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Sound TRACKS Column: Music for Holotropic Breathwork (February 2001)

by Ted Riskin, AHBI Vice-President
Edited and posted by Alysson TrofferThe Inner Door Editor, InnerDoor (at)

[Editor's Note: This lightly edited Sound TRACKS column was originally published in The Inner Door in February 2001. Links to are provided. We plan to republish these columns on an ongoing basis. See these suggestions about how to sample music online.]

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of CDs I’m dying to tell you about, but there are a few gems that have shown up over the last year or so. Let’s start with a release by one of our own, The Serpent's Lair by Steve Roach and Byron Metcalf, which is cool because it was created with our purposes in mind. This well-reviewed, double CD works well as ambient music, being interesting but mostly unobtrusive, and effectively creating some deep psychic spaces. The first five cuts on disc 1 are more dynamic and will work best in the first two hours of Holotropic Breathwork. A typical track has Byron and Steve laying down engaging percussion while Steve’s synths wash over the mix, although there are many variations, including processed vocals and talented guest artists. Some spots, for example cut 2 on disc 2, can take the adventurous to scary spaces, while the comforting repetitive beat keeps the more conservative breather grounded. Warning: I didn’t sufficiently appreciate this CD until I patched it into a mix and heard it loud in a big dark room with people processing on the floor.

Like Byron, Greg Ellis is a former rock and jazz drummer. Inspired by Mickey Hart to explore world percussion, he formed the duo Vas with Azam Ali in 1995, and they have released three albums with Holotropic Breathwork potential. For some reason, I find Ali’s singing to be pretentious (OK, maybe it’s my stuff), so I will next review instead two other projects that feature Ellis’s excellent percussion and female vocalists I can appreciate, Niya Yesh and Devotion.

Axiom of Choice is a Persian/world music hybrid group led by a great guitarist (including quarter-tone style) Loga Ramin Torkian and vocalist Mamak Khadem, who sings variously from her head, throat, and chest. Constructed in part around some samples recorded in India, their second CD, Niya Yesh, is wonderful throughout, offering a variety of moods and tempos. Though not an obvious Holotropic Breathwork piece, cut 1 is a masterful feel-good song that expertly conveys its title, “A Walk by the Lake.” Cut 2, though a little light in spots, keeps enough percussion going to work well in hour one. The third cut is deep and sweet, perfect for the third hour. With a little splicing, cut 4’s wailing vocals will fit into the second hour, and you can grab about four minutes of drumming from the end of cut 7.

Though it lacks the variety of Niya Yesh, Rasa’s album Devotion offers some good selections for the third hour. Based on Sanskrit chants and Bengali devotional songs, the music is smooth and lush, skillfully but not brilliantly performed. The cellist Hans Christian performs on a dozen eastern and western instruments, and Kim Waters’ vocals are grounded in a genuine love of the Vedic tradition. Cuts 1 and 7 are my favorites, followed by cuts 2 and 4.

Escaping the industrialism of Japan, the group Jalan Jalan celebrates the natural world with their album Bali. Complementing the mandatory gamelan are an assortment of flutes, gongs and other light percussion, keyboards, and nature sounds. This soothing minimalist music has the potential to transport you to the womb, or at least to a beautiful, quiet beach. Plus, you get free incense in the jewel case spine! I especially like cuts 1 and 7.

Another minimalist album to check out is Alina by Arvo Part. Despite having fewer notes than probably any CD I own, this music has a way of grabbing you. The five ten-minute tracks comprise two different pieces. If you listen with your head, “Spiegel im Spiegel,” performed twice with piano and violin and once with piano and cello, is a childish repetition of three-note arpeggios with an occasional added left hand and very slow, simplistic string accompaniment. Somehow, Part is able to encode abundant beauty, sadness, innocence, and longing in this structure. “Fur Alina” is a haunting, meandering piano solo performed twice (I can’t even begin to tell them apart), in which the silence communicates as much as the notes.

More third hour music can be found in Thomas Otten’s Close to Silence, although I think this French CD works even better as “walk-in music” at the beginning of a workshop or lecture. Otten is a counter-tenor, which basically means he sings like a girl (not really—more like a boy soprano with a deep voice). Frederic Momont, who does the composing and arranging, provides a variety of excellent vehicles for this amazing voice, ranging in feeling from hip-hop groove (my favorite) to sweet sadness to stately grace. When I’ve played this CD at the beginning of a workshop, people never fail to ask what it is so they can buy it.

Ted Riskin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist specializing in relationship issues and cognitive therapy. Along with his Grof Transpersonal Training (GTT) certification, he is also certified in Core Energetics, Internal Family Systems, Integration Process, hypnotherapy, and EMDR. He is on the faculties of Integration Concepts and the Institute of Core Energetics, and he presents workshops for therapists called “Body, Breath, and Spirit in Your Clinical Practice.” Since 1997, he has been facilitating holotropic workshops regularly in New Jersey, New York, and Florida, along with the occasional weekend retreat elsewhere. He served for eight years as the music editor for The Inner Door and five years as AHBI’s President.

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