Holotropic Breathwork: Altered States Without Drugs

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Holotropic Breathwork: Altered States Without Drugs

Is it possible to enter altered states of mind without using substances?

Holotropic Breathwork is as mysterious as it is interesting. It is a spiritual and therapeutic practice that is taking the breather to a similar level of awareness and altered state of consciousness of psychedelic-assisted therapy - but without the use of drugs. As such, many use it to bring past traumas to the surface, and address them from the perspective of an altered state. It is a practice so powerful, that it is sometimes referred to as “industrial strength meditation.”


Holotropic Breathwork is a technique developed by Dr Stanislav Grof and his wife, Christina. Grof happens to be one of the first pioneering scientists to research the clinical use of LSD, as well as one of the founders of the transpersonal psychology movement. It has gained him a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable psychiatrists around, as well as being regarded as a bit of a maverick.

The actual technique was conceived back in the mid-seventies, spawning from Grof’s ever growing knowledge of LSD, using its therapeutic nature as the framework for the breathing exercise. Even the name Holotropic Breathwork stems from the focus on therapeutic application, deriving from the ancient Greek work "holos" meaning “whole”, and "trópos" meaning “turn towards.” It comes together into Holotropic, meaning “moving towards wholeness.”

Grof, now 84, continues to teach the practice of Holotropic Breathwork in therapeutic based settings.


It is somewhat hard to describe the effects of Holotropic Breathwork; as the experiences are as individual as the person performing the technique. Some users report encountering past selves, seeing visions, entering deep meditative states, feeling physical sensations, spiritual awakening, and the release of past traumatic events.


It is worth noting that Holotropic Breathwork is a trademarked term, and is only conducted with certified and approved practitioners. This is because its inventors have created an intricate ritual around it, which is supporting the experience. It involves an safe setting, guidance, music and drawing. This, of course, has not stopped other people from developing their own versions, so similar technique have popped up under the names of rebirthing and transformational breathing.

At its core, Holotropic Breathwork and the likes are based on breathing deeper and faster than normal, with eyes closed, in a safe, and meditative setting for a prolonged period of time. Soon, after around 10 minutes of breathing, the body finds its own natural rhythm, and enters altered states on consciousness – almost like a vivid dream. It has been found that continuous breathing through your mouth makes the process easier – as in ensuring you are never holding your breath or have empty lungs. For those looking to try it, we recommend you first get in touch with a trainer who is certified to guide a session, before embarking on your own with such a technique.


Absolutely. Many people report finding the experience to be extremely beneficial. In fact, MAPS, an organisation dedicated to scientifically exploring psychedelic based therapy, found it to be a promising drug-free alternative to the psychedelic therapeutic experience. They conducted research over twelve years, in which 11,000 psychiatric inpatients from different wards dedicated to different illnesses participated in the practice. It was found that 82% reported the experience to be transpersonal, beneficial, and without negative consequence after the session.

Using breath to change consciousness is nothing new, in fact, it's safe to assume it is one of the oldest spiritual practices known to man, possibly pre-dating use of plant entheogens. Many of the the ancient yogic practices are based on breath control, and over time this approach has resulted the the teachings of the Pranayama - the "control of breath".



Written by: Josh
Writer, psychonaut and cannabis aficionado, Josh is Zamnesia’s in-house expert. He spends his days nestled out in the countryside, delving into the hidden depths of all things psychoactive in nature.

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