The Science of Holotropic Breathwork, Goldilocks Zones, and Phoning Home
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
I once subscribed to the notion that life, everything we understood in this world, the universe itself, happened through an incredible sequence of random events, with no form of intelligence at work.
The formation of galaxies, solar systems, our earth, the creation of life itself, were all random, and completely by chance.
But I don’t think that anymore.
Over the years I’ve been presented with many theories attempting to resolve the biggest questions we as Sapiens could ever ask:
How did we, the universe, and everything inside it, come to existence?
And most curiously, why are we here? What is our purpose?
Did we all come here through pure chance?
Or has something else guided us all into being?
There are more questions then there are answers to these, the greatest of life’s mysteries.
But if we look inside of what science has already shown us, we learn there is so much more inspiration, mystery, and marvel to our creation.
More than even today’s best science can explain.
In his book “The Intelligence of the Cosmos – Why are we Here? New Answers from the Frontiers of Science” Ervin Laszlo, philosopher of science, systems theorist, integral theorist, classical pianist child prodigy and advocate quantum consciousness, helps magnify and explain the profound mystery and marvel that is us, and the universe in which we reside:
“The probability that even the simplest biological organisms that populate the biosphere would have come about through a random shuffling of their elements is negligible.
The DNA-mRNA-tRNA-rRNA transcription and translation system, basic to living systems, is so complex and precise that it is astronomically improbable that living organisms could have evolved through a chance assembly of their genes.
As Jane Goodall (quoting mathematical physicist Fred Hoyle) noted, the probability that new species would emerge through a chance mutation of their genes is comparable to the probability that a hurricane blowing through a scrapyard assembles an airplane.”
In addition, when it comes to our very earth, Laszlo goes on to explain:
“In the mainstream of science, a series of fortunate coincidences is cited as the explanation of the evolution of life on this planet. Earth is in a fortunate location in the galaxy, neither too far nor too close to its sun, a main-sequence G2 dwarf star.
It has the right atmosphere and the right amount of water for producing and sustaining life, it has the right mass, and it occupies a nearly circular orbit. It has an oxygen-nitrogen-rich atmosphere and a moderate rate of rotation.
There is liquid water on its surface, and a correct ratio between water and landmass. Its surface temperature fluctuates within a narrow range required for life.
It is also at the right distance from the centre of the galaxy and is protected from asteroids by giant gas planets.
In this position the sun’s heliosphere protects Earth’s surface from cosmic rays, and pressures lethal for biological systems, and the planets own magnetosphere protects it from dangerously high energies emanating from the heliosphere.”
There is little doubt we here on planet earth live in the perfect balance required to create and sustain life.
We, as it turns out, are lucky enough to live in the Goldilocks zone where all the ingredients have seemingly mixed together, just right.
We truly are blessed to live in such a plane of existence.
But, chances are, we are not alone in this esoteric plane.
In actuality, we might be just one of many planets that live within this zone. Inside this time and space.
And while we continue to point our telescopes, satellites and rockets outward in the noble pursuit of someday finding and connecting to our distant brothers, sisters and cousins within the cosmos, there may actually be another way to transmit, decode and decipher our understanding of this, the most profound of ideas…
Welcome to Part 2 of our Holotropic Breathwork series.
What does this introduction have to do with Part 2 of our Holotropic Breathwork series?
In Part 1 of The Inspired’s Holotropic article and interview with 25 year expert of Holotropic Breathwork, facilitator Carolyn Green, we looked at the history of Holotropic Breathwork, where it comes from, and it’s incredible benefits of removing ego, reducing stress, and revealing or releasing locked up traumas, moments, and experiences of the past.
Part 1 explained how through Holotropic Breathwork we are given access to a part of ourselves that allow us to look inward, to heal, for there is inside each of us, things that need healing.
Part 2 addresses some of these same elements in more detail. But there is an outward expression of Holotropic Breathwork that we will finally touch on.
Within it, is a beacon to connection, in understanding the great mysteries of the universe, which link us together through an expression and experience that frankly speaking, is difficult to completely explain.
We’ll start with the science behind Holotropic Breathwork, and also we’ll look at the many myths that surround the growing interest in Holotropic breathing.
Finally we’ll close with a look at the potential of Holotropic Breathwork beyond inner healing.
This is a concept where science takes a backseat to those who have experienced the unexplainable, but know, with a sense of peace, that when we venture within our minds we actually may be travelling to places beyond our wildest imagination.
