ABOUT HOLOTROPIC BREATHWORK
ELEMENTS OF HB:
The Healing Potential of Non Ordinary States
To quote C.G. Jung: “Healing comes only from that which leads the person beyond himself and beyond his entanglement with ego.”
Based on thirty years of study the Grofs have developed a non-pharmacological method of reaching non-ordinary states of consciousness which use the healing capacity of the person’s own psyche. The psyche itself illuninates its own potential and capacity for healing insight and wisdom (Inner Radar and Healer).
Therefore, there is no practice other than to use the breath to allow a non-ordinary state through which emerges whatever the person’s psyche is bringing into consciousness at that time. Non-ordinary states allow us to transcend experience “beyond the limitation of cause and effect, the three dimensions and linear time”. This means that we may undergo mystical experiences of union and connection with the divine. We may experience any aspect of all that is – everything and no-thing.
We may remember, discover and explore many levels of the spectrum of consciousness. We can experience aspects of birth, repressed or unfinished trauma, family dynamics etc in a safe evironment within which healing can occur most easily and deeply.
There are infinite possibilities, however, there are four categories of experience observed by Grof as emerging in non-ordinary states.
1. Sensory experiences and physical manifestations i.e. we may have very strong experience of the senses, possibly including what feels like the fusion of senses (e.g. feeling music in the body or hearing colours and patterns etc.). There may be sensations tension or discharge of energy – often pleasurable in release.
2. Biographical experiences reliving events which have happened to us from birth to the present day – both negative and positive allowing release of trauma and full expression of pain or joy which is often held in the body, never experienced or expressed fully.
3. Perinatal experiences – foetal experiences of gestation and pregnancy, the birth process itself including experiences immediately after birth. Arguably the most traumatic experience for us, certainly it is the earliest threat to survival we undergo, involving our encounter with death and rebirth – we die to being a foetus and are born as a baby breathing as a separate entity. Grofs’ work suggests that these experiences during the birth process act as an imprinting and we may replay the process during subsequent life changes. If we relive the process we can reach the core of repetitive life patterns which frees us then to make new choices rather than repeating old patterns – we can act consciously rather than react unconsciously.
X relived an ecstatic experience of the release of birth and then the traumatically hasty cutting of the cord too short, followed by reliving an umbilical hernia operation when she was two years old and during the process became aware of others’ pain being expressed in the breathwork room – she felt their pain entering her body at the site of the umbilical hernia and pervading her whole body. Later she became aware of being present after her sister’s birth just a few weeks after her operation and being told “this is your baby”. As a two year old child she had taken responsibility for her baby sister and equated that with her pain and she then focused her attention on others pain and deflected her own. She realised that she had lived her life driven unconsciously from this position. She has choice now and is no longer driven by the imprinting of her own existence in the world being connected to pain – the two are now separte – she is free from that old imprinting
4. Transpersonal experiences. These can lead us beyond our personal ego, out of our self as we know it. We may experience conception and incarnation. We may have ecstatic states of unity with all or part of life, nature and the whole universe.
Y felt herself becoming smaller then realised that she was being carried upwards – she was on the back of an eagle which soared higher and higher up over a mountain. She became aware on one side of vast almost infinite pain, all the pain of the world she wep uncontrollably and inconsolably then she could see, on the other side, all the beauty in the world, all the joy and life of everything in the universe – she felt wihin her the presence and power of both.
Y in other sessions felt hersel drawn into both aspects, both sets of experiences – experiencing them fully, surrendering to them ultimately realising that for her life the universe contains these polarities of dark and light and that all is one in the flow of life.
Out of body experiences can occur – observing self, others and different aspects of the universe. We may have a sense of merging with other forms of life, the elements, presence in other places, times and cultures. We can become one with an archetypal figures – gods, goddesses, saints, angels, heroes, etc. We may, also, access very deep yogic sleep states within which healing and tranformaion can occur outside consciousness.
P, after breathing for awhile felt that her body was dissolving into light, expanding until she was no longer aware of the boundaries of her body. The light began to fill the room, moved out of the building into the whole valley extending out until boundless, infinite.
