Breathwork has become one of the most popular practises in recent years. Made popular by icons like Wim Hoff, this simple breathing technique has gained mass appeal for one very good reason: it works.
The benefits of breathwork are endless. It is suggested to improve anxiety, sleep and overall wellbeing, but it also has many spiritual benefits that you may not be aware of.
There are many different schools and types of breathwork, the one will be examining is Holotropic Breathwork, which was designed specifically to explore the unconscious.
Holotropic Breathwork was created by Prague native Stanislav Grof. Initially Grof's interest was in Altered States of Consciousness following a chance encounter with LSD during medical school that changed his life. Grof believed he had a mystical experience and began serious research into consciousness using a variety of techniques to alter the consciousness of his participants.
Exploring many therapeutic techniques and their effects on consciousness led Grof to developed his own Holotropic Breathwork. It combines aspects of Shamanism, Breathwork, Bodywork and sensory immersion. Using this system it became clear to him that transpersonal experiences occurred both within and without the confines of space and time. Grof also identified that these experiences appeared during psychoid experiences.
In altered states of consciousness Grof witnessed participants regressing through time, identification with animals and guides, vivid symbolic imagery and bodily contortions that mirrored ancient traditions. Specialist knowledge was obtained through these experiences and all of the participants experienced complete transformation.
1. Trauma Can Occur Pre-Birth
Through his wide spread workshops with thousands of participants, patterns began to emerge, which lead Grof to form three major assumptions about human consciousness. Memories and trauma are complex systems in the brain with multi-sensory and widespread associations that not only influence our interactions with the world but our biographies, known as Coex systems. These systems carried with them unique characteristics that related to one of four stages in the birthing process, known as Perinatal Matrices. These matrices begin in the womb and unless the foetus was subjected to the mother’s ill health or poor behaviour, generally have pleasant oceanic experiences. The next stage is characteristic of panic, fear and helplessness as the world of the foetus folds in on itself. In the birth canal the foetus is put under pressure and in this stage sexual depravity developed as the duality of pleasure and pain is realised. Finally, the brith of the baby if difficult can result in physical and mental challenges throughout life. While this is a very brief overview of what is otherwise a complex and compelling theory on human suffering, Grof asserts that if humanity was explored through this lens we could revolutionise human potential.
Research on perinatal trauma and the effects later in life have major implications for society as a whole according to Grof. It is claimed that much of the violence in the world could be attributed to these traumas and how they interact with the collective consciousness. Psycho-historian, Lloyd de Mause, examined prominent figures that have done horrible things, such as Alexander the Great and Hilter. On closer inspection he discovered evidence indicating perinatal and early childhood trauma. Speeches and the working used in their private conversations of many of the worlds leaders all follow the same pattern that not only inspire violence, but mobilise their followers. Perinatal language is an indicator of this type of trauma and can be as subtle as talking about a new baby, like with the language surrounding the production of Atomic Bombs. Sexual deviancy and sadomasochism are often intertwined with romantic ideals and linked to the perinatal experiences. Submission in this case is often confused with religious surrender, it is this subconscious drive that leads people into complicated living situations in Ashrams. While the Guru can offer Spiritual Activation to devotees through their relationship, transference can often confuse devotional relationships.
2. We All Have Access To A Collective History
Not all sensory experiences are products of our own consciousness. Our human history is littered with the accounts of those who have visitations and encounters of an other worldly nature. In recent years, the accounts of extraterrestrial abductions, possessions and hauntings are the cause of much speculation and many resolve that they are the byproducts of madness. Early on psychologists such as William James suggested that this might not be the case and rather such experiences may be the cause of madness. Stanislav Grof believes that these encounters may be the contents of our unconscious as they have an archetypical quality that could be attributed to unintegrated birth trauma. Patterns between the characteristics of these experiences and our personal and collective histories.
These models have proved radical to traditional psychology as human consciousness, as it was commonly thought of, is believed to be an individual byproduct of the mind. To Grof consciousness is a field that we all have access to. Given the right conditions we can realise that the Self that we experience on a daily basis is only a fraction of who we really are. The idea of the Self that we have is so limited. The main action of Ego is to maintain a stable and consistent idea of Self. By maintaining the Ego we attempt to shield ourselves from the ever-changing and unpleasant aspects of life. Many of us create safe and predictable lives and engage in neurotic attempts to control nature as a way to force and prevent changes. Other coping mechanisms involve converting all arisings to positive happenings from our Ego’s perspective. Over time the Ego becomes so powerful it can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality. In reality, many people following psychedelic use discover the truth of their existence and realise that the Ego cannot absorb anything, it can only mimic it. Real spirituality involves the dissolution of Ego and the last thing that the Ego wants to do it get rid of itself.
3. We Can Tune Into Other Entities
During a Holotropic Breathwork session conducted by Stan and Christina Grof participants have reported gaining experiential insight into the consciousness of another species. Grof details in his book The Holotropic Mind: “People have reported that after identification with animals they have obtained a profound organismic understating of drives completely foreign to humans, such as the feelings that propel the eel or the sockeye salmon on their heroic upstream journeys, or the structural instincts of a spider spinning its web, or the mysterious experiences of a gypsy moth’s metamorphosis from an egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly”. What Grof is claiming sounds a little unbelievable and maybe could be explained by a healthy imagination, except the expert knowledge that has been obtained often transcends the scope of human fantasy.
While in Bruxelles, Grof tells the story of a Belgian participant obtaining some extraordinary information about the experience of a pregnant cow whale that she would not have otherwise known. Following her experience she stated that “At one point, I felt cold air streaming through my head and had a taste of salty water in my mouth. A variety of sensations and feelings that were alien and definitely not human imperceptibly took over my consciousness. A new, gigantic body image started to form out of the primordial connection to the other large bodies around me and I realised I have become one of them. Inside my belly I sense another life form and knew it was a baby. There was no doubt in my mind that I was a pregnant whale cow”. Grof went on to describe the participant was able to explain the birthing process of the whale in great detail. To his surprise, while retelling the story at a workshop in California, a marine biologist was able to confirm every claim she made.Whether you believe this or not, Grof states that he has witnessed hundreds of animal identification cases throughout all of his years in practise. Could this indicate that the consciousness between the animal world and our own is boundary-less?
Identification is not limited to other living creatures, but also to the mineral world. Returning to the workshops of Stanislav and Christina Grof, their participants didn’t just have extraordinary experiences animals, but with plants as well. “Experiences of plant consciousness cover a wider range, from bacteria, ocean plankton, and mushrooms, to Venus fly traps, orchids, and Sequoia trees. These experiences can offer interesting insights into the process of photosynthesis, pollution, the function of the growth hormone auxine, the exchange of water and minerals in the root system and many other physiological functions of various plants” Grof states.
One such example Grof provides is the identification one participant developed with a Sequoia tree who stated there were differing levels to his experience during his Holotropic Breathwork session. The first levels and aspects of his experience were rooted in his physicality. He identified his shape, size and texture with that of a tree. However, as his experience deepened, he noted that it turned mystical in nature, believing that photosynthesis was direct contact with God through the rays of the sun. Grof also notes that “while identifying with the consciousness of the tree, this person perceived relationships and beings that were uniquely associated with that consciousness”. On that note the participant noticed their unique relationship with fire, earth and elements. It’s common for people to experience consciousness with plants on a spiritual level, which led Grof to consider whether this is why many cultures view plants as sacred.
It is clear that the Grofs and their Holotropic Breathwork have aided our understanding of human consciousness. Likewise, they have also aided our understanding of ourselves. If expanding your practise spiritually is something that you are interested in adding breathwork to your practise is something you should definitely consider.