Holotropic Breathwork™ was codeveloped by Dr Stanislav Grof — one of the early academic psychiatrists using psychedelic medicines.[1],[2] From 1956 until the moratorium on research in 1972, Stan personally conducted over 2000 legal sessions as a researcher in Prague and Baltimore. He used his observations to develop an expanded map of the psyche and document the healing potential of non-ordinary states realizing that these understandings were not an accepted part of the professional medical and psychiatric knowledge base. This research is the foundation of the holotropic approach using the breath as the catalyst for an experience that is comparable to the use of entheogens or spirit plant medicines.

Stan remains active now into his ‘80s with the Grof Transpersonal Training program which certifies Holotropic Breathwork facilitators (www.holotropic.com). Notable trainees include Rick Doblin and Ingrid Pacey who are fulfilling on Stan’s original research program to validate and make psychedelic medicines part of the compendium of available pharmaceuticals as part of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

There is less imperative than with entheogens to raise the funds to do the clinical trial and other basic research to fully validate the approach. Observational research is being conducted however. Eyerman, for example, reports on 11,000 inpatients at a community hospital that participated in Holotropic Breathwork over a 12 year period. Eighty-two percent reported transpersonal experiences. No adverse effects were reported.

Safety is achieved by screening for medical contraindications including pregnancy, cardiovascular disorders, recent surgery or fractures or severe mental illness. Training requires extensive personal experiential work and use of the trademark term requires facilitators to adhere to the standardized approach.

Allowing the inner experiences that are activated to be guided by an inner healing mechanism is the core foundational principle of Grof Holotropic Breathwork.™ There are circumstances where external support is provided by facilitators in much the same relationship as that of midwives to natural childbirth. Practices that are appropriate and beneficial in ordinary states of consciousness however may derail the natural unfolding of an experience guided by the ‘inner healer’.

Sessions are 3 hours to permit resolution of the experiences activated though most complete at about 2 hours and sometimes the natural trajectory of a session is longer. Settings that limit full expression, facilitation that directs the participant from inner to external guidance or attempts to overlay therapeutic practices or psychological frameworks over a holotropic session do not contribute to full completion and therefore safety of a session.

The elements of breath and music used in Holotropic Breathwork are within the realm of the ordinary but do not underestimate their power combined with set and setting! The ‘know how’ to conduct psychedelic sessions using these elements is extraordinary. Think about it. This is essentially the practice of entering a non ordinary state without the assistance of an entheogen or spirit plant medicine. The set and setting must be rigorously created and maintained. It is relatively easier to pull the participant out of the non ordinary state obtained through the chemical advantage produced by accelerated breathing, yet provide all the needed support and there is no difference in the healing potential. The healing potential of non ordinary states is not reserved for those states created by entheogens. Like Glenna the good witch told Dorothy ‘You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself’.

Anyone who engages in the approach can verify that it works. In this pre prohibition era, Holotropic Breathwork is one of the few accessible and legal training grounds for aspiring psychedelic psychotherapists to gain personal experience with the power of non ordinary states of consciousness. For this reason the Psychedelic Psychotherapy Forum will be hosting a full Holotropic Breathwork™ Workshop in October of 2017. Ingrid Pacey, who led the Vancouver arm of the MAPS study on MDMA in post traumatic stress disorder, will be heading up a team of Grof certified facilitators. Hope to see you there.

by Carolyn J Green, PhD

Grof Certified Facilitator (1999)



[1] Grof S. and Grof C. (2010). Holotropic breathwork: A new approach to selfexploration and therapy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

[2] Grof S. (1980). LSD Psychotherapy. Pomona, CA: Hunter House.