The Canadian Holotropic Breathwork (TM) Network Launches at the Nov 17/18, 2017, Weekend

Article co-authored by Ingrid Pacey, MD, MBBS, FRCP(C), and Carolyn Green, PhD


“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.” ~ Ingrid Pacey, Psychiatrist, Certified Holotropic BreathworkTM Facilitator, and Lead of the BC MAPS Clinical Trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PSTD

The Psychedelic Psychotherapy Forum-sponsored Grof Holotropic Breathwork Weekend Nov 17/18, 2017, in Victoria, BC, provided participants with the opportunity to engage in what is now part of the training for all MAPS Phase 3 research therapists. The adventures in consciousness with HB are comparable to the use of psychedelic medicines without the use of a chemical entheogen. The breather/sitter pair format provides participants with the experience of being a witness/therapist for another’s journey. This is useful for those considering a career as a psychedelic therapist in the post prohibition era. An advantage of HB in the current era is that it has no legal restrictions as many of the psychedelic medicines still do. Facilitators trained to use breathwork as a psychedelic medicine to the standard set by Stan and Christina Grof are unfortunately rare though there is a global training program and community.

The Canadian Holotropic Breathwork Network was launched to ensure that Canadians have access to Holotropic BreathworkTM (HB) for psycho-spiritual healing and self-development. The intention is to promote HB as a standard for using breath as a psychedelic medicine, to promote HB training, facilitators and events, to support collaborative research and to raise funds for these purposes. The sold out HB Weekend event was an exciting venue for the launch. It was the largest gathering in Western Canada of Grof Transpersonal Training (GTT) certified facilitators of HB since Stan and Christina started training others in this approach in BC at Hollyhock 30 years ago.

Many pioneers were at the launch. Dr. Stan Grof was virtually present via livestream. He spoke to his early experiences and how they led to the development of this style of breathwork after his research with psychedelic medicines became illegal. He told the fascinating story of the session in which an early LSD research participant guided Stan in how to do body work to release an intense pressure in his shoulder. From this experience Stan developed the body release work that is a key component of the HB approach. Dr. Donna Dyer, who moderated the evening panel, is a transpersonal psychiatrist and early pioneer of LSD research in the US, with her husband Dr Richard Yensen who was at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Centre with Dr. Stan Grof. Drs. Pacey, Dyer and Yensen were lead investigators and therapists in the MAPS MDMA-assisted psychotherapy research trials in British Columbia. Dr. Ingrid Pacey outlined how the HB community has grown and the continuing relevance in the post prohibition era of psychedelic research. She was one of the earliest Grof HB facilitator trainees 1987-1990 and spoke of her experiences conducting regular workshops for over 14 years with particular focus on trauma survivors. Carolyn Green, PhD, representing a newer generation of facilitators described her start in a workshop with Ingrid Pacey, through the GTT. She also described the future aspirations for the new association called the Canadian Holotropic Breathwork Network as part of the launch.

The renaissance of psychedelic medicine research is leading more people to Stan Grof’s work and HB but its similar ties to psychedelic medicines are not widely understood. HB is different to breathing exercises practiced in ‘ordinary’ or regular states of consciousness,

such as the martial arts, yoga and meditation techniques that the public is familiar with. Ordinary states of consciousness are what we use to navigate the reality of everyday life from the ordinary activities of daily living to extraordinary activities with consequences, such as landing airplanes. Breathing practices enhance ordinary states of consciousness and performance generally through their ability to enhance physical, mental and spiritual states of wellbeing. In HB, breathing is deliberately deeper and faster than in normal breathing and it is this, combined with powerful and evocative music, which leads to safe brain changes that create the altered or non-ordinary state of consciousness.

HB, like other psychedelic medicines, can have a great impact on our everyday states of consciousness and our health as it addresses deeper layers of the psyche and body. A healing mechanism of the deep psyche is activated by HB, as it is with all the psychedelic medicines. When he first started offering Holotropic Breathwork Workshops, Stan Grof himself was astonished that people could have as powerful and comparable an experience without drugs and only with the use of the breath as they could in an LSD session. Sometimes he thought that a participant must have brought their own drug to a workshop and to his amazement they had not. It is similarly surprising to most participants in their first workshop that most people with no more than an introductory talk and the setting of the workshop can achieve a non-ordinary state that activates the inner healing mechanism as if an entheogen was used.

Achieving and sustaining the non-ordinary state with HB requires the features that are characteristic of all safe psychedelic sessions – safety, trust, support and understanding the terrain of the holotropic consciousness. The override of ordinary consciousness is not as consistently powerful as when chemical entheogens are used, so the experience depends on adherence to the workshop design and use of the breath. The breath needs be used powerfully as an entheogen by an informed participant. The powerful musical soundscape is essential to many participants, as are the facilitation and integration features to return to ordinary states, having completed the experience activated by the process. The requirements of set and setting that are critical for the safe use of all psychedelic medicines, are as rigorous, if not more so, to support the HB experience.

Many thanks to our supporting sponsors – Grof Transpersonal Training, Float House Victoria, Victoria Association for Psychedelic Studies, Integral Counselling BC, and the Secret of Breath. Certified facilitators Jane Cooper, Renn Butler, Neil Hanon joined organizers Ingrid Pacey and Carolyn Green. Apprentice Jack Bowering and pioneering facilitators Wendy Barrett, Donna Dryer, and Richard Yensen assisted us. Pauline Goh, Kevin Parker, and their team were our impeccable interface with Westin Bear Mountain Resort, and with Adrian Oberg for the University of Victoria venue. Also, our gratitude to all the volunteers who supported this weekend event. We couldn’t have done it without you.

– This article was co-authored by Dr. Ingrid Pacey & Carolyn J Green, PhD, Jan 5, 2018.