To understand how holotropic breathwork emerged as a new approach to mental health and well-being, first we must look at transpersonal psychology.
With a holistic and integrative perspective on the human mind, transpersonal psychology extends psychological research to the spiritual dimension of existence, focusing on the study of ‘states’ and the processes in which people experience a deeper connection with their inner world and the essential aspects of the surrounding environment.
This new approach promotes the development and exploration of all the inner resources that could help us achieve personal, emotional, and spiritual growth.
Transpersonal psychology considers the whole spectrum of human experiences, including psychopathology, existentialism, and spiritual enlightenment. Its theories and explanatory models do not result from research on mental illness but instead, focus on the experiences of healthy individuals who seek growth on all levels.
In short, this approach represents a psychology of human health and potential.
Having an open attitude towards alternative practices, transpersonal psychologists and psychotherapists have experimented with fascinating techniques such as holotropic breathwork.
Holotropic Breathwork: What is it?
Holotropic breathing belongs to holistic therapies which approach the human individual as a complete system, capable of self-healing.
This technique, which combines evocative music, accelerated breathing, and guidance from a licensed practitioner, can help us achieve awareness and healing through higher states of consciousness.
Holotropic breathwork is a simple and powerful tool that can help people gain valuable knowledge directly from experience – the true nature of our being and reality. It is a gateway through which we can step directly into human experience.
By expanding our consciousness, holotropic breathing allows us to perceive more of the reality around us, more of what we think we are.
Increased body awareness, recollection of memories from childhood, birth, and prenatal life, historical and archetypal elements of collective consciousness – this is what holotropic breathwork aims to explore.
Holotropic Breathwork Theory
Founded by Stanislav Grof, holotropic breathwork relies on the theories and explanatory models of transpersonal psychology.
According to this approach, human experience extends far beyond what we can measure and quantify.
Under some circumstances, the human mind – which is one of the most complex elements in the entire known universe – is capable of integrating and processing spiritual experiences that we aren’t typically aware of.
How Does Holotropic Breathwork Suggest the Mind Works?
When it comes to psychopathology, this technique is based on the idea that mental illness can sometimes result from past trauma.
But since these traumatic events linger at subconscious levels, the only way to achieve healing is by engaging in the process of self-exploration and self-discovery. You must explore the depths of your consciousness and determine the underlying origin of your illness.
Experts in holotropic breathwork claim this technique can generate unusual states of consciousness which can produce a series of potentially healing experiences.
How Does Holotropic Breathwork Cause Change?
If we believe there’s more to human experience than what we can observe and measure, then exploring the depths of our consciousness should help us gain a better understanding of ourselves.
Through self-discovery, we can come to terms with our painful past and access our inner potential. As a result, we achieve healing by freeing ourselves from the limitations of rational thinking and immersing in a broader spectrum of understanding and living.
What Happens in a Holotropic Breathwork Session?
During a holotropic breathing session, it’s crucial to create a place where clients feel safe enough to immerse themselves in sensations, experiences, and visions that may occur during the session.
A holotropic breathing session usually takes place in groups, but you can also opt for individual sessions. By working in pairs of two, clients can switch between the roles of practitioner and assistant.
The assistant provides compassion and attention but does not intervene in the process. He or she’s primary role is to “smooth the path” on which the practitioner chooses to go.
Regarding the rhythm or style of breathing, there are no specific rules or guidelines. Each practitioner is free to whatever breathing technique they find most relaxing. That’s because. Despite its name, holotropic breathing is not about breathing but the internal experience of the practitioner.
To ensure the entire process is as smoothly, safely, rewarding as possible, each session is supervised by a professional counselor who will provide support when needed.
Techniques Used in Holotropic Breathwork
The three primary elements of holotropic breathwork are breathing, evocative music, and guidance.
Breathing techniques help the clients detach from the outside world and achieve a state of profound relaxation that opens the door to more profound levels of consciousness.
Since music is known to induce profound emotional reactions, evocative tunes play an essential role in holotropic breathwork.
A holotropic breathing session takes about 2-3 hours. At the end of the session, each client is asked to express the experiences they had, in a creative manner. Drawing is one of the most popular ways in which clients depict their inner experiences.
Insights are then shared with the group, but without any feedback or interpretations from the counselor.
Does Holotropic Breathwork Work?
Considering its significant focus on spirituality and unusual state of consciousness, holotropic breathwork (HB) has received harsh criticism from the scientific community.
But while this new approach doesn’t have the same solid scientific background as other therapies, we can’t deny the fact that many have managed to ease their emotional struggles and achieve well-being.
Though still being in an early developmental phase, some experts suggest holotropic breathing may be an excellent add-on to psychotherapy. 
Furthermore, researchers believe that by cultivating a state of profound self-awareness, holotropic breathing may facilitate positive changes and self-growth. As one study concluded, HB can induce very beneficial temperament changes, which can have positive effects on development of character, measured as an increase in self-awareness. 
