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Holotropic Breathwork

by Kylea Taylor

Breath Holotropic Breathwork is a kind of breathwork that uses a prescribed set and setting. Certified facilitators provide information about nonordinary states of consciousness before participation, and a format for the breathing that includes evocative music, a reciprocating partnership in sitting and breathing sessions, art, focused energy release work, and group sharing for integration. The name holotropic is derived from Greek roots meaning moving toward wholeness.

Many experiences arise in the process of this work, but having breathwork experiences per se, (or any particular experience, such as rebirth or ecstasy) is not the purpose. The goals are wholeness, healing, and wisdom. Experiences are the means to these goals. When the body and mind enter a holotropic state through controlled breathing, 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 and that each of us has an Inner Healer which can best do its work in nonordinary states of consciousness.

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. In his book, Psychology of the Future, Grof puts it this way, "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 the holotropic state and by creating a safe context for participants to reconnect with self, others, the natural world, and spirit. One aspect of safe set and setting is that Holotropic Breathwork is usually done in a group context. Much corrective work that includes body contact and touch can be done in the safety of a group, while this is more difficult in one on one settings.

Another aspect of the safe context is a fairly open-ended session format. A principle of the Holotropic method is to allow the Inner Healer what it needs in terms of time and support to process the deep material that arises as the breath opens up the system. The basic principle of this work is to let the breath do the work. Only when the breather feels stuck in some way does the facilitator take a role, taking his or her clues from the breather and encouraging the breather to amplify the existing symptoms. While energy and awareness are held in this area, the subject is encouraged to express fully his or her reaction, whichever form it takes.

The Holotropic Breathwork experience is, for the most part, internal and largely nonverbal, without interventions. Although practitioners suggest to breathers at the beginning of the session that they increase the pace of the breath, breathers are also encouraged to find their own pace and rhythm with the breath. Thus, after the breathwork session begins, breathers are not "coached" in any particular way of breathing. The practitioners begin to play evocative or rhythmic music as the breathing deepens.

Stanislav Grof, M.D. is a psychiatrist with more than forty years of experience of research in psychotherapy and nonordinary states of consciousness. His professional career includes seven years as Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University and Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, as well as fourteen years as Scholar-in-Residence at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. He is one of the founders and chief theoreticians of transpersonal psychology and founding President of the International Transpersonal Association. Stanislav Grof and his staff in the Grof Transpersonal Training trained almost a thousand certified practitioners of Holotropic Breathwork, who are now practicing in many countries of the world.

Certification in the Grof Transpersonal Training requires about 600 hours of residential 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. Practitioners are trained in a way of "doing" that is called "not-doing"; that is, they become sensitized to refrain from any action on their part which is not purely facilitative of what is already happening with the breather. Rather than viewing Holotropic Breathwork as a technique, practitioners regard it as a simple, but safe, set and setting wherein breathers can dive into their internal exploration and find support for the infinitely vast scope of experiences that might arise. In addition to experiential training, The Grof Transpersonal Training also provides a broad range of didactic information on many issues that can arise as part of the work. Some of the subjects covered include: abnormal psychology, pharmacology, childhood sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, world cosmologies, theologies, shamanism, recent theories of physics and other sciences, astrology, alchemy, imagery in nonordinary states of consciousness, perinatal and transpersonal themes in art and culture, the psychological and philosophical meaning of death, psychic phenomena, the use of intuition in transpersonal work, meditation, case examples of unusual transpersonal experiences, and ethical issues relevant to working with those in holotropic states.

The material above was prepared by Kylea Taylor from her book, "The Breathwork Experience", "The Principles of Holotropic Breathwork" by Stanislav and Christina Grof, and Psychology of the Future by Stanislav Grof.

Reprinted with permission from the author.