My Experience With Holotropic Breathwork
Few podcast episodes have changed view of reality, and the quality of my day to day state of mine, like this one. In it, Tim Ferriss interviews the legendary Czech psychiatrist Stan Grof.
Grof is famous for using alternative methods of therapy to unlock and release deeply held emotions and trauma in his patients. One of these methods is a system Grof and his wife developed, known as Holotropic Breathwork
During a Holotropic Breathwork session, patients breath deeply and rapidly for two and a half hours while listening to stimulating music. In the podcast episode with Ferriss, Grof claimed that, over the course of breath work sessions, patients entered into a highly altered state of consciousness, with significant healing potential.
I’m the first to admit this sounds a little far fetched, and was initally somewhat skeptical of his claims. However, Ferriss swore by the practice, and Grof seemed like a very sharp and and authentic fellow. Therefore, I decided to see if there was a trained Holotropic Breathwork facilitator in my area, who could serve as a guide while I gave the practice a shot.
I quickly found one and set up an appointment.
After arriving, she and I had a quick chat about what would happen during the session, and about Grof’s work. A few minutes later, I was lying down on a thick mat and donning a blindfold. She turned on the music and I started to breath.
After a surprisingly short amount of time, my hands became tense, and my fingers curled into claws. Then my forearms rose upward towards my chest, as though pulled by an invisible force. Additionally, a sensation somewhat reminiscent to a mild electric current began to arise in nearly every part of my body. I continued to breath hard and fast, and these effects intensified. Suddenly, I felt a wave of nausea. My facilitator told me this might happen, and was ready with a bag, into which I vomited.
As the session continued, I started to sweat profusely. Additionally, muscle spasms began in several parts of my body, most noticeably my right thigh. I was excited by this, as I had been having knee issues in my right knee for nearly two years, and I hoped that the muscular releases might help to ease some of the pain.
Towards the end of the experience, the music became peaceful. In the last few minutes, I was hit by a wave of grief. It was brought about by thoughts of my father, who was struggling with several chronic illnesses. The tears that flowed out were a massive relief to me, as I had numbed my emotions for my father to the point that I rarely felt anything for him during normal states of consciousness. This subconscious defense mechanism had left me feeling like a sociopath, but the breathwork somehow unlocked my love for him, and my deep sadness surrounding his conditions.
After the music ended, I made a water color pointing (Which is a routine way of closing Holotropic Breathwork sessions), and had a few snacks. On my way to the door, I realized something strange. A week and a half before the session, I had burned both of my feet very badly while drunkenly attempting to fire walk (seriously). Unsurprisingly, this had made walking very painful. However, as I stood up from my snack, I realized that my feet were nearly pain free. When I mentioned this my facilitator, she was surprised, since breathwork is usually seen as a treatment for psychological issues as opposed to physical ones.
In the following days, the pain returned, and my state of mind seemed noticeably lower than usual. I began to worry that the breathwork session had actually done more harm than good. However, as time went on, things began to shift. My state of mind improved to a point that seemed higher than its average resting state prior to the session, and my fear that the breathing had done damage wore off.
Eventually, I noticed that something far more extraordinary had happened as well. My knee pain, which had be virtually unaffected by nearly two years of physical therapy, was reduced by about ninety percent. This reduction inspired my to do another breathwork session a few months after my first. After this second session, the knee pain disappeared. Aside from a few twinges from time to time, it has never returned (I’m writing this a year and a half after my first session).
The effectiveness of these initial sessions inspired me to continue with the practice. To date, I’ve participated in around ten Holotropic Breathwork workshops. During one, my forearms finally relaxed, and no longer tend to move upward towards my chest when I breath. Nor do my hands clench into fists. I’ve also had visions during sessions that equaled waking dreams in their vividness and intensity. Though I don’t pretend to know what’s really going during breathwork, I can say unequivocally, that some sort of deep healing process feels as though it is taking place.
It is for this reason that I wrote this essay, and can wholeheartedly recommend this form of therapy to anyone wants to delve more deeply into their mind, and heal their psychological wounds.