by Sandra Phocas, M.D.
Edited and posted by Alysson Troffer, The Inner Door Editor, InnerDoor (at) ahbi.org
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published in The Inner Door in May 2008. Also see Part 2 of this article.]
The nature of transformative inner experiences is that they become a part of one’s whole life, evolving a new way of being in the world. Then, too, we discover that not only are we healing ourselves, but we are healing the world.
For those of us who attend Holotropic Breathwork workshops, the above is ideally what happens, what we hope for. But it is not guaranteed. In addition to opening ourselves to holotropic states and experiences, we must also process and integrate those experiences in order to carry them into our lives and into the world. Sometimes, this happens fairly naturally over time; sometimes, it requires significant work on our part; always, it is helped along by our awareness and attention.
What is the process of integration? As breathers, what can help us integrate our experiences? For those of us who are also facilitators, what guidance might we offer our workshop participants about integration?
Integration is the process of combining separate elements into a balanced whole. So, it is truly about moving toward wholeness. Of course, integration is not an event, but an ongoing process, not only related to our Holotropic Breathwork sessions (or other holotropic states), but all of the experiences of our lives and all of the aspects of ourselves. It is a process that I can point toward, but cannot truly explain or describe. It is part of the mystery of existence, of what comprises our lives and our reality.
So, I will speak of those aspects that can be put into words, while acknowledging the larger process that cannot. Although I will speak specifically about Holotropic Breathwork here, the information can also be applied in a larger context of integration. I will describe both specific activities that can be helpful post-breathwork, in the context of further processing as well as integration, and also some larger perspectives to keep in mind when you walk this path of moving toward wholeness in the world.
The Return to Daily Life
Holotropic states bring us experiences that connect us to our Self in the largest sense and with the entire Universe of which we are a part (and also one with). But holotropic experiences take place in a non-ordinary state of consciousness. In the return to daily life, we usually need to be in an ordinary state of consciousness to navigate the outer world in which we live and work. When we are operating in an ordinary state of consciousness and are busy in the world, the events from our holotropic state might seem distant and dreamlike. It might be easy at those times to think of what happened as just some experience you had over the weekend, and now you’re back to your “normal” life. Not always, of course—sometimes, the experiences we have are still quite vivid afterward and continue to have a powerful presence; sometimes, the process is still unfolding intensely; sometimes, we are ungrounded and don’t return readily from the non-ordinary state.
Whatever our state after the holotropic experience, time and space are needed for integration of the experience into our whole self and into our hylotropic (ordinary) reality. What else is needed varies, naturally, from person to person and session to session.
The first and a key element to approaching integration is the same way one approaches work on the breathwork mat: to trust the process and honor its unique unfolding. Your mind might have many ideas of what is needed or what things mean, but it is not always able to know what needs to unfold further or how many levels of meaning and impact there are for certain experiences. It is important after Holotropic Breathwork to find ways to listen to all aspects of self—mind, body, heart, and spirit—as well as to be kind and nurturing to self. Allowing time to just be with oneself is crucial both to give inner space for all that is shifting and to discern some of the internal experiences that need attention.
What can help one to be open to all parts of self? Various forms of meditation and prayer, and especially mindfulness meditation, can be helpful, as well as meditative activities in nature. Activities or processes that help us access the unconscious are quite useful as well, such as dreamwork, Sandplay therapy, free writing, and drawing. Accessing what is in the body through bodywork, stretching, or spontaneous movement can also be informative (as well as healing and integrative).
If it is unclear what is needed, start with grounding activities and then continue to check in internally. For myself, a common problem, especially early on in my Holotropic Breathwork life, was being ungrounded after breathwork sessions. When I was ungrounded, I could not really discern anything about my needs as I wasn’t present enough in my body to perceive them, and I tended to be easily lost in emotion. Thus, one common thread in my own integrative process was focusing on grounding myself. Over and over again. The most useful way I grounded myself was by sitting on the earth and imagining roots extending down into the earth. (Actually, many times I would end up on my belly, facedown on the earth, in my desperation to hold on somehow. It was always helpful.)
Other grounding tools include eating heavy foods, including protein and root vegetables; stretching or yoga; mindfulness meditation—especially walking meditation; other ways of connecting with the earth, such as gardening or hiking; bathing or swimming; and—very important along with the rest—the intention of grounding. Talking with others if you are ungrounded can also be of great help, as well as being nurturing to self.
Sandra Phocas is a shamanic practitioner and Holotropic Breathwork facilitator in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She began her journey training and working in Western medicine as a psychiatrist, followed by years of passionately pursuing training in a variety of deep healing work. She certified as a Holotropic Breathwork practitioner in 2003. She also facilitates Holotropic Breathwork workshops in Maryland, Virginia, and New York. She can be found on the web at www.Co-CreativeEvolution.com.
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