So let’s get started…
Carolyn Green, facilitator and trained practitioner of Holotropic Breathwork for over 20 years, has graciously agreed to answer several more important questions on Holotropic Breathwork which we hope give you further understanding behind this incredible experience, it’s benefits, and it’s potential to connect us to ideas, places and concepts yet to be fully revealed to humanity as whole.
And a reminder if you haven’t read Part 1 yet, here is one last link to that article.
Holotropic Breathwork – Interview with Carolyn Green, Part 2:
1. What is the Science of Holotropic Breathwork? Any myths you want to dispel?
Carolyn Green - It is not accidental that Holotropic BreathworkTM (HB) sessions look quite similar to sessions in current clinical trials investigating MDMA or psilocybin for a number of mental health conditions.
Stanislav Grof, co-developer of HB, was not only part of the early psychedelic research community that developed the parameters of set and setting for clinical use of psychedelic medicine in the 1950s to 1970s, he trained many people who have revived that early research program using the knowledge gained during that era.
Dr Michael and Annie Mithoefer, the research leads and therapists on MDMA in post-traumatic stress disorder trials are certified HB facilitators and incorporated those standards into the research protocols.
Rick Doblinm, a certified HB facilitator, founded the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Sciences (MAPS) - the organization that has provided the organizational infrastructure to fund and coordinate those clinical trials – because he was a keen student of Stan Grof’s work.
The coordinator of MAPS clinical trials in Montreal is Alain Menier is a certified HB facilitator who is highly active in leading HB workshops.
In short, there is a global network of people trained by Stan in HB or influenced by his writings that are playing key roles in orchestrating change using the highest scientific benchmarks and conducting HB sessions to it’s highest standards.
Like other psychoactive modalities, (HB) is an ultimate bio hack. Thorns in the deep psyche are not easily reached by most self-help or therapeutic approaches. Most of us feel constrained by our limitations and problematic feelings that arise from deep wounds and inner disconnections.
Change at the level of brain (machinery) and deep psyche (machine plus consciousness) is provided by approaches that reach the required depth, are game changers HB delivers.
It is a myth that the most dramatic, visual or hallucinogenic experiences provide the most benefit during HB sessions. A subtle HB experience can provide great relief and benefit for the participant.
I had a brief vision in a session soon before my father died of him as a small boy walking down a country lane with his hand in his mother’s hand. For me the vision was like a message saying that he was in good hands. It provided solace as he crossed over. And that feeling remains a part of me.
The approach to HB is deceptively simple so it is difficult to believe it could be as powerful as it is.
HB uses overbreathing as catalyst to activate the inner healing mechanism.
It is this inner healing mechanism activated by all the psychedelic medicines that integrates mind, body and spirit in the service of full power living.
The set and setting of HB sessions are equally if not more important than the overbreathing technique itself. Ingrid Pacey, a Vancouver-based Psychiatrist, Certified Holotropic BreathworkTM Facilitator, and Lead of the British Columbia MAPS Clinical Trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PSTD explains:
Holotropic Breathwork as developed by the Grofs, IS psychedelic medicine. It can be as powerful as MDMA, LSD, psilocybin and other psychedelic medicines. I have seen this in my work with HB since 1986 and with MDMA since research began 2005.
People are naturally skeptical that breath can be as used in this way. The breathing techniques experienced through meditation or exercise programs are not designed to take you on an inner journey comparable to therapeutic psychedelic or spirit plant medicine work.
The predominant cultural experience is of breathing techniques designed for use in ordinary states of consciousness – not deep dives into the psyche beyond what is usually accessible to us.
Breathing exercises can be highly useful to relax, become more present, develop concentration and train the body for powerful movement.
Even those breathing approaches which aim to correct breathing patterns or regulate autonomic functions usually beyond conscious control are not designed or intended for use as a psychedelic medicine.
Stan Grof’s early publications including ‘Psychedelic Psychotherapy’ first published in 1972 and ‘Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research’ first published in 1975 provided an important early foundation of scientific knowledge for those who are now leading the psychedelic medicine research renaissance. Stan Grof has been an exceptional and prolific scholar over a career spanning 60 years and a new book and movie are in process.
The HB approach was designed using the same knowledge base to achieve the same high quality sessions. This body of knowledge of how to support people in non-ordinary states requires a paradigm shift – to the Holotropic Paradigm.
Mainstream academics and practitioners have still not grasped the implications of the emerging data that is validating Stan’s early research and insights.
