Stanislav Grof And His Famous Holotropic Breathwork
If you’ve ever stared into the backs of your eyelids and breathed white light into your navel, you’ve done breathwork. Breathwork is a new-age term that refers to rejuvenating breathing techniques aimed at awakening the body’s life force. In many circles, breathwork is a key modality utilized to inspire peacefulness, healing, and the embodiment of the divine. Stan Grof, MD, Ph.D., a clinical psychiatrist from Czechoslovakia and one the founding forefathers of research in transpersonal psychology for non-ordinary states of consciousness and the therapeutic potential of LSD, has turned breathwork into a psychedelic, and the benefits are profound.
Dr. Grof says his “holotropic” technique, i.e., turning or directing inwardly or healing toward wholeness, helps practitioners expand their consciousness through rapid, repetitive breathing.
Naysayers regard this activity as potentially dangerous, noting that it resembles hyperventilation. Regardless, thousands of people throughout the world claim Grof’s technique has reduced their stress- and mind-related ailments, and helps them access the inner wisdom of their bodies and core Self.
“Meditation is to understand that one breath connects all beings.”
― Amit Ray
What Is The Holotropic Mind?
Stanislav Grof’s “holotropic mind” refers to the concept that from any fragment of any aspect of the universe, the whole can be reconstructed. Given that the fabric of the universe and all its attributes are continuously expanding and birthing, the holotropic mind might also be referred to as the “eternal mind” or “one mind.”
David Bohm, a theoretical physicist, and partner of Einstein’s explored the complexities and paradoxes of this concept. Grof writes of Bohm, he “describes reality as an unbroken, coherent whole that is involved in an unending process of change, called “holomovement.” He continues with Bohm’s ideas, stating, “matter and life are both abstractions that have been extracted from the holomovement,” and “matter and consciousness are both aspects of the same undivided whole.”
This brings to mind the ancient Sanskrit prayer:
Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Puurnnam-Udacyate
Puurnnasya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih
This translates roughly to:
“That is the whole, this is the whole; from the whole, the whole becomes manifest; taking away the whole from the whole, the whole remains, Om peace, peace, peace,” as noted in the prayerbook from Amma “The Hugging Saint.”
Who Is Stan Grof?
Stanislav Grof grew up in Czechoslovakia and received his M.D. from Charles University in Prague in 1957, before later completing a Ph.D. in medicine at the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences eight years later, while studying Freudian psychoanalysis.
Grof held the positions of Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, Clinical and Research Fellow at the Henry Phipps Clinic, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. He teaches as a professor of psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and his Grof Transpersonal Training (GTT). Dr. Grof has authored several books, including “Psychology of the Future,” “LSD Psychotherapy,” “Beyond the Brain,” “The Cosmic Game,” and “When the Impossible Happens.”
Grof is one of the chief theoreticians of transpersonal psychology, a method that incorporates spirituality and unorthodox elements of the human experience into more traditional psychology. In the early 19070s, Grof’s work was recognized by other academics working in the field of alternative branches of psychology, including Michael Murphy and Dick Price who founded the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, an alternative psychological research institution inspired by psychedelic research, Eastern philosophy and the ideas of famous minds, such as Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts. It was there that Grof would live for several years doing his early research and living as scholar-in-residence.
In the late 1970s, Grof furthered the development of the field of transpersonal psychology and became the founding president of the International Transpersonal Association, or ITA, in San Francisco as international attention grew for his pioneering work. He and his wife Christina Grof devoted their lives to modern consciousness research, where they made major contributions to this alternative field of psychology, most notably their concepts and works titled “The Stormy Search for the Self,” “The Ultimate Journey,” “Healing Our Deepest Wounds,” “Realms of the Human Unconscious,” and the “Spiritual Emergency.”
In addition to holotropic breathwork, Grof’s work incorporates psychedelic experiences from guided sessions involving psychedelic substances such as LSD. In fact, Grof has guided over 4,500 therapeutic LSD sessions with his patients.
The 16 Benefits Of Holotropic Breathing
It’s no secret that through the breath, we can access the all-pervasive consciousness and heal ourselves. With consistent effort, we can release anger, anxiety, grief, depression, and chronic pain. With pranayama (breath control), we might also deepen our connection to the eternal I Am.
