The authorship of the technique of holotropic breathing belongs to the now-living American psychiatrist of Czech origin Stanislav Grof, already mentioned in the Chapter “Psychedelic drugs“. After the legislative prohibition of the use of LSD in psychiatry, the Grof began to search for a legal alternative. Having tried many different methods of changing consciousness, he eventually stopped at a deep frequent breathing, which he called “holotropic” (holistic).
With a sufficiently long and intense deep breathing, the gas composition of the blood changes, carbon dioxide is washed out of it and oxygen saturation. Hyperoxygenation causes the practitioner effects similar to those arising from the use of LSD. In addition to the breathing technique itself, specially selected music and bodily manipulations by the teacher, techniques for overcoming pop-up muscle clamps and barriers are also used.
The session lasts about an hour and a half, the result is the ascent, the manifestation of unconscious material in the minds of holonaut. Grof believes that in this way it is possible to realize not only the deep personal experience, but also to go beyond it, in the area, which he calls transpersonal.
Here is how he writes about Grof:
“The content of holotropic States is often spiritual or mystical. We can go through a series of psychological death and rebirth and a wide range of supra-personal phenomena, such as feelings of unity and identification with other people, with nature, the Universe, God, discover something that seems to us memories from other incarnations, meet with bright archetypal images, communicate with ethereal beings and visit countless mythical lands. Our consciousness can be separated from the body and yet maintain its ability to perceive both the immediate environment and the most remote places.“
Stanislav Grof’s “Transpersonal vision»
The topic of transpersonal experience is very interesting and extensive, but beyond the scope of this study, those interested in this field of knowledge, I refer to the works of Grof, many of which are translated into Russian and available in electronic form. We are also interested in the practice of holotropic breathing in relation to an important topic for us, the treatment of depression.
Theoretically, if, according to Grof, holonaut experiences are equivalent to the effects achieved by the use of LSD, and also are safer, then this practice should have greater therapeutic value for the detection and study of hidden unconscious material, which plays a significant, as we found out above, role in the development of depression.
Reasoning in this way, I signed up for a seminar to a fairly well-known coach in one of the major Ukrainian cities. The seminar was held for three days, the program included two breathing sessions. Before the seminar, I told about my problem to the coach and received assurances from him that, at least, to eliminate the somatic manifestations of depression, holotropic therapy is the best. He told me his own story of getting rid of a chronic stomach ulcer with just one successful breathing session. During the session in his mind he had a vision of a medieval battle in which he participated and was stabbed with a sword in the area of the right hypochondrium, in right in place of the projection of ulcers on the anterior wall of the abdomen. Needless to say, after this experience, the pain stopped, and the instrumental study showed no signs of a disease resistant to therapy over the previous five years.
I must say that this story and everything I previously read about holotropic therapy, it is very reassuring, but unfortunately, I was waiting for another disappointment. I can’t blame the coach or talk about the ineffectiveness of the method itself, in any way. Just personally, I did not succeed. It was extremely difficult for me to physically withstand a given rate of breathing, especially given my pronounced asthenia. I lost my rhythm after a few minutes and could not return to it, despite all efforts. The same story was repeated at the second session, and as a result I had to come back empty-handed.
Holotropic breathing is a very interesting phenomenon worthy of careful study, but for its successful practice, it seems to me, it is necessary to be in good physical shape, which is rarely possible for a depressed patient. In addition, a certain inconvenience is the impossibility or, let’s say, the undesirability of independent practice. During a session you may lose control over their movements, disorientation in the environment, it can be easy to cause yourself some injury (without control on the part of the sitter?).
As for the analogy between the effects of holotropic breathing and LSD, which is carried out by the Grof, it is certainly an exaggeration. LSD gives almost instant access to unconscious material, which is stored for several hours, in the case of holotropic breathing, in order to gain such access, you have to make a lot of physical effort for at least an hour and as a result, if you’re lucky, to be able to open the door to the subconscious for just a few moments. The difference seems obvious to me.
Later, while doing primary therapy in the center of Dr. Yanov, I realized how naive were my ideas about the possibility of awareness of one traumatic episode from the past and the subsequent immediate recovery. But this is a story for another Chapter of the book.