On Holotropic Breathwork
By Robert Ross
“Deeper and faster” were the instructions given to us as we lay on our mats. A “sitter” was close by observing each participant. “A witness to the process,” as the sitters were described. Those on the mats would be on a three-hour journey, and our sitters would not only witness the process but give support during that time period. My sitter would be put to the task.
For three hours we would be encouraging our breathing patterns to be faster than normal, and the intake of oxygen to go deeper than we were accustomed. If there were any instruction at all from the workshop leader, it was to leave our expectations behind. As breathers, we were on our own, allowing the process to unfold in a manner that would ultimately best serve our needs. The one-day workshop was on Holotropic Breathing, led by Diane Paige.
Before the process began, we were encouraged to make agreements with our sitters. For example, if our breathing slowed down, the sitter could tap us on the shoulder, to remind us to pick up the pace. I instructed my sitter to do just that. I also conveyed to my sitter that if I were to stop breathing all together, to allow it to happen. In previous breath-work experiences, the stopping of breathing occurred during times of great psychic exploration, and the body would, given time, resume breathing on its own.
Agreements made, Kleenex and water nearby, I heard the words, “have a good journey” as the lights dimmed and the music began.
Holotropic breathwork is, according to their website ( www.holotropic.com ), “a powerful approach to self-exploration and healing that integrates insights from modern consciousness research, anthropology, various depth psychologies, transpersonal psychology, Eastern spiritual practices, and mystical traditions of the world. The name Holotropic means literally “moving toward wholeness” (from the Greek “holos” = whole and “trepein” = moving in the direction of something).”
Music is an integral part of the Holotropic Breathwork experience. At the workshop I attended, there were four speakers in the room, in each corner, giving a full sound to the music. The volume of the music was such that one really couldn’t lightly daydream. In other words, it was loud — and all encompassing. Whether it be pulsating drumming or Native American chanting, it grabbed one’s attention, in body, mind and spirit. My breathing pattern followed the rhythm of the music . . . if the music was fast for example, my breathing would be fast. As we approached the end of the three-hour session, the music slowed down, and so did the breathing.
Holotropic Breathing is a process. Again, according to their website: “The process itself uses very simple means: it combines accelerated breathing with evocative music in a special set and setting. With the eyes closed and lying on a mat, each person uses their own breath and the music in the room to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness. This state activates the natural inner healing process of the individual’s psyche, bringing him or her a particular set of internal experiences. With the inner healing intelligence guiding the process, the quality and content brought forth is unique to each person and for that particular time and place. While recurring themes are common, no two sessions are ever alike.”
After a short period of time, a tingling set in throughout my body. My journey had begun. Not long after this, I was aware of another sensation. My bladder was calling to me. Perhaps it was the coffee, or the water I was drinking before and during the session, at any rate, it was time to let my sitter know that his escort services were needed. During the walk to the bathroom, my sitter held my arm. I was in somewhat of an altered state, somewhere between a dreamlike and wakeful state. As I walked, I kept my eyes just barely open, not wanting to fully wake up. This call from nature would happen twice more.
My three-hour session was marked by two events. The first related to my thought processes. Problems I was grappling with during the week came to center stage in a pronounced manner. My thoughts concerning these problems went beyond ordinary thinking and could only be described as profound. A number of times I signaled my sitter to come close so that I could whisper some key words for him to write down. The idea was that after the session, given these key words, I would recall the line of thinking. In reflection, during the following days though, those profound thoughts seemed not so profound. In fact they were just the ordinary ramblings of an ordinary thought process.
The second experience I had during the breathing session was a spasmodic jerking of my lower belly as I breathed into that area. These involuntary spasms began about midway through the three-hour session and seemed to last for about thirty minutes or so. I like to think that my breathing was opening up in that area. Perhaps there was some resistance in the musculature that was dissolving and my breathing was becoming freer. I’ll never know for sure the cause of these spasms, but the thought of a freer, less restricted breathing pattern is appealing.
As the music shifted ever so slightly to a slower tempo, so did my breathing. The music slowed again, and then there was silence. I laid in a blissful state for ten or fifteen minutes. Both my sitter and Diane checked in with me to see how I was doing. It was as though I was floating. I could have easily lay there for an additional hour.
We gathered outside on the patio for some snacks of fruit and nuts and other goodies. The food hit the spot. The breathers also had the opportunity to draw or make collages, or do whatever kind of artwork with which they were comfortable in order to express their breathing experience.
It was now my turn to be the sitter for my partner. I would like to say that being a sitter was a transforming experience, but in reality, I found myself changing my sitting position quite often and glancing at the clock more often than not. Having said that, the three hours did pass in short order. We returned to the outside patio for some delicious salmon (prepared by Diane Paige) and a green salad. And, for those who were so motivated, art supplies were again available to capture the experience.
The workshop I attended was held in Santa Monica and is given a number of times during the year. The Saturday workshop included an hour or so of lecture and discussion on Friday evening. Diane Paige, our workshop leader, was not only attentive and well organized, but was an excellent host and cook!
Holotropic Breathing is one of the older breathing modalities that grew out of the personal growth movement of the sixties. Stan Grof, M.D. and Christina Grof are the originators of this breathing method. More can be learned at www.holotropoic.com .
There are a number of breath-work modalities currently being practiced both in the U.S. and worldwide. As a fan and a practitioner of breathwork, I encourage those who are interested to visit some of the breathwork web-sites, ask around and. . . inhale. . . exhale. . . you won’t regret it!
For further information, please visit Diane Paige’s website at www.breathe2transform.com or you may also e-mail Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Ross can be reached at SanDiegoRoss@Yahoo.com
Copyright 2003 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved
Return to the November/December Index page