Here are some of the benefits of Holotropic Breathwork:
- Release stored tension
- Access and release old and chronic emotions
- Dissolve energy blocks
- Awaken your core Self-identity and pure nature
- Bring past traumas into the light for recognition, healing, and emotional release
- Invigorate your body and clear your mind
- Break-free of mental chatter
- Break your patterns around preservation
- Improve your attitude and intentions
- Set yourself on a more proactive life course
- Clarify and improve your self-worth so that you can set better boundaries
- Learn to love yourself and others without codependence or subservience
- Move past your ego for more enlightened interactions and pursuits
- Enrich your creativity
- Invite greater positivity
- Improve your chances of overcoming addiction
If you’re ready to experience your prenatal universe (your core Self before this birth), you’re ready for Holotropic Breathwork. This type of self-exploration is the crux of Grof’s philosophy.
How To Do Holotropic Breathing
While there is no definitive way to practice this technique, and the ancient masters have provided several ways to achieve the same results, here is a set of suggestions that you may find helpful:
- Lay on your back, with your head slightly elevated with a thin pillow.
- Relax and empty your mind of thoughts.
- Take a few deep breaths through your nose and allow the air to fill all areas of your lungs. Slowly and peacefully exhale through your nose.
- Here forward, breathe solely through your mouth. Begin gently with several inhales of fresh air. Allow the air to activate your diaphragm and fill your belly. When your lungs and belly are full, slowly and peacefully exhale. Allow any emotions to arise and release.
- Once you’re comfortable breathing in and out, increase your breathing rate. While some might feel inspired to breathe as fast as they can, the idea here is to remain peaceful. It might be best to slowly accelerate your breathing so that you give rise to a stress-free pace.
- After 3 to 5 minutes, you’ll naturally find your rhythm and style of breathing. If you haven’t pushed yourself too hard, you’ll find that your body will enjoy the rapidity of your breathing. Throughout the process, be careful to remain conscious and attend to your breath.
- If possible, maintain your deep, speedy breathing for up to 20 minutes. If this is your first time, it might be best to stop at 5 to 10 minutes, or less. If you have found comfort in your pace and are feeling safe and fully conscious, consider extending this ritual for up to 2 hours.
“When the breath is unsteady, all is unsteady; when the breath is still, all is still. Control the breath carefully. Inhalation gives strength and a controlled body; retention gives steadiness of mind and longevity; exhalation purifies body and spirit.”– Goraksasathakam
Powerful Breathwork Techniques
Whether you’re a hippie on a beach breathing ocean air to open your mind’s eye, a Hesychastic Christian on Mt. Athos breathing the eternal Christ into your Earth-nature, or a Kundalini ashram-yogi doing “Breath of Fire” to awaken into the eternal Self, you’re experiencing the purest modality for self- and divine-connection: inhaling and exhaling to deepen your connection to the one boundless, non-dual reality.
Here are a few of the most wonderful breathing techniques to inspire your awareness and awakening:
- Breath of Fire: Seated in lotus pose, relax into measured breathing. When you’re ready, begin increasing your inhalations and exhalations to reach over 60 breaths per minute. As you grow into this experience, you might build toward 120 breaths per minute.
- Sama Vritti: Sit in lotus pose, gently breathe inward and outward in equal durations, and focus on stillness.
- Nadi Shodhana (nostril breathing): A pranayama breathing technique that uses alternate nostrils. This is helpful when preparing for meditation as it stimulates the third eye, crown chakra, and root chakra while balancing the mind and heart.
- Wim Hof Method: A robust process whereby you aggressively inhale through your nose or mouth and then exhale through your mouth. These short, powerful bursts are followed by brief periods of holding one’s breath. The total length of a sitting might be around 15 minutes.
- Abdominal Breathing: This is an essential and effective breathing technique that awakens the body and mind. Sit comfortably and use your diaphragm for breathing inward and outward. Focus on the expansion of the belly, rather than on the rise of the chest.
- Gentle Breathing: Sit or stand in a comfortable position and allow a relaxed breath to fill your lower lungs and belly.
While there are many forms of breathwork and many styles of concentrated breathing, the above list will get you started.
“Without full awareness of breathing, there can be no development of meditative stability and understanding.”
The Breathing Bottom Line
The key to awakening your peacefulness and awareness is breath. If you can spend 5 minutes per day solely focused on your breathing, you will be doing more for your soul’s expansion than 99.9% of the planet’s population.
