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What is Holotropic Breathing? Benefits and How to Practice It

Breathing well, calmly and properly, has many benefits for the body and mind. Most know this, but not all of us have heard of holotropic breathing and its benefits.

This is a compound term, made up of the Greek words holos (meaning ‘everything’) and tropes (‘movement’). In this way, the word could be translated as “advance towards wholeness”.

Holotropic breathing seeks to achieve an altered state of consciousness to achieve self-healing, working on fears, blockages and other emotional problems. The conviction is that the healing comes from within the person himself.

What is Holotropic Breathing?

The holotropic breathing technique was developed in the 1970s by Czech psychiatrists Stanislav and Christina Grof, although it is based on knowledge from ancient cultures. It is a natural and simple method. It involves the use of hyperventilation, combined with music.

And it is that when you breathe at a very fast rate, for a certain time, the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body is altered. Therefore, it seeks to accelerate respiratory patterns in a controlled way, trying to reach non-ordinary states of consciousness for therapeutic purposes.

It is estimated that, induced by breathing and music, people even visualize hidden experiences from the past. This would be for a deeper understanding of one’s own self.

The Holotropic Breathing Process

A holotropic breathing session lasts 2 to 3 hours. It can be done in a group, as well as individually.

When working in groups, people meet in pairs, alternating in the roles of experimenter or caregiver. The latter’s task is to accompany the person doing holotropic respiration, without interfering with the process.

A trained facilitator must also be present, both in individual and group sessions, as responsible for everything. This person provides support during the practice, making sure the process takes place safely.

The facilitator guides the session, giving instructions to increase the respiratory rate. And even if it increases, then the rhythm must remain constant, fast and uniform.

On the other hand, music is an essential part of holotropic breathing. The sounds used are like those used in meditation, with single-chord rhythmic patterns.

Sessions are usually open, in the sense that there is no predetermined idea or expectation about what the contents of the psyche are to explore during the session. Each person derives their own meaning and reaches self-discovery of the problem.

The goal is for holotropic breathing to be a catalytic experience, bringing hidden events to the surface of consciousness. In some cases, especially in individual therapies, situations are discussed.

Possible benefits of holotropic respiration

Holotropic breathing practitioners and advocates claim that it provides various benefits. These would be physical, mental and emotional. Let’s see what they are.

1. Relaxation

Many people do breathing exercises to relax. Although in the holotropic modality the rhythm is increased, serenity is also achieved. Although this is rather derived from emotional experience.

2. Manages Negative thoughts

Holotropic breathing practitioners claim to use this technique to manage or dismiss negative ideas. It is a way to reduce pessimism and even reduce fear at the idea of ​​death.

3. Negative emotions

The evidence found suggests that holotropic respiration could be helpful for self-control. It would be especially useful in people with a tendency to mood swings or who have negative attitudes.

4. Anxiety and self-esteem

In a clinical study, in which holotropic breathing was used combined with other techniques, participants significantly increased levels of self-esteem and showed greater reduction in anxiety. This was in comparison to those who only received psychotherapy.

5. Emotional healing

A 2013 review documented sessions of people who participated in frequent holotropic breathing practices for several years. The results suggest that this technique could be used to achieve emotional stability.

6. Self-awareness and self-knowledge

A 2015 study found that holotropic breathing can generate higher levels of self-awareness, and is also useful for promoting positive changes in behavior.

On the other hand, proponents of holotropic breathing argue that this technique allows people to access contents of the mind that are hidden. It would help, therefore, to emerge past unresolved situations.

In this way, through holotropic breathing, certain experiences could be unlocked, with a view to freeing oneself from emotional problems. Traumas and phobias could be overcome, as well as psychosomatic disorders addressed.

Risks and contraindications

Although the technique is simple, it is not without risks and negative effects. For example, the imbalance between the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen can cause a condition called respiratory alkalosis.

In this vein, it is not unusual for various symptoms to occur, such as tingling or numbness in the limbs and in the mouth, dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness, fainting, spasms and even seizures.

In accordance with the above, precautions should be taken in relation to possible risks. For this reason, holotropic breathing is not recommended if the person has any ailment or condition, such as the following:

  • Hypertension.
  • Angina pectoris.
  • Heart failure.
  • Arrhythmia.
  • Glaucoma.
  • Retinal detachment.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Convulsions.

Consider holotropic breathing precautions

It is claimed that holotropic breathing can bring experiences from the past to light in order to provide a transformative experience. However, it is possible that in some people, this fact of removing wounds rather generates uncomfortable feelings.

If you want to try the technique, it is important to seek out trained people. They must adequately guide the process and intervene in case of any complications.

Finally, it should be clarified that the holotropic breathing technique should be assumed as a complement, not as a substitute. It comes to the aid of other techniques and psychological sciences exercised by professionals.

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