Just Breathe: Inhale and Exhale Holotropically
Light-skinned, african-American man staring with a pensive lookThe world may feel like it's closing in. You feel like you've lost your grasp. You feel like you can't handle it. No, all you need is to catch your breath. Holotropic breathworka sequence of rapid, controlled breaths toward decreased stress, increased self-awareness, and dream-like experiences or altered states of consciousness, originally developed by psychiatrists Stanislav and Christina Grof in the 1970s (Cleveland Clinic, 2022; Wilson, 2018)can enable you to settle in, refocus, reengage, and breathe easier. It can even take you higher (without a puff or a prick). Holotropic breathwork syncs you back with the rhythm. We'll find out how.

Benefits of Holotropic Breathwork

Holotropic breathwork has been shown to have a number of emotional, psychological, and physical benefits. The intention of the breathwork technique is to spur mental and spiritual growth, which can confer physical healing (Wilson, 2018). Physical benefits of holotropic breathing include the facilitation of the release of toxins from the bloodstream and tissue; decrease in blood pressure through the increase in circulation; boosts to the immune system; reduced stress on the liver and kidneys through improved digestion; optimized focus and sparked creativity; the creation of neurons, facilitating learning; and overall reductions in physical stress (Cleveland Clinic, 2022). As was suggested, holotropic breathwork can maximize concentration and establish the mental ease required for goal-achievement, innovation, and problem-solving. Holotropic breathwork has also been shown to relieve symptoms of depression, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), substance use disorder, anxiety, PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome), migraine headaches, chronic pain, asthma, and avoidance behaviors (Cleveland Clinic, 2022; Wilson, 2018). Overall, holotropic breathwork aids in dispelling the negative thinking that engenders the stress of which physical and psychological challenges are often byproducts. Altered or non-ordinary states of consciousness, yielded by holotropic breathing, can enable practitioners to abandon restrictive inhibitions and embrace empowering levels of well-being (Corso et al., 2023). Holotropic breathwork has also been proven to increase emotional regulation and healthy coping, while reducing stress, in adolescents recovering from psychoactive substance abuse (Sanchez-Quijano, Puerta-Cortés, & Salas, 2023). In centering within, practitioners of holotropic breathwork believe they can better combat the challenges without. 

Holotropic Breathwork Techniques

There are various ways to practice holotrophic breathwork; however, sessions have hallmarks including:

  1. A breather will lie on a mat for the duration of a session: Laying down eases the breather, allowing them to move freely and assume the pose that best promotes their breath.
  2. The sitter only assists the breather when needed: The sitter is there to support the breather, and ensure their safe, during a session.
  3. Full, deep breaths: Make each breath full and deep, plumbing the "bottom" of your lungs, causing your belly to protrude slightly upon exhalation (a condition known as "diaphragm breathing"). 
  4. Continuous, circular breathing: Breathe in a fashion that permits no gaps in breath; i.e., not holding your breath at any moment. When your lungs are full, you automatically begin exhaling, and start the cycle again, establishing a circle of breath.Caucasian woman breathing as she's suspended underwater
  5. Faster than usual: You want to breathe faster than usual, but not to the point you experience tension. Your lungs must be relaxed, in a comfortable rhythm, allowing the circular breathing to endure, potentially for hours.
  6. Mouth or nose breathing: Though it is easier for many to move air more quickly through their mouths, nose-breathing is fine, again, once deep, circular, and consistent breaths can be maintained.
  7. Sessions remain open-ended: Though are no strict prescripts for holotropic-sessions, allowing participants to arrive at their own meanings and insights, including through any sounds and movements that facilitate self-awareness.
  8. Participants draw mandalas at the end and discuss: Mandalas are are geometric, often circular, designs with symmetric patterns. These forms often help participants express their transcendental experiences, and aid them in deconstructing key takeaways from the holotropic-breathwork session, pursuant to truly surmounting challenges and kickstarting enduring growth.
  9. Breathers and sitters swap roles for future sessions: This exposes practitioners to the totality of the holotropic-breathing experience and enables them to be well-versed in receiving and directing energy.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            (Cuncic, 2023; Holotropic Breathwork LA, n.d.)

Additionally, a facilitator (present primarily to prevent hyperventilation and provide another layer of safety) primarily leads sessions--as repetitive, atmospheric music wafts through the background--with participants paired as they complete exercises. After about 20 minutes, participants find their unique rhythm (Holotropic Breathwork LA, n.d.) and become enveloped by it, with sessions lasting up to three hours (Cuncic, 2023).

East Asian woman in tranquil yoga positionThese steps are toward releasing anger, fear, and trauma (Breatheology, 2024). An offshoot of holotropic breathwork is rebirthingwith some practitioners reporting mentally returning to their time of birth and undergoing a rebirth pursuant t o starting their lives anewentailing protracted, heavy breathing toward opening your mind (Breatheology, 2024). Because of its effectiveness in release and aiding practitioners to overcome challenges, holotropic breathing can be paired with treatment methods, including cognitive behavioral therapy, to optimize growth. You may want to be assisted by a certified holotrophic-breathwork instructorwhich can only be conferred by the Grof Foundation, upon completion of a 600-hour training course (Cuncic, 2023)toward maximizing outcomes from sessions.

