My First Experience with Holotropic Breath Work

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As a yogi, I’m familiar with the type of breath work that is practiced within yoga, the type that’s called pranayama whose purpose ranges from calming down the nervous system or creating heat within the body. In the holistic wellness communities, holotropic breath work has become a popular tool, with breath work workshops popping up seemingly everywhere over the past couple of years. 

I’ve been curious about holotropic breath work since hearing about it because at first glance it seems silly to go to a workshop on breathing, so I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

As a yogi, I thought I had a handle on my breath, but holotropic breath work isn’t just about breathing necessarily. It’s a tool that allows you to shut off your pre-frontal cortex, or your conscious mind, and access your subconscious through the power of breath. 

Holotropic breathwork is a therapeutic technique that involves controlled breathing and music to induce altered states of consciousness. The word “holotropic” comes from the Greek words “holos” (whole) and “trepein” (to turn towards) and refers to the idea that this technique can help individuals access the wholeness of their being.

During a holotropic breathwork session, participants lie down and are guided to breathe rapidly and deeply for an extended period of time. The intention is to increase the amount of oxygen in the body, which can lead to a range of experiences including altered states of consciousness, emotional release, and spiritual insights.

The experience can be intense and may involve physical, emotional, and mental catharsis— however the guide is there to make you feel safe and supported throughout the experience. 

Holotropic breathwork is often used as a complementary therapy to traditional psychotherapy and can be helpful for individuals seeking to address issues such as trauma, anxiety, depression, addiction, and spiritual growth.

My Guided Holotropic Breath Work Experience:

The Set Up:

Since the breath work course happened at my usual yoga studio, it was a familiar place. I went into the studio to find the lights down low, with mats that formed a circle around the room. We were instructed to lay every other person with either our head or feet towards the center of the room, in order to give ourselves some space from the others. In the center of the room, there was a small speaker, crystals, and Paolo Santo burning. 

We started the class with the instructor explaining what we can expect from a breath work class, the science behind it, what happens to our body during it, and of course how to do the rolling breath. 

Then, people who had been to breath work classes prior shared their experiences, this was a nice way to get started because I really didn’t know what to expect from holotropic breathing and it gave me some insight and calmed my nerves a bit. 

One of the most important things that the instructor said before we dove into the class, was that at first, your ego will resist, it will tell you that this is silly and block you from going deeper. Knowing this prior to go into the act of breathing was key because it did happen, and I was able to breathe my way through it knowing that it was normal for these thoughts to come up and that if I just kept breathing that I would be able to go deeper. 

The Breathwork Portion:

The entire breathing portion was around 45 minutes and accompanied by 10 songs that would guide us to a peak and then back down to normal breath. 

Throughout the entire experience, the instructor was speaking and gave us affirmations and guidance. She was also keeping us updated on how many songs are left. 

During the experience, I found that in the first two songs, I was able to just get the rhythm of the breath down and start to move past my ego telling me to resist this. Then as I got past, the tetany started to kick in with my hands cramping and turning to lobster claws— something we were told could happen, so I was ready for it. 

When my first release came up, it felt strange, I had the strong urge to cry without understanding why. I wanted to resist it at first, but then I let go. I sobbed for a few moments, then turned back to my breath. This happened multiple times throughout the experience, and each time I had no connection to what my body was releasing, but I was told that it’s normal that our body stores trauma that we consciously don’t remember— which is the whole point of breath work therapy to get to into our subconscious to release these hindrances. 

I had two more experiences during the class that moved me. Early on in the session, I became conscious of the others around me crying, and instantly a huge surge of feeling compassion came over me in the form of a red light, and this light expanded and seemed to sit over the entire room. This reminded me of the visualizations of colors in my experience with hypnosis

Then on a more personal note, there was a moment when I felt the energy of my grandmother, a woman I never had the chance to meet because she passed before I was born. My family always says that she and I were a lot alike and that there’s some sort of connection between the two of us. 

This was the first time I truly felt her presence of her and it was unmistakable. It was a moment when we were guided to dig deep about releasing something that’s been holding us down, and for me, that was the doubt in myself about the direction I am heading. My grandma’s presence gave me a sense of comfort as if she was nudging me saying you’re doing great, keep following your heart. After this, I had the largest release I experienced throughout the workshop, and it was then it was time to start coming back to our normal breath. 

Coming Back to Consciousness

After the song that guided us back to our normal breath, we layed in our spots for a bit digesting what we had just experienced. At this point, I was starting to get movement back into my hands and feet but had been completely paralyzed with tetany. One by one we all started to sit up on our mats and were greeted with fresh fruit and warm tea to pass around. 

As we snacked and drank the tea, we were prompted to share our experiences if we felt comfortable. It was very interesting to hear about the others in the same room with the same guidance, having such different experiences. Some people had very visual experiences while some people didn’t get past the point of the ego blocking them. 

My Thoughts

All in all, I found the experience to be extremely moving. I felt a strong sense of calm after the holotropic breathwork session.

I can see how if it was done on a weekly basis with an individual guide working with the personalized issues this could really dig deep and help unravel the trauma hidden inside of you. 

I am 100% glad that I signed up for the workshop and will definitely be keeping my eyes open for more workshops in the future. 

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