On return to “ordinary consciousness” her body felt free of tension, soft and flowing filled with gentle excitement and calm exhiliration, She described it as a beautiful, wondrous experience to take into her ordinary everyday life.
What actually happens in a Holotropic Breathwork™ Workshop.
Generally, Holotropic Breathwork™ is conducted in a workshop setting. This creates a safe container for each participant to enter into his/her space of expanded consciousness and to surrender to the adventure of discovery. Workshops may be held as residential weekends or one day sessions. After an initial introduction to the facilitators and other participants, there is an introduction to the nature of the process. As members of the group will be working in pairs (one breathing, one sitting) in each of the sessions this is the time when each participant chooses a partner for the session.
Just as many ancient spiritual systems and indigenous cultures use breathing techniques (dancing, chanting, etc. which accelerate breathing) so Holotropic Breathwork™ uses the breath – breathing faster and deeper to access non-ordinary states of consciousness. Breathing deeper and faster can release long-held material. Together with evocative music of many different traditions, the breath takes us on our journey of discovery, insight, awareness, and healing. The music is used to support the process and to help the participant to surrender to what is happening for them. Each person appears to hear the music differently according to their own individual process.
The breather lies on a mattress in as open and receptive a position as possible, is encouraged, by the facilitator, to relax and surrender to the power of his/her own breath thus allowing for surprise and wonder.
The partnership which develops between breather and sitter is extremely important in supporting the breather to feel able to engage in such deep work. The role of the sitter is to pay attention to the breather as a compassionate witness to the process and to help offer tissues, water etc when requested. One of the most transformative experiences is the total unconditional attention and presence of another. It is a powerful and extraordinary gift from one person to another. It can be the most profound experience for both sitter and breather.
The breather may feel blocked, numbness, tension etc and although the breath itself can relieve and transform the symptom, sometimes the breather may need help to focus. When asked for help the facilitator will aid the breather to feel the symptom of the emerging material more completely so that it becomes fully into consciousness. With the breather’s agreement, the facilitator will help the participant to amplify the feeling by providing resistance so as to effect the release of the blocked energy of the experience which has been held in the body. The release may manifest in any way – shouting, laughing, crying, anger, joy, profound peace, shaking, etc. Intervention only takes place at the request of the breather. All breathers are checked for return to “ordinary consciousness” before leaving the session.
Participants are encouraged to express their experience of the session by creative drawing or painting, thus beginning the process of integrating a powerful, insightful experience into the ordinary world. It is a means of honoring the reality of the non-ordinary experience and can help expand and complete the experience.
As the workshop proceeds a sense of community can develop as participants have been present to each other in very deep experiences. It is a powerfully enlightening, deepening and connecting part of the process to share experiences in the group, experiences sometimes very difficult to describe easily. Again this is part of honoring the reality of the experience having it heard and witnessed with compassion and understanding. Each person chooses how much to share of their process. Everyone has his/her own wisdom and appropriate timing. There is no pressure put on participants but there is encouragement and space offered.
A Safe Environment
It is crucial that the “container” of the workshop feels safe and trustworthy. Facilitators are trained in the theory and practice of Holotropic Breathwork™ which involves approximately 600 hours and at least two years. The training includes participation in hundreds of hours of breathwork which leads to a total trust in the process and in the inner wisdom of the psyche and its potential for healing and awareness.
Who comes to workshops?
Participants come from all walks of life, each searching for some sense of wholeness and meaning, looking for the “something missing”. Some come specifically to connect with their repressed emotions. People “in recovery” and in 12 step programs find it very helpful indeed. Some people use the process as a very deep form of meditation into human nature and the universe. Whatever the agenda, the psyche in its wisdom selects and brings forth what is needed for the person at the time.
In Holotropic Breathwork™ all inner experiences are welcome. Letting happen what happens, surrendering to the process moves us out of fear……into trust. Ultimately the process leads us towards profound spiritual experiences.
“A person is neither a thing nor a process but an opening or a clearing through which the absolute can manifest.”
Author: Jean Farrell Bibliography
The Holotropic Mind, Stan Grof
The Adventure of Self Discovery, Stan Grof
The Stormy Search for the Self, Stan & Christina Grof
The Breathwork Experience, Kylea Taylor