Risks of Holotropic Breathwork

Though there are a host of benefits, but holotropic breathwork poses some risks. Holotropic breathing is not recommended for those with cardiovascular disease; angina; osteoporosis; glaucoma or retinal detachment; or mental illness, especially with psychotic tendencies (Cuncic, 2023; Wilson, 2018). Additionally, holotrophic breathing is discouraged for those with histories of panic attacks, seizures, or aneurysms or those who are on prescriptions (Cuncic, 2023). It bears mentioning that holotropic-breathwork sessions can trigger intense emotions and traumatic memories that may exacerbate existing conditions (Wilson, 2018). Moreover, holotropic breathwork should be avoided if you are pregnant or breastfeeding (Cuncic, 2023). If you have more questions about how safe holotropic breathwork is for you, please consult your healthcare provider. 

Holotropic Breathwork and Altered Consciousness

Holotropic breathing has been observed to yield altered states of consciousness (ASCs). Subjects' electroencephalography (EEG) readings, along with scores on the Profile of Mood States questionnaire and the )11 Dimension Alterered State of Consciousness (11D-ASC) scale, during a 2023 study indicated that subjective experiences during breathwork were akin to those experienced after medium to high doses of psilocybin (magic mushrooms), suggesting experiences of mystical visage (Bahi et al., 2023). These effects likely be attributed to circular breathwork's impact on CO2. Decreases in end-tidal CO2 pressure. resulting from intentional hyperventilation, are critical to engendering altered states of consciousness during breathwork (Havenith et al., 2024). Not only were ASCs conferred by breathwork were similar to those brought by psychedelics, and they also redounded upon well-being, including a reduction in depression symptoms (Havenith et al., 2024). Despite this altered state of consciousness, practitioners of holotropic breathwork don't feel unmoored, as is sometimes felt with controlled substances; in contrast, individuals frequently elevate to a higher state of being, unleashed focus, and a liberated perspective that arms them with the resolve to confront longstanding challenges. This galvanizing freedom may stem from how practitioners are leveraging their own power, rather than depending on a substance, to power through.Arab woman lying against a guardrail, taking a break for a workout

Reflection and Holotropic Breathwork

With its ability to instill optimized focus, well-being, and connection, holotropic breathwork can be an instrumental prelude to reflective activity, meditation, and intimacy. The atmospheric music and the timing to circular breathing quickly places practitioners in the zone, enabling the presence that allows optimized outcomes from reflective activity, mindful downtime, and meditation. To break through one must be fully in the moment. Holotropic breathwork compels you to be present. Being immersed in the present also allows you to better connect with your partner. Therefore, a joint holotropic-breathwork sessione.g., for 10 to 20 minuteswould be an optimal addition to foreplay, heightening the awareness and sensation that make intimacy abundantly satisfying. 

Earnest holotropic breathwork impacts, and can transform, all aspects of beingphysical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In fully breathing in, you can boldly breathe out. Take the time to catch your breath.


Bahi, C., Irrmischer, M., Franken, K., Fejer, G., Schlenker, A., Deijen, J.B., & Engelbregt, H. (2023). Effects of conscious connected breathing on cortical brain activity, mood and state of consciousness in healthy adults. Current Psychology, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-023-05119-6 

Breatheology. (2024). The breatheology tools. https://www.breatheology.com/the-breatheology-tools/

Cleveland Clinic. (2022). Should you try holotropic breathing? Here's what it does. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/should-you-try-holotropic-breathwork-heres-what-it-does

Corso, S.J.F., O'Malley, K.Y., Subaiya, S., Mayall, D., Dakwar, E. (2023). The role of non-ordinary states of consciousness occasioned by mind-body practices in mental health illness. Journal of Affective Disorders, 335(August 2023), 166-176. https//doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2023.04.116 

Cuncic, A. (2023). Holotropic breathwork benefits and risks. https://www.verywellmind.com/holotropic-breathwork-4175431

Havenith, M., Leidenberger, M., Brasanac, J., Corvacho, M., Figueiredo, I.C., Schwarz, L., Uthaug, M., Rakusa, S., Bernardic, M., Vasquez-Mock, L., Perez-Rosal, S., Carhart-Harris, R., Gold, S., Jungaberle, H., & Jungaberle, A. (2024). Decreased COsaturation during circular breathwork supports emergence of altered states of consciousness. Nature Portfolio (under review). https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-3976380/v1

Holotropic Breathwork LA. (n.d.). How to do holotropic breathwork. https://www.holotropicbreathworkla.com/how-to-do-holotropic-breathwork

Sanchez-Quijano, F., Puerta-Cortés, D.X., Salas, J.E.M. (2023). Effects of mindfulness and holotropic breathwork on the rehabilitation of adolescents who use psychoactive substances: A pilot study. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies Advance Publication Archive, 77. https://digitalcommons.ciis.edu/advance-archive/77/

Wilson. D.B. (2018). What is holotropic breathwork and how is it used? https://www.healthline.com/health/holotropic-breathwork

hazy sky with half a rainbow, centered, in the background


Samara Logan

Date 3/4/2024

Seminal Wellness Team

Date 3/4/2024

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