5 min read

Holotropic Breathing

Holotropic breathing is a therapeutic breathing practice designed to help people overcome their negative feelings by entering into an altered state of mind purely through breathwork.

Holotropic breathing techniques typically take two to three hours and are often accompanied by music. With the help of a  trained professional, holotropic breathing can be a low-risk therapy tool that has benefits on its own or as part of a more extensive therapy program.


What is Holotropic Breathing

what is holotropic breathing

Holotropic breathing is a series of breathing techniques intended to help people with emotional healing and personal growth. The breathing technique typically involves rapid breathing techniques practiced over a period ranging from minutes to hours. Holotopic breathing alters one’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels to produce an altered state of consciousness.

Holtropic breathing typically requires a professionally trained guide to direct people’s practice. It is commonly taught through small group sessions, although larger group retreats focused on holotropic breathing are also common.

After one finishes a holotropic breathwork session, a guide will typically start a discussion with the participants about their thoughts and feelings as they go through the process. Individuals may express these reflections through creative methods such as drawing or painting.

A professional guide is highly recommended because holotropic breathing can bring up intense emotions and traumas from one’s past. The combination of holotropic breathwork techniques and conventional therapy has been proven beneficial for those working through depression and trauma.  


What Does The Term Holotropic Mean?

Holotropic comprises two Greek words, holos meaning “whole” and trepein meaning “to move forward.” So together, it can be translated as “moving towards wholeness.”


The Benefits of Holotropic Breathing

Benefits of holotropic breathing

Holotropic breathwork can be beneficial for the following:

  • stress
  • depression
  • addiction
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • avoidance behaviors
  • migraine headaches
  • chronic pain, asthma
  • premenstrual tension
  • negative thoughts and
  • trauma

Many people practice holotropic breathing to work through painful memories, to begin a healing process, or for self-exploration. It can also be beneficial for overall stress relief.

During the “high” experienced in holotropic breathing sessions, people see different things, such as images from their past. Because of this, holotropic breathing can be an excellent tool for therapy. Advocates of holotropic breathing have said that it helps find one’s way in life and can assist people in self-discovery and developing self-awareness.


What To Expect At a Session

One can find facilities that provide group sessions or, more uncommonly, individual sessions to practice holotropic breathing. A trained facilitator leads the session.

Participants are asked to pair up, with one person being the “breather” (who lies down on the mat) and the other being the “sitter” (sits and makes sure the breather is safe and comfortable). The partners will swap positions after they complete a set of actions to let the other partner get their turn.

Sessions usually take around two to three hours, after which there are led discussions amongst the group on the individual experiences during the sessions.

The guide often asks individuals to express their experiences creatively, occasionally through mandala drawings or playing instruments. If necessary, follow-up interviews and other methods are used to ensure the participants get the most out of their sessions.  


How to Perform Holotropic Breathing

1. Find a quiet and comfortable space where you can lie down or sit upright. Close your eyes and focus on your breath, allowing it to become deep and rhythmic.

2. Take a slow, deep inhalation through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand fully. Exhale fully through your mouth, releasing any tension or stress with each breath.

3. Continue this deep, connected breathing pattern, gradually increasing the pace and intensity. Let your breath flow freely, avoiding any forced or strained breathing.

4. As you breathe, allow any thoughts, emotions, or sensations to arise without judgment. Trust in the natural inner healing process that can occur through this technique.

5. Maintain the rhythm of your breath and let it guide you deeper into your experience. You may notice shifts in your body, emotions, or even visual imagery as you enter an altered state of consciousness.

6. Embrace whatever arises during the practice, understanding that it can be part of your healing journey. Trust your intuition and surrender to the transformative power of this ancient technique.

7. After a sufficient period of time, begin to slow down your breathing, returning to a gentle and natural pace. Take a few moments to rest and integrate the experience before gradually resuming your daily activities.

Remember, holotropic breathing is not a substitute for traditional mental health treatments. It can be a valuable complement to existing therapies, but consult with a qualified professional to ensure it aligns with your individual needs and circumstances.

Regularly incorporating holotropic breathing into your routine can help you tap into your inner healing potential, cultivate self-awareness, and promote overall well-being through simple yet profound breathing exercises.


Music and Holotropic Breathwork

Holotropic breathwork leaders frequently use evocative music to establish the rhythm of the exercise, often incorporating meditative music towards the end.

Intense music helps grab the participants’ attention at the beginning of the session. There are, traditionally, five phases in holotropic breathwork sessions, and each should have a companion piece:

  1. Opening music
  2. Trance-inducing music
  3. Breakthrough music
  4. Heart music
  5. Meditative music

The music used during the session should be more or less unknown to the participants; Avoiding recognizable words and music with a recognized meaning is suggested. That is because recognizable music may break one’s focus on breathing techniques. If it had recognizable lyrics, one might also start to interpret the meaning of the words.

Utilizing lesser-known songs that exhibit musical complexity but contain minimal lyrical content is commonly suggested. Examples may include the chants of monks and shamans, instrumental music such as drumming, or religious music intended to facilitate spiritual connection.


Purpose of Holotropic Breathing

People may use holotropic breathing as a tool for therapy and alongside other therapeutic practices. It’s a manageable technique for most, accessible, and can be an adjunctive treatment used with other therapeutic methods.

Holotropic breathing is often integrated into different spiritual practices due to its compatibility with the self-searching and reflective aspects. Some may use holotropic breathing to improve self-awareness and foster a positive outlook on life.


Frequently asked questions about holotropic breathing:


Can one practice holotropic breathing at home?

In general, experts on holotropic breathing do not recommend practicing holotropic breathing alone at home. This practice pushes users to darker areas of their psyche; many experience sensations similar to a high. Professionals recommend practicing under the guidance of trained facilitators who can help one work through the feelings and emotions that arise.


Is there a chance of getting stuck in a trance?

Holotropic breathing is a low-risk breathing technique and is unlikely to cause adverse reactions. It is essential to have a trained practitioner guiding the session to help one navigate the session and help to alleviate anxiety throughout the process.


Are there any precautions for holotropic breathing?

While no studies have identified any significant risks, researchers recommend that people only practice holotropic breathing under the guidance of a trained leader. The primary goal of this practice is for it to be used to achieve personal growth rather than simply for pleasure-seeking. Therefore, participants must engage in holotropic breathing to work on self-growth and achieve therapeutic benefits.



The Measure of Significance of Holotropic Breathwork in the Development of Self-Awareness - National Library of Medicine

Holotropic Breathwork - Stanislav Grof

Transpersonal Breathwork Practices - Esalen Institute

Why a Breathing Technique That Makes You Trip—Without Drugs—Should Be Your New Year’s Resolution - Vogue

The Theory and Practice of Holotropic Breathwork® - Holotropic Association Europe



The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.

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