Holotropic Breathwork: an Ally for Psychedelic Revival

The adventures in consciousness with Holotropic Breathwork are comparable to the use of psychedelic medicines without the use of a chemical entheogen. The breather/sitter pair format provides participants with the experience of being a witness/therapist for another’s journey. This is useful for those considering a career as a psychedelic therapist in the post prohibition era. An advantage of HB in the current era is that it has no legal restrictions as many of the psychedelic medicines still do. Facilitators trained to use breathwork as a psychedelic medicine to the standard set by Stan and Christina Grof are unfortunately rare though there is a global training program and community.

The Canadian Holotropic Breathwork Network was launched to ensure that Canadians have access to Holotropic BreathworkTM (HB) for psycho-spiritual healing and self-development. The intention is to promote HB as a standard for using breath as a psychedelic medicine, to promote HB training, facilitators and events, to support collaborative research and to raise funds for these purposes.

The renaissance of psychedelic medicine research is leading more people to Stan Grof’s work and HB but its similar ties to psychedelic medicines are not widely understood. HB is different to breathing exercises practiced in ‘ordinary’ or regular states of consciousness, such as the martial arts, yoga and meditation techniques that the public is familiar with. Ordinary states of consciousness are what we use to navigate the reality of everyday life from the ordinary activities of daily living to extraordinary activities with consequences, such as landing airplanes. Breathing practices enhance ordinary states of consciousness and performance generally through their ability to enhance physical, mental and spiritual states of well being. In HB, breathing is deliberately deeper and faster than in normal breathing and it is this, combined with powerful and evocative music, which leads to safe brain changes that create the altered or non-ordinary state of consciousness.

HB, like other psychedelic medicines, can have a great impact on our everyday states of consciousness and our health as it addresses deeper layers of the psyche and body. A healing mechanism of the deep psyche is activated by HB, as it is with all the psychedelic medicines. When he first started offering Holotropic Breathwork Workshops, Stan Grof himself was astonished that people could have as powerful and comparable an experience without drugs and only with the use of the breath as they could in an LSD session. Sometimes he thought that a participant must have brought their own drug to a workshop and to his amazement they had not. It is similarly surprising to most participants in their first workshop that most people with no more than an introductory talk and the setting of the workshop can achieve a non-ordinary state that activates the inner healing mechanism as if an entheogen was used.

Achieving and sustaining the non-ordinary state with HB requires the features that are characteristic of all safe psychedelic sessions – safety, trust, support and understanding the terrain of the holotropic consciousness. The override of ordinary consciousness is not as consistently powerful as when chemical entheogens are used, so the experience depends on adherence to the workshop design and use of the breath. The breath needs be used powerfully as an entheogen by an informed participant. The powerful musical soundscape is essential to many participants, as are the facilitation and integration features to return to ordinary states, having completed the experience activated by the process. The requirements of set and setting that are critical for the safe use of all psychedelic medicines, are as rigorous, if not more so, to support the HB experience.

– This article was co-authored by Dr. Ingrid Pacey & Carolyn J Green, PhD, Jan 5, 2018.