The Benefits and Risks of Holotropic Breathing

Holotropic breathing is said to allow you to achieve a state of consciousness that promotes self-healing. Find out what this technique is all about in this article!
The Benefits and Risks of Holotropic Breathing

Last update: 05 September, 2021

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

This is a compound term, formed from the Greek words holos (meaning ‘all’) and tropos (‘movement’). Therefore, the word could be translated as “moving towards wholeness.”

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

What is holotropic breathing?

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

Breathing at a very fast pace for a certain amount of time alters the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body. Therefore, the aim is to accelerate the respiratory patterns in a controlled manner, trying to reach non-ordinary states of consciousness for therapeutic purposes.

According to experts on the technique, when induced by breathing and music, people even visualize hidden experiences from their past. And this would serve for a deeper understanding of the self.

The holotropic breathing process

A holotropic breathing session lasts for 2 to 3 hours. It can be done in groups as well as individually.

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

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

The facilitator guides the session, giving instructions to increase the breathing speed. And although it’s increased, then the rhythm must remain constant, fast, and uniform.

At the same time, music’s an essential part of holotropic breathing. The sounds are like those of meditation, with monochord rhythmic patterns.

Sessions are usually open-ended, in the sense that there’s no predetermined idea or expectation about what contents of the psyche are to be explored during the session. Each person derives their own meaning and achieves self-discovery of the problem.

The aim is for holotropic breathing to be a catalytic experience, to bring hidden events to the surface of consciousness. In some cases, especially in individual therapy, the participant(s) and leader will then comment on or discuss them.

Adults in a holotropic breathing session.
Breathing techniques are used in different ways to promote meditation.

You may also be interested in: 7 Amazing Benefits of Deep Breathing According to Science

Possible benefits of holotropic breathing.

Those who practice and recommend holotropic breathing claim that it provides several benefits. These would be physical, mental, and emotional. Let’s take a closer look at what they are.

Relaxation

Many people do breathing exercises to relax. Although in the holotropic modality, the rhythm increases, you still achieve serenity. Although this comes rather from the emotional experience.

Negative thoughts

People who practice holotropic breathing claim that they use this technique to manage or discard negative thoughts. It’s a way to reduce pessimism and even reduce fear at the thought of death.

Negative emotions

The evidence found suggests that holotropic breathing could be useful for self-control. It could be especially useful in people who are prone to mood swings or who have negative attitudes.

Anxiety and self-esteem

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

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 useful for achieving emotional stability.

Self-awareness

A 2015 study found that holotropic breathing can generate higher levels of self-awareness, while also being useful for encouraging positive changes regarding behavior.

Moreover, proponents of holotropic breathing argue that this technique allows people to access hidden contents of the mind. It could therefore help to bring unresolved situations from the past to the surface.

In this way, through holotropic breathing, individuals could unblock certain experiences in hopes of freeing themselves from emotional problems. This may help them overcome traumas and phobias as well as psychosomatic disorders.

Risks and contraindications

Although the technique is simple, it’s not without risks and negative effects. For example, the imbalance between carbon dioxide and oxygen levels can lead to a state called respiratory alkalosis.

With this in mind, it’s not uncommon for various symptoms to occur, such as tingling sensations or numbness in the limbs and mouth, dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness, fainting, spasms, and even convulsions.

Accordingly, it’s important to take precautions regarding the possible risks. For this reason, experts warn against holotropic breathing if the person has any ailment or condition, such as the following:

  • Arterial hypertension
  • Angina pectoris
  • Heart failure
  • Arrhythmia
  • Glaucoma
  • Retinal detachment
  • Panic attacks
  • Convulsions
An elderly woman with chest pain.
People with cardiovascular problems should refrain from practicing holotropic breathing.

Always consider the precautions of holotropic breathing

According to claims, holotropic breathing can bring to light certain experiences from the past to provide a transformative experience. However, in some people, this discovering of wounds may produce uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings.

If you wish to try the technique, it’s important to seek out trained individuals. They should adequately guide the process and intervene in case of any complications.

Finally, it’s important to clarify that you should view this as an additional form of treatment, but not as a substitute to a professional treatment. Thus, it comes to the aid of other techniques and psychological sciences practiced by professionals.

It might interest you...
Phases of Breathing
Step To HealthRead it in Step To Health
Phases of Breathing

Did you know there are phases to our breathing? Breathing is an essential physiological process of which we're often not even aware.

 



  • Holmes S, Morris R, Clance P, Putney R. Holotropic breathwork: An experiential approach to psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 1996; 33(1):114-120.
  • Grof S. Holotropic Breathwork: A New Experiential Method of Psychotherapy and Self-Exploration. Journal of Transpersonal Research; 2014: 6(1): 7-24.
  • Grof S. Holotropic Breathwork: New Perspectives in Psychotherapy and Self-Exploration. Semantic Scholar. New York: State University, 2010.
  • Holmes S, Morris R et al. Holotropic breathwork: An experiential approach to psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 1996; 33(1): 114–120.
  • Puente, I. Special Issue on Holotropic Breathwork and Other Hyperventilation Procedures. Navarra, Spain: Eurotas/Oxigeme, 2014.
  • Terekhin P. The role of hypocapnia in inducing altered states of consciousness. Human Physiology. 1996; 22(6): 730–735.
  • Victoria H, Caldwell C. Breathwork in body psychotherapy: Clinical applications. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy. 2013; 8(4): 216-228.