Blog Post

Is Holotropic Breathwork™ Dangerous?

MS asks: "What is Holotropic Breathworks and how dangerous is it?"

The inventor of Holotropic Breathwork™ is Dr. Stanislav Grof, a psychologist and pioneer in researching the clinical use of LSD in psychotherapy. Along with Abraham Maslow, he is a co-founder of the very New Age movement known as transpersonal psychology.

This how the authors of the Pontifical Document, Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life, describe transpersonal psychology:

"Trans personal psychology, strongly influenced by Eastern religions and by (Carl) Jung, offers a contemplative journey where science meets mysticism. To realize one’s potential, one had to go beyond one’s ego in order to become the god that one is, deep down. This could be done by choosing the appropriate therapy - meditation, para-psychological experiences, the use of hallucinogenic drugs. These were all ways of achieving ‘peak experiences’, ‘mystical’ experiences of fusion with God and with the cosmos" (No. 2.3.2.)

Grof and his wife, Christina, developed holotropic breathing when the use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs were banned in the 1960s. According to the Live Strong website, this new technique was meant to simulate the psychedelic experiences of LSD but without using the drug.

Grof defines holotropic as "that which leads to wholeness" and designed the technique to allow a person to experience deeper levels of their psyche. A typical session involves laying in a supine position in a quiet room that can be darkened. A "sitter" usually accompanies the person and relaxing music is played.

"The sitter or facilitator then leads the breather through a meditative visualization to create deep relaxation," Live Strong explains. "If you are the breather, you would breathe slowly and deeply during this period as you allow all parts of your body to relax. At the end of the guided meditation, the lights are dimmed and the music is allowed to play at sufficient volume to block any external noise."

Once the music begins, the breather is told to accelerate their rate of breathing almost to the point of hyperventilation.

"The goal is to continue breathing deeply, but to do so quickly. Breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. Remaining on your back, continue breathing in this way for two to three hours, focusing on the internal experience and feelings reached through the shift in your awareness. The sitter and facilitator are there to assist in any way you need. Some coughing or choking feelings are not unusual, particularly in response to emotionally charged experiences. You may find yourself writhing, dancing, crying, laughing, shivering, speaking or any of a variety of other possibilities."

When finished with the session, the patient is instructed to regain a normal rate of breathing. The patient is then instructed to draw a mandala or some other image about the experience.

You may be wondering, what is the purpose of this exercise?

According to the IAHIP (Irish Association of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy) the deep fast breathing of Holotropic Breathwork™ "is used as a catalyst for the experience of a non-ordinary state of consciousness (NOSC). This state of consciousness is thought to be inherently healing and evolutionary, bringing to the surface any issues that need addressing and helping the client to resolve them in a creative way. Holotropic Breathwork™ has been called 'industrial strength meditation'.”

Aside from the dangers of participating in a therapeutic practice that is inherently New Age, there are physical dangers as well.

As Live Strong warns: "Before you begin, ask your doctor if Holotropic Breathwork™ is safe for you, especially if you have cardiovascular problems, high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, pregnancy, recent surgery, epilepsy, asthma or mental Illness."