Over the past few months I’ve experienced a somatic form of therapy that has helped me feel more grounded, less anxious, and generally more happy. It’s called holotropic breathwork and it’s a form of active meditation developed by the Czech psychiatrist, Stan Grof.
How does it work? The mechanics of it are that you lie on a yoga mat with an eye shade on and breathe forcefully while loud, rhythmic music plays. Usually in a large group, but maybe just with a sitter who is there to witness your experience and provide help if you need it. That help could be as simple as a drink of water and a tissue for your nose or a helping hand and strong back to lean on when powerful emotions come up.
Why do it? This is a somewhat personal question because everyone has their own answer to this. It's a meditation. But instead of sitting back and allowing thoughts to arrive. You are triggering a healing process that your body already knows how to do. Have you ever experienced humiliation, physical or emotional trauma or anxiety? Breathwork can get you in touch with those past experiences that cause anxiety. It can help you come to terms with trauma as another way to process and release that trauma. In a sense, it’s an antidote to the ailments of the modern world. Rather than directing my attention toward consumerism and materiality to solve my problems, it’s a break to fully connect with my body and what it needs to tell me. And, when done in large groups, a chance to feel more connected and an authentic sense of love. Honestly, what more could you ask for? If this doesn’t sound like something for you, please do not pursue breathwork.
How was it for me? Well. Pretty freakin phenomenal. I’ve spent my whole life skeptical of anything involving big groups of people having a spiritual experience. Growing up in the Christian bubble will do that. By spiritual, I mean: experiencing the connectedness of all living things. I’ve had breathwork sessions that were uncomfortable and brought up pain in my body that I couldn’t explain. I’ve had breathwork sessions that were a transcendent reaffirmation of life. A move towards wholeness. And I’ve had breathwork sessions that were disappointing and a little boring. Yes, it doesn’t always work. Just as meditation is difficult to do. Maybe you were distracted, maybe that’s what you needed. It doesn’t always happen as you expect it to, that’s why they call it a journey.
If this all sounds a bit woo-woo. Well, it is. This is mostly spiritual, with a bit of science and mix in the fact that humans have been doing breathing meditation for as long as humans and breathing have both existed. It’s meditation. Specifically breathing based meditation. Done in the modern world. More importantly though, look at the facts and the outcomes. This isn’t a church you subscribe to and pay your weekly dues to appease dear leader. This is a week long, sometimes weekend retreat to reconnect with your body, and dare I say, soul. At the end of a breathwork session, we sit in a circle together and share our experience. The stories people tell are confidential, but hair raising tales of profound experiences. Sometimes people don’t even have words, but express a sense of peace and lightness. Sometimes people have cosmic adventures communing with past ancestors. And sometimes people say nothing happened and make some complaint that they didn’t like a particular song and the volume was all wrong and etcetera etcetera etcetera. Any of those experiences have something to teach you about yourself and how you relate to the world. My advice is to give it a shot. Find the nearest breathwork going on. Take a friend if you’re nervous. But be sure to bring an open mind and leave your expectation at the door.