Holotropic Breathwork Described
Holotropic Breathwork offers individuals the opportunity to become involved in their own healing process, and all participants are given basic instruction into breathwork methodology prior to their arrival at the workshop location. The following describes a typical 12-hour workshop day.
Partnering: Being “Open to Outcome”.
This work is usually presented in a one-day/two-session workshop and the day begins with introductions; participants work in pairs, and each selects a partner. The first breathing session begins with one partner (the breather) in each pair lying on a foam mat, on his/her back with eyes closed, the other partner (the sitter) alongside. The sitter knows to provide help when asked but otherwise not to interfere.
Specific agendas are discouraged. The recommended strategy is to surrender, to “Be Open To Outcome”, allowing the possibility for anything to arise knowing that our innate healing intelligence can be trusted.
Relaxation: Conscious Breathing
One facilitator leads a guided relaxation, during which participants are encouraged to allow their daily life to become background and to focus their attention in the present moment; to feel the weight of their bodies lying on the mat, to know that they are safe and that all is well, and to concentrate their energy and focus on breathing consciously.
In normal circumstances we all breathe well under capacity. By breathing consciously, using the breath as we would use a mantra in meditation to keep us focused upon the simple task at hand, our breathing patterns become a little deeper and faster than usual resulting in a greater volume of air passing through the respiratory system. There is no specific technique involved and this increase is all that is required, within the safety of the group setting and accompanied by evocative music, to create the necessary change in consciousness. Laboratory studies conducted in Moscow in the 1990’s demonstrate that the necessary change in consciousness occurs within five to ten minutes of conscious breathing.
At the end of the relaxation the evocative music starts and participants begin within a few minutes to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness. This trance-like state allows the breather’s sub-conscious memories of childhood, including memory and somatic experience which can seem both pre‑verbal and pre‑understanding, to emerge.
3 Hour Music Trajectory
The music continues for three hours. Beginning with percussive selections, many of which are ethnic in origin, the trajectory becomes less rhythmic and more multi-instrumental, fuller, and more heart-felt during the second hour. It can include singing and chanting, (always non-English), orchestral and operatic pieces, and many selections are from “world music”. During the third hour it becomes markedly calmer, using chamber music, solo voices and instruments such as piano and flute.
NOSC, Dreams and Expression
During dreams, our ego-self is disabled by sleep. During breathwork, participants are awake and able to choose to stay with the sub-conscious material and experience it at the moment it emerges. This includes physical movement and modes of expression that may not make sense in any logical way, but which may be of considerable value to the participant’s subsequent psychic process.
Tumultuous or Calm Experiences
Participants may experience, in a cathartic purge, long-suppressed responses to situations from the past, releasing long held negative emotional residue. They may have profound insights into the roots of their disorder in a meditative stillness, impossible to interpret by outside observers. These may include experiences that can recalibrate long-held ideas, and participants can redefine themselves after such events, introducing new understanding with the potential for significant behavioral changes.
The Holotropic Breathwork facilitator’s posture of “Doing Not Doing” extends until a breather specifically asks for intervention. The issue of “touch” having been addressed during the pre-group introductions, participants understand that simply by saying the word “Stop” all physical contact with a facilitator or sitter will cease immediately; they know they are in complete control of this possibility. Their request might be simply for a hand to hold as they encounter difficult material, or they may wish to be hugged for a few moments.
The “elective bodywork” employed during breathwork may occur at any time but is usually indicated towards the end of the session. Applied at the clear request of the client, it follows their specific directions as to what action the facilitator should take. Thus, pain may be experienced in the lower back, in which case the client would direct the facilitator to the exact spot where the pain is held. Pressure is achieved by the client themselves, who would be asked to push up against the facilitator’s resistance. Such interventions can result in release of somatically held energetic blocks.
The session continues until each breather has reached a satisfactory conclusion. In addition to supporting participants throughout the 3+ hour session, the primary responsibility of Holotropic Breathwork facilitators is to ensure that participants have completed their experience and returned to stability and ordinary consciousness at the conclusion.
Mandalas and Group Closure
Following each session participants are then asked to draw a 'mandala', a representation of their experience, which helps to anchor it in material reality.
When breathers are finished, there is a break for a meal before the second session in which the partners reverse roles; the breather becomes the sitter end the sitter becomes the breather. After this session, and another meal break, there is a group sharing. Using the mandalas as illustration, participants are invited to describe those aspects of their Breathwork they wish to share with the group, and the workshop is brought to closure.
The following are two descriptions of the mandalas drawn by participants in Holotropic Breathwork sessions:
"The divinity I met on the fork of roads was not alone. There were three of them: Big Racoon, Big Fox and human-like Big Brown Divinity. They were as big as the trees around us. Me too. They were equal, with no boss between them. Racoon and Fox were friendly but they acted more like witnesses, like company for Big Brown Divinity. They smiled at me but actually they didn't care about me.
Big Brown Divinity cared. He moved with rhythm, stamping his feet like he was dancing. He looked into my eyes all the time. He wore a wide and long brown coat flowing to the ground, had a very round body and a big round head with very big round dark eyes. I didn't feel any fear, just excitement and, when Divinity moved toward me inviting me for something, I understood this invitation and I became him. I moved like he had moved before and it was me with very long fingers pulsating from powerful energy and I could reach the horizon with my fingers. It was a great feeling.
Now, I understand with amazement that this inside trip changed me!"
“I summoned my inner community of family and friends to "go home" with me. We went with the god Pan, the Pied Piper, to the "cave of the lost children" to collect all the orphaned and abandoned children to come with us.
I felt a lot of energy in my body and began performing shamanic rituals, saying to them "This is who I am". "We know", they answered, "This is who we are too.", and I recognized that each of them had in some way been an agent of divine teaching in my life.
Eventually, I became anxious that I didn't know how to lead my community 'home', because I didn't know where it was. Then I thought, "I am home. My home is right here, and always has been". I felt a lot of love and knew that I was always safe and supported internally.
The mandala shows a frequently occurring image; it is cool and clear and bright, like the feeling at the end of the session.”