Overall, holotropic breathwork is a promising new technique which aims to promote health and well-being by following a holistic approach and integrating all the aspects of human experience into one unified image.
What Kinds of Concerns is Holotropic Breathwork Best For?
Most people who’ve tried holotropic breathing said this technique helped them get out of depression, alleviate chronic pain, relieve medical conditions such as migraines or asthma, and recover from addictions.
Holotropic breathwork is the deal approach for people who want to:
- Gain enlightenment and healing
- Access extended states of consciousness
- Heal traumas
- Free themselves from anxiety and stress
- Manage dysfunctional behaviors
- Build resilience in the face of unpleasant symptoms caused by medical conditions
- Overcome a painful moment of life
- Discover the resources to achieve personal and professional growth
- Experience mystical states
- Explore the spiritual aspects of their life
- Gain a profound understanding of themselves
- Live a happier and fuller life.
Whether you’re struggling with some form of inner turmoil or merely interested in getting to know yourself better, holotropic breathwork can help you achieve both health and growth.
How Are Holotropic Breathwork Specialists Trained?
Many holotropic breathwork specialists go for a B.A. in Psychology before beginning their training.
Becoming a certified holotropic breathwork specialist takes about 600 hours, depending on the program you choose. Before you can assist others in healing their emotional wounds and discovering the depths of their consciousness, you must first take this journey yourself.
By working side by side with other specialists in the field, you develop the experience and skills to become a certified practitioner.
One of the most effective and highly regarded programs is the Grof Transpersonal Training which offers both extensive courses on transpersonal psychology and practical therapeutic strategies such as holotropic breathing.
Concerns/Limitations of Holotropic Breathwork
Since it emphasizes the importance of spirituality, some researchers and mental health professionals have rejected holotropic breathwork as a viable option for treating mental illness. However, countless individuals claim this technique have produced positive changes in their lives.
Considering holotropic breathwork sessions can involve accelerated breathing and hyperventilation, this technique is not indicated for people with high blood pressure, history of cardiovascular disease, retinal detachment, glaucoma, osteoporosis, and people under medical treatment. 
Lastly, the cost may also be a problematic factor. With variables such as insurance coverage, the location where sessions take place, and the total duration of the intervention (which can expand over several months) holotropic breathwork might be too expensive for some people to afford it.
Important Practitioners in Holotropic Breathwork
Although many know Stanislav Grof as the pioneer who experimented with LSD to treat mental illness, the Czech psychologist was also a strong advocate of transpersonal psychology and the founder of holotropic breathwork.
In fact, he began developing this new technique after the use of LSD was prohibited in the United States. Following the same transpersonal theories that lead him to experiment with LSD, Grof used breathing as an alternative way to reach higher states of consciousness.
Wilhelm Reich was an Austrian medical doctor and psychoanalyst. He was among the first generations of analysts that to follow Sigmund Freud’s theories.
But his curiosity and works went far beyond the classical theories of psychoanalysis. In fact, Reich was one of the founders of body-oriented therapy, an approach which saw body movement as an expression of our inner world.
Considered by many as one of the founders of transpersonal psychology, the American psychologist and parapsychologist was determined to explore the origin of human consciousness.
Throughout his career, he wrote extensive works on altered states of consciousness, out-of-body experiences, and the inner workings of the human consciousness.
How to Find a Therapist
Being a popular therapeutic approach, finding a counselor or therapist licensed in holotropic breathwork shouldn’t be too complicated.
But since your health and well-being are on the line, you should do a serious background check on the specialist you want to work with.
What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?
As we mentioned earlier, top mental health professionals should have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, nursing or any other related field. 
Aside from that, licensed specialists must have extensive knowledge and training in transpersonal psychology and holotropic breathwork, plus the required certification.
Lastly, certified counselors and therapists who focus on holotropic breathwork should be on listed in The Grof Foundation’s web-based registry.
Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist
Here are some questions you can ask your potential therapist to make sure he/she is the right one for you:
- What is your academic background?
- Where did you receive your certification in holotropic breathwork?
- What are the issues you usually work with during your sessions?
- Does The Grof Foundation recognize your certification?
Find a Therapist Now
If you think holotropic breathing might be the answer to the problems that have been bothering you for too long or if you want to grow (mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), then go ahead and book your first session.
The best place to start looking for a holotropic breathing expert is The Grof Foundation. There you will find plenty of licensed professionals from across the world, who can deliver this technique safely and effectively.
Final Thoughts on Holotropic Breathwork
In a nutshell, holotropic breathwork is both a controversial and fascinating technique.
The therapeutic goal of holotropic breathing is to widen our awareness by accessing extended states of consciousness, this states in which we are no longer constrained by the bodily and mental aspects of our being.
Although the rational mind might not understand where the positive change comes from, our body and our spiritual self can quickly recognize and experience the peace and inner freedom that we can achieve through this fantastic practice.