What Exactly is Holotropic Breathwork?

In short, Holotropic Breathwork uses a combination of accelerated breathing and music to achieve a deep state of meditation and relaxation.  It is used as an alternative therapeutic approach in the treatment of stress and anxiety, addiction, trauma recovery and depression, among other things. It is also used to help deepen spirituality and the mystical experience.

History of Holotropic Breathwork

HB was originally developed by StanislavGrof, M.D. and his wife, Christina Grof in the 1970’s. Dr. Grof is a psychiatrist, researcher, and former professor from Johns Hopkins University in Marlyand. He was initially interested in psychedelic medications and their effects on various aspects of mental health.

Holotropic BreathworkHowever, after the banning of LSD, he began looking for alternative and drug-free methods to reach altered states of consciousness and enhance the human experience.

Christina Grofassisted her husband in his work and research. She has also authored or co-authored two books, “The Thirst for Wholeness” and “The Stormy Search for the Self”.

The Technique

To achieve the state of deep relaxation and heightened consciousness brought about by this technique, you must first come into a safe, quiet place and completely relax.

Two people are required, one “breather”, and one “sitter”. The breather is the patient in the session and the sitter is there only to assist in the process. The breather lies down on a mat while the assistant sits nearby.

Evocative music is played in the background. This is usually rhythmic or relaxing new age music designed to enhance, but not overpower the experience. The music is played for as much as 2 or 3 hours.

The breathing is quick and accelerated throughout the duration of the session. The sitter is there to monitor the breather for safety, but not to force the breathing.

What to Expect

Experiences with HB are as individual as those practicing the technique. Because it is designed to help facilitate healing, strong emotions may be emitted. These can include crying, re-living past experiences and trauma, insightful thought and even deep sleep.

The sitter is only there to guide, but not coach or control the session. It is also important to remember that these emotions are part of the healing process and should not be hindered in anyway.

Following the session, you should feel a release and feeling of euphoria and relaxation. They may be repeated as often as necessary, but there is no minimum requirement.

Benefits of Holotropic Breathwork

Proponents of HB claim it is beneficial the following:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trauma and loss
  • Self-discovery
  • Past-life experiences
  • Spark Creativity
  • Develop Intuition


Because this is vigorous form of breath work, it is not advisable for individuals with asthma or respiratory problems. Strong emotional responses are typical and sometimes manifest themselves physically in the form of rocking or sudden movements.

Those with high blood pressure, previous heart attacks, seizure disorders and pregnant women should not practice HB without their doctor’s consent.

The Research

There is ongoing research in the area of Holotropic Breathwork. Current studies include:

1. Long-term Abstinence Following Holotropic Breathwork as Adjunctive Treatment of Substance Dependence by Timothy Brewerton, MD of the Medical University of South Carolina,

2. A PhD study by Iker Puente of theSociety of Applied Ethnopsychology and Cognitive Studies in Barcelona, Spain,

3. Birth Trauma and Beyond, by Gregg Lahood and Judy Cottrell of New Zealand’sNationalWomen’s Hospital, and

4. Intuitive Study with Holotropic Breathwork Mandalas by RubyeCervelli of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California.


As with any complementary therapy, always consult a healthcare practitioner before trying this technique. HB should be practiced under the supervision of a trained professional. Be sure the practitioner is licensed and certified specifically in Holotropic Breathwork.

Although HB can have powerful healing benefits, it is important to remember that complementary therapies should be used in conjunction with, and not in place of conventional medical care. Talk to your health care provider about the benefits of HB.