‘Anyone who has tried it, knows it works.’ This comment by Canadian psychiatrist Paul Grof, brother of Stanislav Grof, co-developer of Holotropic Breathwork (HB), has stayed with me.
We were brainstorming how to design a clinical trial to validate HB – and the challenges. There are no legal restrictions on the use of breath as a psychoactive modality as there are with drugs produced in a lab or spirit plant medicines. Therefore there is not the same imperative to conduct the trials so that HB can be available.
So although it is available, it may require validation by clinical trials. Without the same return on investment associated with commercial pharmaceutical sales, funding clinical trials of HB would need to be from public funds including perhaps government health research funding.
In the short term, many people with health and mental conditions who could likely benefit from HB are not going to find it available through our health and mental health systems until further research provides the validation through research used for new health care interventions – the clinical trial.
There is however a body of research that is HB specific. The clinical case series by Dr. James Eyerman is outstanding in that the research was undertaken in a community hospital. It is powerful demonstration of the safety of supervised HB sessions that 11,000 psychiatric inpatients were safely led through HB sessions.
In a public workshop, participants are screened so that people in states of mind that require residential treatment are advised that the container is not suitable. As well, screening ensures that risk is not increased due to prior medical conditions.
However Public fundraising efforts to conduct clinical trials will likely be required to secure a place for HB as a routine part of clinical practice.
Research similar to that being used to investigate brain changes with psychedelic medicines such as CT scans would also be welcome. In depth investigations of the physiological effects of HB could and should be done using the sophisticated technologies now available.
While the research on the impact of other breathing techniques is informative, in most cases it isn’t comparable because the breathing techniques are so different. Although the hypothesis that DMT is responsible for the powerful experiences that people have with breathwork is reasonable given that they are similar to those of other psychedelic medicines, but I haven’t see a paper directly proving that.
Breathing is not amenable to legislative restrictions and so unlike pharmaceutical psychedelic medicines, HB can and will be used far into the future whether the political winds restrict use for political, rather than scientific, reasons.
Myth: You can do Holotropic Breathwork on your own
Carolyn Green - Holotropic Breathwork is underestimated and misunderstood. A person hasn’t really done HB unless they have done it with a Grof Transpersonal Trained certified facilitator. It’s not just a defense of the communities modality. We are defending this approach like a sacred grail because we want to keep this model alive in much the same way MAPS is for synthetic psychedelic medicines.
Grof estimated that it takes the people he trains, at least 2 years to really experience how little they know and start offering workshops. That is because the central practice is of being a midwife to unfolding consciousness. It is a program of caring for the psyche in altered states.
Most practitioners trained to work in ordinary states may be successful in those realms but haven’t the training and understanding of the most important elements. The breathing technique and music set are important but trivial compared to the essential ‘doing of not doing’ practice of supporting the unfolding psyche in non-ordinary states.
Like Through the Looking Glass, everything changes when you dive beneath the surface.
On your own, a person can overbreathe to music and have a good time or a rough time but unless they are using the same set and setting as clinical trials of psychedelic medicines, it is unlikely that they will have an experience of comparable effect.
Few people have the set up in their homes to play music concert loud, make processing noises if they need to or have the support to stay safe if needed when they are really deep. I hear the story of a friend teaching a person to over breath then doing all kinds of things that would be malpractice in the Holotropic Paradigm.
There are thousands of breathing exercises but in support the psyche in non ordinary states there are a thousand ways to derail a session and misguide breathers.
This is true of self-trained psychedelic psychotherapists as well.
The set and setting are as important as the catalyst for the experience whether it be a ‘drug’ or ‘non drug’ entheogen. Without the mindset, psycho-active substances can do real harm. An example is the CIA experiments of giving people psychedelics without their knowledge with life threatening outcomes.
Engendering fear in these ways can turn a healing modality into a traumatic experience.
Giving psychedelic medicines to people without their knowledge, that is, without the mind ‘set’ of understanding and conscious letting go of everyday control of the thinking mind can create tremendous fear and suffering. Whether using a drug or breath, adequate knowledge beforehand is critical for a session to be therapeutic. This is why the CIA and early researchers who attempted to separate the effect from the setting ended up with unprepared study participants (some unwitting) and cold sterile settings without human warmth.
A persons understanding and willingness to let go of the everyday control of ordinary consciousness to take the deep dive is critical. People absolutely need good information before hand.
Myth: Breathwork is inherently safe and beneficial
Carolyn Green - The HB model was designed so that a reasonably healthy person could safely experience a non-ordinary state.