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What Is Holotropic Breathwork™?

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  • Written By: Donn Saylor
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2014
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Holotropic Breathwork™ is a type of breathing utilized to open altered states of consciousness. It was created by one of the founders of transpersonal psychology, Stanislav Grof, PhD, and Christina Grof as a technique to explore the self and employ healing through various nontraditional means. Eastern mysticism, anthropology, and depth psychologies are just a few of the fields from which Holotropic Breathwork™ was developed.

In the early part of his career, Dr. Grof conducted research into the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on the human brain. He was particularly interested in the way the mind was expanded by the use of the drug, allowing access to atypical states of consciousness. With the outlawing of LSD for research purposes during the 1960s, Grof searched for a way to continue this research via non-chemically induced means. This led to the creation of Holotropic Breathwork™, which does not include any drugs and is achieved primarily through a special system of breathing techniques.

The term "holotropic" is derived from two Greek words that illustrate the intent of holotropic breathing. "Holo" is a form of holos, meaning whole. "Tropic" comes from the Greek word trepein, which means moving in a direction toward something. The marrying of these two terms gives an indication of the goal of Holotropic Breathwork™, which encourages users to move toward a more whole state of being by employing breathing exercises.

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During a Holotropic Breathwork™ session, an individual is relaxed and comfortable, typically lying on a mat. The eyes are closed and specially chosen music is playing softly in the background. The practitioner leads the individual through a series of breathing techniques, which chiefly entail the acceleration of the breath. With the guidance of the practitioner, the individual is then able to enter into altered states of consciousness, accessing the psyche and instigating the healing process.

This type of body psychotherapy can induce any number of experiences, from the hallucinatory to the mystical. In the state known as biographical and individual unconscious, an individual can gain entry to repressed traumas and unresolved emotional issues. The state of sensory and somatic includes hallucinations, visualizations, and body movements. In the transpersonal state, out-of-body experiences may be undergone, or past lives may be revealed. The perinatal state allows the individual to recall his or her birth.

Those who have experienced Holotropic Breathwork™ cite a number of healthful benefits, including healing on the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. They have also reported enhanced relationships with others and with themselves. Many point to the practice's transcendent potential in learning to relate to the body and the self.

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