This is a powerful tool that, when used under skilled guidance, is particularly effective for self-exploration.
The process combines a powerful breathing technique with music to enter into a deep meditative state enabling one to gain access to the unconscious. It can heal past hurts, open up hidden potential and remove blockages to our energy – spiritual, emotional and physical.
In the 1950′s a psychiatrist in Prague, Czechoslovakia began research into altered states of consciousness through the use of psychedelic drugs (like LSD). He was Stanislav Grof. He subsequently continued his work in the US and became chief of psychiatric research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Centre and assistant professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins University School of Medicine. In the 1970′s law changed and clinical work with LSD had to stop. He writes in his book, The Adventure of Self-Discovery.
"It has been particularly exciting for me to discover during the last decade of my professional work that it is possible to induce practically the entire spectrum of psychedelic phenomena by simple and safe means. We call this Holotropic Therapy. It combines deep breathing, music, focused body work and mandala drawing. Most participants in our workshops found this technique to be an effective and exciting tool for self-exploration with an unusual potential for mediating transformative and mystical experiences. They repeatedly described it as being far superior to any form of verbal therapy they had tried earlier. Even in short workshops we have seen many dramatic improvements of various emotional and psychosomatic conditions, often quite severe and of long duration.”
Through his pioneering research, Dr Grof charted three levels of human consciousness, shattering conventional notions about how our minds interact with the world.
By assessing these three levels, the Biographical, Perinatal and Transpersonal, the entirety of the individual’s personal history from pre-birth to the present moment can be brought into the conscious mind and re-experienced.
Holotropic therapy favours activation of the unconscious, which is so powerful that it results in a non-ordinary state of consciousness. This principle is relatively new in Western psychotherapy, but has been used for centuries or millenia in the context of shamanic procedures, aboriginal healing ceremonies, rites of passage, meetings of various ecstatic sects, and the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth.
It has been known for centuries that it is possible to induce profound changes of conciousness by techniques which involve breathing. Often the participant in this therapy experiences strong emotions and particular sensations in the body. Emotions may include anger, anxiety, sadness, depression, feelings of failure and inferiority, or guilt. By increasing the rate and depth of breathing the defenses are loosened and this leads to release and emergence of unconscious (and superconscious) material. A typical result of a good holotropic session is profound emotional release and physical relaxation;many subjects report that they feel more relaxed than they have ever felt in their lives.
Like breathing, music and other forms of sound technology have been used for millenia as powerful mind-altering tools. In holotropic therapy evocative music plays an important part in the process. Appropriate music can encourage the emotional content; it can facilitate the emergence of specific contents, such as aggression, emotional or physical pain, sexual and sensual feelings, birth struggle, ecstatic rapture, or the oceanic atmosphere of the womb. In a group context loud and dynamic music masks the sounds of participants. It is essential to surrender completely to the flow of the music, let it resonate in one’s entire body, and respond to it spontaneously.
Along with the breathing and music, focused body work is an important aspect of the process.Supportive physical contact from the facilitator helps the participant to feel safe throughout the session. Sometimes massage or pressure in tense or painful areas is most helpful to the subject.
Contraindications for Holotropic Breathwork are pregnancy, heart disease and other cardiovascular problems, epilepsy, glaucoma, or a history of severe emotional disorder or psychiatric hospitialisation.