My Personal Experience with Holotropic Breathwork

I walked into my first official Grof Holotropic Breathwork workshop in the fall of 1991, on a farm in Monee, Illinois. As I pulled up the dirt driveway to park, I became intrigued to notice the variety of vehicles parked in that cornfield.  I parked in between a brand new Mercedes and a beat-up VW 70s bug.  I wondered just who the people would be at this workshop, and how the day would unfold.

Twelve hours later, when I walked out, I knew I had found a tool for healing and self-exploration that would impact my life for years to come, on every level.  I also intuitively knew after that day that Grof’s method would become part of my professional work. Here’s what struck me most that day

The Breathwork Experience

I felt moved and deeply inspired by my breathwork experience.  While I didn’t have a profound life-changing experience until my third session, that first session gave me a real glimpse of the depth and potential that breathwork offered.  I could see first-hand how deeply it affected people. Instinctively I knew this was a great tool to go beyond my left-brain, thinking, monkey-mind and go deep into my inner process and journey, in a way that traditional talk-therapy cannot.  But it was also obvious to me that Holotropic Breathing was a tool that had great value for not only healing of old wounds, but also for those who are seekers and explorers of life and themselves; for those on a spiritual path; for those who instinctively follow Socrate’s call to “Know thyself.”

Stan Grof’s Scientific, Theoretical Framework

I also found that my left-brain analytical scientist mind felt very happy and at-home in the extensive (and fascinating) theoretical container that Dr. Stanislav Grof had built.  I greatly appreciated that every single thing that happens in a Holotropic Breathwork workshop is based in his (then) 30+ years of direct clinical observations. It made a difference to me that he is an M.D. and brings an empirical perspective to the deeper inner (many would call it spiritual) world.  I loved that he coined the term “transpersonal” and along with Abraham Maslow and others was one of the pioneering co-founders of that field of study in psychology. And my curiosity was titillated to see that he had been building a “map of consciousness” of every type of deep-psyche experience he’d ever observed. (To this day, I tell people that attend our workshops that if they have an experience that isn’t listed in his map of the psyche, that I have no doubt that Dr. Grof would love to speak to them, and that I’ll be happy to make a personal introduction for them. 😉

The Community

From a recent workshop in the sanctuary of the Lynnwood Unity Church.

From a recent workshop in the sanctuary of the Lynnwood Unity Church.

Finally, I felt like I had found my “tribe,” a space where my soul felt more “at home” that I’d experienced before. Never had I felt so at ease with a group before – the people there were kindred spirits on my journey. And the 25 years since then have continually validated that for me.  I’ve found there to be a powerful and instinctual connection among the many types of seekers who choose this modality as part of their healing journey.  During this time, I’ve met kindred people from innumerable countries all around the world and enjoyed the instinctive bond that forms upon meeting another holotropic breather.  I feel there is a passionate, independent nature that is common among the people who resonate towards this work.  I liken it to the pioneers of the early west in the US, except in the realm of consciousness exploration.  And I also love that I can go almost anywhere in the world and find a Grof-certified Holotropic workshop, and feel “at-home.”

Meeting at the Soul Level

One other aspect of HB that I have greatly appreciated since that first experience is that when I walked out of that first workshop in that cornfield, I realized I had never once thought about who drove the Mercedes and who drove the beat-up Bug.  Our interaction in the workshop started at the most meaningful and profound inner level.  Rather than starting at “what car do you drive?” and “where do you live and work?” the first things we learned about each other were about what was really and truly going on for each of us, below all that day to day stuff – at what i might call the soul level.  And that is where I realized for the first time that I feel most at home.  (And it’s a big reason that my two favorite modalities are breathwork and astrology, which have that in common.)

25 Years Later

25 years later, I can say that my first impressions were spot on.  Holotropic Breathwork, as taught by Dr. Grof, has proven to be a profound part of both my inner journey and inner work, and of my professional life ever since.  A great many of my deepest and most impactful life learnings have originated in breathwork sessions over the years.  I entered the two-year Grof Transpersonal Training program in 1999 and completed it in 2001. I’ve been leading regular workshops in Seattle since then.  Having gained so much for my own journey over the years from the breathwork, I feel called to offer this work to others.  It is my service to others, and to the greater world, which is in such need of healing right now.

I wish I had a way to somehow allow people to see through my eyes just how much profound healing and change I’ve personally witnessed in the 14 years I’ve been facilitating workshops.  I feel angry when I read psychologists writing about how people can’t change.  People can make dramatic changes in their lives.  Sometimes it happens quickly.  Often more slowly.  But I’m a deep believer that breathwork can be a huge tool and catalyst for the change process, for those who are ready.

Healing of Self, Healing of Planet

Finally, I am also a big believer that our beautiful world is in serious risk and need of healing during these precarious times.  And I do not believe that inner healing can be separated from outer healing. i.e. the healing of the outer world must start with each of us healing ourselves.  I believe there is a direct 1-to-1 relationship – that anything we heal in ourselves, however small, directly contributes to the healing of the world.  If we all “do our work” much can still change.