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wellness / mental health

What is Holotropic Breathwork?

by BetterSleep
Jun 16 • 5 min read

Holotropic breathing is a type of breathwork that originated in the 1970s. Psychiatrists Christina and Stansilav Grof developed it as a way to achieve different states of consciousness to aid therapy. It involves rapid breathing, almost like controlled hyperventilation that many people find supports emotional and psychological healing.

How Holotropic Breathing Works

The Grofs were interested in helping patients achieve altered states of consciousness for self-exploration and healing without the use of psychedelic drugs. They came up with the idea of using rapid breathing, which is different from the deep, slow breaths of other techniques, like coherent breathing.

Led by a trained professional and often done in a group, participants in holotropic breathwork accelerate their breathing to increase self-awareness and heal from past traumas. Mental health professionals use it to guide emotional healing in patients, but some people use it as a spiritual tool.

Holotropic breathing may work to heal and achieve altered consciousness through chemical processes. This type of breathing mimics hyperventilation, during which the body’s balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen shifts. Resulting in alkalization of the blood, making you feel dizzy and tingly.

What Are the Benefits?

holotropic breathwork can act as a treatment for mental illness. improving self-awareness, increasing relaxation, reducing stress, and aiding in personal growth. A study of the use of holotropic breathing with psychiatric patients found benefits. They experienced emotional catharsis and spiritual awakening.

Are There Any Risks?

Holotropic breathwork with a professional is low-risk. One important risk is indirect. Some people might turn to holotropic breathing as a replacement for therapy. If you struggle with mental illness, you need professional treatment.

In terms of physical health, this kind of breathing puts participants at risk of the side effects of hyperventilating. The change in pH of the blood during hyperventilation can cause dizziness, fainting, spasms, and in some cases, seizures.

Find a Certified Practitioner

Because there are risks, it’s best to work with a trained professional to get more out of a session. The Grof Foundation certifies practitioners who have received 600 hours of training and can help you find someone in your area.

A session with a holotropic facilitator pairs people off into breathers and sitters. The facilitator guides breathing rate, usually with music in the background. The breather experiences the therapy, while the sitter provides support and assistance if needed. The session can last for a few hours—the breather and sitter trade roles for the next session.

Holotropic breathwork can be a rewarding, even healing experience. More research is needed to explore how it aids therapy and mental health, but overall, people find it a positive experience and low risk. Try less intense breathwork if you’re interested but not yet ready for holotropic breathing. A guided meditation with breathing exercises is a great starting point with no risks.

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