might, therefore, not be directly comparable to an extended stay in high mountains.

In any case, there is a long way from the description of the physiological changes in the brain to the extremely rich array of phenomena that Holotropic Breathwork induces, such as authentic experiential identification with animals, archetypal visions, or past life memories. This situation is similar to the problem of explaining the psychological effects of LSD and other psychedelics. The fact that both of these methods can induce transpersonal experiences in which there is access to accurate new information about the universe through extrasensory channels shows that the matrices for these experiences are not contained in the brain.

Aldous Huxley, after having experienced psychedelic states with mescaline and LSD-25, came to the conclusion that our brain cannot possibly be the source of these experiences. He suggested that it functions more like a reducing valve that shields us from an infinitely larger cosmic input. The concepts, such as “memory without a material substrate” (von Foerster 1965), Sheldrake’s “morphogenetic fields” (Sheldrake 1981), and Laszlo’s “psi or Akashic fi eld” (Laszlo 1993, 2004) bring important support for Huxley’s idea and make it increasingly plausible.


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