Breathwork is also the perfect precursor to meditation. It gets your blood flowing, initiates the release of the mind, and creates space for your unfoldment. Since you are continuously unfolding back into your pre-birth nature and the eternal consciousness, the more space you can create for yourself, the better.
Breathe in light, exhale tension and toxins.
Breathe into love and know yourself.
Breathe and expand.
I am wishing you the most delicious breathing and meditation for all time!
Soham: Wisdom You Can Access
I first learned to meditate over 40 years ago. Friends of mine learned Transcendental Meditation in high school, but I couldn’t afford the fee. I had friends in college who also learned the TM method, but again, I was unable to pay and no one was parting with any information about the process. Stubbornly, I took it upon myself to research meditation techniques in the library and learned as much as I could. This was my introduction to mantras. I chose a mantra and one beautiful day, sitting under a tree, I gave it a whirl. It changed my life.
Your first mediation is never forgotten.
Eventually, I learned the TM method from a certified teacher. Although the basic idea was the same, I was given my mantra and in my first experience, felt a great opening of consciousness that I hadn’t experienced before. It was different. With this in mind, I began experimenting with mantras. One day, I meditated with the Soham mantra, not knowing what to expect. I found it to be peaceful, relaxing and connective in a way that’s hard to explain.
One With the Universe
Soham is Sanskrit and essentially means, “He whom I am.” It could be translated as, “I am He,” implying, “I am one with everything,” The “He” in this case is the Universe and the singularity of the divine. Soham is an ancient mantra and one that has been used in different ways, by numerous groups and societies. Some believe that it can connect us to what are known as, “The Ascended Masters.”
A Human Tendency to Expand and Interpret
The term “Ascended Masters” was coined in the 1930s and used to define spiritual adepts whom, after their time on Earth, ascend to a place where they help guide humanity and commune, or merge, with those who seek their wisdom. This movement gained great popularity and had a vast following, one that still exists today. This wasn’t the first time such an idea had been put forth. Theosophy, through Madame Blavatsky, had “The Great White Brotherhood.”
Many have accused Blavatsky’s work as being discriminatory, or outright racist. Some have pointed to her writings as being instrumental in helping to design theories for the Nazi party. It’s hard to know the actual truth behind all of this, but I genuinely don’t believe that Blavatsky had any such thoughts about singling out one race, or type of people, as being “less” than others. I’m certainly not an expert on Theosophical philosophy, but I’ve read some of her works and can see both sides of the argument. The complexity of her writing style is open to a myriad of different interpretations, as is often the case with any spiritually based text.
This brings me to a point. One of the things that human beings tend to do, is take a basic thought and then expand upon it, often to fulfill our own philosophical ideals and agendas. A quick look at history should convince us of the power of this process.
Through rhetoric and dogma, it’s often possible to reinterpret the underlying purpose of a text, in order to rationalize our unique point of view.
This has been done again and again in religion and is also a powerful tool in politics, where interpretations of founding documents are hotly contested and reviewed. Perhaps this is one of the dangers of proclaiming a text to be sacred. They may, in fact, be sacred, but the interpretation of these texts and ideas are usually man-made. Some seek to overcome this ambiguity through an individual, a human channeling a specific source, one pure and spiritually unquestionable. Enter the Ascended Masters, or so say those who believe in the doctrine.
I’m wary of most spiritual systems. It’s not my desire to demean, nor cast doubt upon, any religion or philosophy. I’m a metaphysician and have been a seeker for most of my life, so I’m used to being left out, considered odd, deemed ignorant, thought simpleminded, or daft. I’ve experienced way too much not to believe, but I’ve also seen enough to realize that there has to be a standard of feasibility that allows us not to be deluded, or worse.
This amorphous, subjective realm exists somewhere between hard fact and faith.
It’s for this reason that I’ll discuss the Ascended Master concept a bit differently than some might. I’ve known individuals who consulted with an Ascended Master, through a channel, and received advice, only to have another channel of the exact same Master contradict the advice earlier given. It always amazes me that the seeker is able to rationalize the discrepancy, through some excuse or the other. It speaks to the unreliability of the process at the very least, and to much bigger problems, at worst.
