Stanislav Grof began investigating transformative experiences during the late 1960s in Czechoslovakia. He was the principal researcher for the clinical study of a psychedelic drug produced by Sandoz Pharmaceuticals. Grof realized that many of the participants experienced a “non-ordinary state” that was “indistinguishable from those described in the ancient mystical traditions and spiritual philosophies of the East.” Intrigued, he began a new discipline coined “Transpersonal Psychology” with colleagues Abraham Maslow and Anthony Sutich after relocating to America. Continuing his research, Dr. Grof became Assistant Professor at John Hopkins University and Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in Baltimore.
In the late 1970s, Stanislav and Christina Grof developed Holotropic Breathwork. Dr. Grof recognized the most powerful way to trigger non-ordinary states of consciousness involved psychedelics. But he also acknowledged these substances carry serious risk. The Grofs found a solution by creating a method of using your own breath to encourage altered states. By the early 1980s, they were traveling around the world, leading workshops and presenting lectures on the technique. To date, over 25,000 individuals have experienced this healing modality.
Generally, the sessions are conducted in a workshop or group setting. During the class, everyone pairs with a partner and each participant takes a turn as a “sitter” or ”breather.” The sitter offers support throughout the session while the breather navigates his or her own unique experience. Evocative music is played throughout the workshop. The breather lies down on a mat, relaxes and begins the process as instructed by the class facilitator. Suggestions include breathing in a circular fashion (without pause between breaths), rapid or deep breathing. The choice of breathing style is up to the participant. At the conclusion, a mandala is created by each person to reflect their experience.
During the session, a diverse range of developments are possible. As a potent healing technique, strong emotions may arise. Feelings of sadness, trauma and grief are common. Joy, serenity and spiritual insight are also known to accompany the process.
Researchers and participants of Holotropic Breathwork believe it helps to transform:
- Grief and loss
- Physical pain
- Alcohol and chemical addiction
- Low self-esteem
Additionally, heightened experiences of self-discovery, creativity, intuition, relaxation and euphoria have been reported. As with any form of therapy, it is important to consult with a trained professional. Holotropic Breathwork is not advised for those who are pregnant or suffering from asthma, respiratory problems, high-blood pressure, heart disease or seizure disorders.
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