HOLOTROPIC BREATH WORK: How To Get High on Breathing

WHAT: A Guide to Holotropic Breathing

Holotropic breathing: an ultra-powerful method of inhaling and exhaling that can (and often will) blow your mind. Many who practice holotropic breathing techniques liken the effects to powerful psychedelics. Consequently, it’s understandable why newcomers may wonder whether holotropic breathing sessions can be dangerous. Like psychedelics, holotropic breathing techniques are known to access parts of the mind often concealed, sometimes with good reason. Unlike psychedelics, if things go pear-shaped, holotropic breathing allows the subject to exit the experience at will in a far more controlled manner.

What does Holotropic Mean?

The word “holotropic” derives from the Greek word holos, meaning whole. Tropic, in this context, derives from the word “trepein,” meaning to move toward to. Thus, “holotropic breathing” means to develop and move towards a state of wholeness.

A  Brief History of Holotropic Breathing

In 1956, Stanislav Grof, a Czech-born psychiatrist, received a package containing samples of an experimental substance said to have incredible psychoactive properties. The substance, named LSD-25, was being distributed to researchers worldwide in order to better understand its effects and potential therapeutic applications.

So significant was Grof’s first psychedelic adventure it would shape the course of his professional life. He emerged from the experience ‘moved to the core,’ claiming a vastly broadened understanding of existence and an indescribable feeling of harmony and self-acceptance. Essentially, the personality traits and positive psychological change that therapists seek to bring about in their patients.

Stanislav Grof pioneered holotropic breathing techniques
Stanislav Grof pioneered holotropic breathing techniques as a way of mimicking the effect of psychedelics

Was Holotropic Breathing  Developed to Mimic the Effect of Psychedelics?

Grof knew his patients, some of whom were in profound psychological distress, may not be the best test subjects for this mind-bending miracle compound. He began searching for ways to induce a similar shift in consciousness while avoiding the potential negatives associated with LSD. The technique he settled on was “holotropic breathing,” and the results were astounding.

Infinity and Beyond

Stanislav Grof guided thousands of subjects in altered states of consciousness. Consequently, Grof concluded that holotropic breathing techniques were capable of bridging the gap between individual human consciousness and events that extend beyond far beyond our physical senses. Subjects reported:

  • Clear visions,
  • Encountering a source of infinite intelligence,
  • The surfacing of underlying psychological issues, helping them to remove psychological obstacles standing between themselves and a more rewarding life.
A holotropic breathing session
Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Holotropic breathing techniques may vary slightly. However, they all follow the same basic pattern. At its simplest, it is a form of controlled hyperventilation. More specifically, holotropic breathwork is the act of modulating your breath in order to induce altered states of consciousness. The holotropic breathing technique uses short, sharp intense breaths followed by longer, deeper breathing patterns.

The Holotropic Breathwork Technique

  1. A holotropic breathing session begins by lying down, preferably on a comfortable mat, in a cool, dark, relaxing space.
  2. Close your eyes, calm your mind and try to release any tension stored in your muscles and joints. Then, start taking relaxing breaths to prepare your mind and body.
  3. When you feel ready, begin drawing the deepest, fullest breaths possible through your nose. Inhale from the belly and diaphragm, pushing your stomach out as far as possible. When your lungs are full, exhale sharply. Try to feel your stomach moving in and out, and your lungs inflating and deflating.
  4. The moment you feel your lungs empty, immediately begin inhaling again. Continue in this manner,  creating a non-stop pattern of constant breathing, either in or out.
  5. Gradually start to speed up this breathing pattern. There are various ways to keep your mind focused and free of distractions. One of the easiest and most effective techniques is to quietly repeat the phrase “Breathe in, Breathe out,” either out loud or in your mind.
  6. Continue this process until you feel yourself entering an altered state.

Go With The Flow

If you’re doing it correctly, after a few minutes things may begin to feel strange, even uncomfortable, particularly for holotropic breathing newcomers. As your consciousness begins to shift, you may feel disoriented and confused. At this point, newcomers may wonder whether holotropic breathing is dangerous. If done correctly, the answer is no. This is the time to relax, reassure yourself, and press on. Over time, entering these altered states becomes easier, and the terrain which once appeared indescribably weird begins to look much more familiar and welcoming.

animation of a holotropic breathing session

How does Holotropic Breathing Work?

In a 1996 study on Holotropic Breathwork, it was suggested that holotropic breathing allows participants to make discoveries on various levels. These include:

  • Transpersonal level: One’s consciousness goes beyond the limitations of self, or ‘ego,’ and surpasses the limits of space and time. Therein, participants have claimed to be able to witness past life experiences, akashic record viewing, and much more.
  • Perinatal level: The imprint stamped on your deep psyche during one’s birthing process. Many psychologists believe this to be the leading connection between our biological and transpersonal selves. Essentially, the link between our minds, bodies, and souls.
  • Biographical level: The surfacing of subconscious, albeit significant past events that went on to shape our emotional and physiological reactions to events.

Does Holotropic Breathing Gag Your Inner Narcissist?

Holotropic breathing techniques are known to decrease your everyday psychological defenses. As a result, it’s easier for you to explore and examine your inner self and the deeper, repressed contents of your mind. Once the ego is tied and gagged, one can storm the undefended walls of the psyche’s inner sanctum, where buried memories, both real and archetypal, reside. This revelatory tour of one’s subconscious may include big answers to big questions, a reconciliation with the subconscious pain that drives depression or addiction, and access to a more ancient, more meaningful existential narrative through which to empower oneself

a plant growing on the human brain


If you wish to do a holotropic breathing session in your own at home, there’s nothing to stop you. However, experts don’t recommend it, particularly for newbies. Certified instructors have completed a 600-hour training course with the Grof Foundation. These instructors offer group and individual sessions, often via workshops and retreats.

Holotropic breathing session

  • If you’re wondering whether holotropic breathing is dangerous, the answer is mostly not. However, consider that holotropic breathwork AKA “industrial-strength meditation,” was engineered as a way to mimic the effects of psychedelics. Like psychedelic therapy,  holotropic breathwork has the potential to induce strong physical and emotional releases.
  • For most, holotropic breathing is not dangerous, and few people experience adverse effects. However, the release of painful memories and intense emotions could be a problem for some. Particularly those with a history of panic attacks and mental illness. Using a trained therapist or certified guide versed in safe holotropic breathing techniques can help offset these risks.
  • Holotropic breathwork may be dangerous for those who suffer from high or low blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, or glaucoma.
  • Participants claim holotropic breathing sessions expunge negative energies, leading them to a place of healing, freedom, and an increased capacity to “know thyself.
  • The benefits of holotropic breathing techniques extend far beyond the therapeutic. Holotropic breathing opens portals to places where the boundaries are limited only to your imagination. Once you learn to navigate and steer your vehicle, you can tread your own path with confidence, clarity, and purpose.
  • Holotropic breathing techniques are a powerful means to help people process trauma. Holotropic breathing has been shown decrease anxiety, increase calmness, and enhance feelings of creativity.



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