YJ Tried It: An Intro to Holotropic Breathwork
I’ve tried all sorts of breathwork practices, from the Wim Hof Method to three-part breath, but Holotropic breathing—a pattern of inhalations and exhalations designed to help practitioners access higher states of consciousness—was new to me.
To try it, I met up with Michael Stone, a certified Holotropic Breathwork facilitator. Stone trained with psychiatrist Stan Grof, a cofounder of transpersonal psychology who developed Holotropic Breathwork in the 1970s as an alternative to psychedelics for reaching altered states of mind. Champions of the technique claim it results in self-exploration, transformation, and a feeling of wholeness.
The technique is generally taught in a 12-hour workshop, with two breathing sessions lasting 2 hours each, but Stone took me through an introductory, 1-hour variation of the practice.
In Holotropic sessions, one person is the breather (me, in this case), and the other is the sitter (Stone). The sitter’s job is to stay beside the breather and hold space for them—to help them feel safe, watched over, not alone. This method of breathing is designed to cause the brain’s default mode network, the part that houses the analytical mind, to quiet down, suppressing the ego and tapping into the subconscious.
I lay under a blanket and covered my eyes with an eye pillow. Stone started with a guided relaxation meditation
to help release tension in my mind and body. Next, he took me through five minutes of breathing instructions beginning with deep, gentle, open-mouth inhalations and exhalations. Then the pace quickened, but my breathing remained deep and even.
After the first 10 minutes, Stone told me to follow my own inner guidance on how to breathe—a major difference between this and other breathwork I’ve tried that uses a specific breathing pattern rather than following intuition. Stone reassured me that everyone’s breathing looks a little different, and he encouraged me to express myself however I felt called.
“If emotions come up,” Stone said, “just surrender and welcome them; then release.”
Almost immediately, I began experiencing emotional and physical sensations. It started with uncontrollable laughter—laughter that felt like it was boiling up from deep inside of me. After another 10 or so minutes, my hands began tingling with a buzzing energy. It felt overwhelming, like I couldn’t control it. But as I continued the breathwork, I felt a release, and the energy in my hands started moving more fluidly. At one point, following Stone’s instruction to act freely, I raised them up, palms wide open, and felt warm energy surrounding me.
This led to a wave of emotion that bubbled up and caused me to cry. I couldn’t pinpoint a singular feeling in particular; it was more like every emotion I’d ever had merged into one, causing me to swell to the point of bursting. That sensation slowly morphed into overwhelming gratitude. My heart felt wide open, and I became very still, basking in bliss.
For the remainder of the session, it was as though I were in a trance. I wasn’t asleep, but I was calm and tranquil. My thoughts dissolved, and I simply existed.
Then Stone gently called me back to reality. As I became aware of my surroundings, he asked how I felt.
“What the hell?” I said, bemused.
It was as though I had floated to another dimension and, now morphed, was just coming back, a puddle on the floor.
It astonished me that we can experience such intensity, both mentally and physically, through breathing alone. We hold so much power inside of us, something that many of us forget or don’t even know. The freedom that came with my uncontrollable laughter has stuck with me, a reminder that we don’t often take the opportunity to let go and laugh freely, unprovoked. But now, I find myself mindful of making the time to experience unbounded joy.
“We’re always partially suppressing our feelings, but we’re meant to have these experiences,” Stone says. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to achieve them just through breath. In the same way that you do physical exercise, this is exercise for your psyche.”
To learn more about holotropic breathwork or take a virtual session with Michael, click here.
About the Author
Sky Cowans is a video creator on a mission to educate and empower her audience to live their healthiest, happiest lives. On her YouTube channel Sky Life, Cowans explores everything from ancient practices to emerging health trends, breaks down the science and research behind them, and documents her experience trying it all.