Ascended Masters: A Conceptual Offering
I believe that anything can be mined for its positive, beneficial value and doesn’t have to be presented in a specific form to be of use. This doesn’t imply that the Ascended Master belief isn’t valid, or is unworthy of study. I’ve known many who have been followers of its doctrine and received value in their lives, some through personal work and others through relying on a Master being channeled. It simply isn’t my way of doing things.
To be direct, it seems overly religious and even though the Masters are purported to be from various cultures and eras, it strikes me as being a form of Saint worship. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with that; it just isn’t my thing, but it still has value. With that in mind, let’s look at what it can offer you.
We Are Never Alone
A common thread throughout spiritual cultures is a belief in a place to where our consciousness can ascend to and there share information and commune with fellow members, past, present and future. These locations have different names, appearances and purposes, but they all share one goal, to help those in need, or who seek truth. By this doctrine, we are never alone.
I do believe that there is an intelligence that seeks to guide us, one that is powerful and ancient.
I consider this intelligence to be the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of all humanity, from the beginning to the present. I don’t see a need to identify specific members of our species in this, as that quickly turns into a form of worship and defeats the purpose. This could be considered a form of ancestral guidance, since it depends upon people who have passed, their only agenda to better their progeny, namely us. Incidentally, I consider our time on this planet to be just as important and to have the same goal.
If we’re not doing something to better the human experience, then we’re missing the point of being human.
How then can we find this place and connect? The ability to receive this information, this wealth of humanity, is not only possible, but within your grasp. It takes concentration, determination, sincerity and the ability to listen to truth without fear, or prejudice. I believe that this has been one of the motives behind much of the ritual that we have been obsessed with over the millennia. Luckily, connecting is much simpler than it sounds and one method of doing so is the use of mantras, one of them being Soham.
I mentioned earlier that I’ve used different mantras over the years and can attest to the fact that each mantra has a definitive and unique energy. Some of these mantras have had influences that I was able to discern, while others are still a mystery to me. Each sound in Sanskrit has a specific energy and combining different sounds can be like putting together commands on a computer, accessing more information than seems possible.
The Soham Mantra: The Oneness of All
The Soham mantra, by the very nature of its meaning, “I am He whom I am,” indicates an association with the divine monad, the oneness of all.
As one meditates upon this word, it becomes a personal appeal, from us to the Universe, to unite with everything. By extension, we are then connected to the wisdom of all and can gain an inner understanding of ourselves, perhaps otherwise inaccessible to the conscious mind. This is something that you can do and benefit from.
Practice: Soham Meditation
As with anything, there are different opinions as to how the Soham mantra should be used. I find it to be aligned with natural breathing. When I inhale, I think, “So.” When I exhale, I think, “Ham.” There are masters who contradict this, insisting that Ham is the inhale and So the exhale. There are just as many masters who disagree with them. Many practitioners vocalize their mantras aloud. I prefer silent mantra repetition and personally feel silence to be more powerful, but in truth, it’s completely up to you.
A simple way of using the Soham meditation is to sit in a relaxed way that connects you to your process. For me, it’s a comfortable chair; for others it may be a yoga position. Do what you feel connects you to your source. Close your eyes, or leave them open if you prefer, and begin reciting the mantra, either out loud or to yourself, and forget about a goal. Breathe in, “So.” Breathe out, “Ham.” Let the words resonate in your mind, but don’t overthink it. Be in the moment and allow yourself to be devoid of motive or purpose of thought, other than to be.
Your mind will race, but never scold it. Instead, smile and return to the mantra.
I never ask for information or wisdom directly, but you may do so if you choose. I open my mind to whatever may come. Sometimes it takes a few minutes, other times information is there quickly. I have meditations where nothing comes through at all, except a deep and profound sense of calm and the conviction that something much more powerful than me is present. That’s good enough for me. Once again, determination, patience and sincerity will eventually deliver results, often spectacularly.
The information is out there and is designed to be accessed by every one of us, not just channels who speak for Ascended Masters. There is nothing supernatural about any of this. In fact, I believe that this is an important part of Humanity. It seeks to guide us in the way that will make us better than we are and can help to pave the way for the future. It reasserts our ethics and redefines our values in an ever-changing world.
I consider it to be a link in the chain of the spiritual evolution of our species and I pray that we will always listen. Tap into the source and listen to the voice. Everyone will benefit. Never forget, it begins with us.
I wish you all peace and love.