Healing with Holotropic Breathwork


What on earth is Holotropic Breathwork? It’s a technique for achieving healing states of consciousness. Still don’t understand? Read this first-hand account of a Holotropic Breathwork journey by Alexandra Salkova McKenzie.

I was running through a deep forest. Everything seemed dim and dark but I felt joy. Joy from running, moving and the scents of the forest. In that moment, my consciousness moved inward and to my surprise, I realised I was a huge, black shaggy wolf… 

“This is crazy!” I thought to myself but in my years as a student of psychology and a practitioner of various healing therapies, I’ve witnessed enough extraordinary experiences to know that it’s best to put my intellect to the side so – with curiosity and apprehension – I allowed this experience to unfold in front of me.

The wolf run out of the forest and stood next to a village made of teepees. People were gathered around a fire. Then the music changed into a tribal song and all the villagers – as if they also heard the loud music – started to dance around the fire. The loud music set the tone and I was breathing in rhythm with the dancers and the observing wolf.  I couldn’t differentiate who I was; as if I was the music, the villagers, the forest and the wolf. But at some level I also knew I was in a room with my fellow Holotropic breathers, all of us on a day-long workshop of self-exploration...


Developed by psychiatrist Stan Grof and psychotherapist Christina Grof, Holotropic Breathwork is a practice that uses breathing and other elements to allow access to non-ordinary states for the purpose of self-exploration and healing. It combines the power of breathing, the therapeutic potential of music, chanting, bodywork and mandala drawing, in order to achieve non-ordinary, healing states of consciousness. All of these techniques have been used for centuries in the sacred practices of ancient and native cultures.

Usually done in groups, people work in pairs and alternate in the roles of experiencer (‘breather’) and ‘sitter’. The sitter’s primary responsibility is to focus compassionate attention on the breather. Secondarily, the sitter is available to assist the breather, but not to interfere or interrupt the process. Facilitators are also on hand to help if necessary.

According to the Holotropic Breathwork website (www.holotropic.com): “With the eyes closed and lying on a mat, each person uses their own breath and the music in the room to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness. This state activates the natural inner healing process of the individual’s psyche, bringing him or her a particular set of internal experiences.”

Practitioners can relive any stage of their own history or enter the realms of archetypes, animals, birth and death.


Being the wolf and observing the villagers made me aware of my journey. Somehow, I knew, when I grow spiritually, I will become a black panther. In that instance, the wolf morphed into a black panther. The strength and solid power run through my veins. Music changed and I noticed the villagers could not see me anymore. I stood facing a dark corner of the forest. 

A loud cry from one of my fellow breathers caught my attention. The girl screamed with fear, and her loud shriek penetrated my panther experience. The analytical, logical mind guarding my visions pointed out that she must be scared of something. 

In that very instant I noticed that I am not scared of anything. In fact, as if I could reach the girl’s fear and feel it too, but I wasn’t scared. The panther, me, realised my power and strength and I felt fearless instead. 

The challenge of being fearless seemed exciting. I looked into the darkness and called: “Bring the fear, I am ready to feel the fear!” The fear came out creeping as a dark fog from the forest, brushed off my coat and disappeared. It left me flabbergasted. “Am I truly fearless?” I started to search for the fear – I felt excitement, as if I was playing a game of emotions. 

In that moment, the music changed and I shifted from the black panther into a beautiful angel floating high in the sky. 

As my experience unfolded, my consciousness morphed into an angel floating above humanity. I understood human emotions from a much higher vantage point. Interestingly, Grof states that probably the most profound experience available in holotropic states is identification with the Supracosmic and Metacosmic Void (Sanskrit sunyata), primordial Emptiness and Nothingness that is conscious itself.

I watched the wars across lands and thousand of humans fighting for a cause. Tremendous sadness and despair was hovering above humanity across time. Looking down at humanity, I understood… I experienced absolute nothingness of emotions; the emptiness, which was vast and sweet, and I became aware of much deeper meaning of existence. 

The music changed and the harmonic tones brought me into another scene. I was one of a group of riders on beautiful white horses galloping, as if nearly flying, through the countryside. 

In this moment I became tired.  I opened my eyes and released my sitter from his duties. I felt the experience was pretty much finished although the two and half hours had felt like minutes.


After a Holotropic Breathwork session, participants express their experiences through painting mandalas. At the end of my session, I was unable to speak for a while, integrating my experiences. I painted my mandala in silence and took my time to assimilate everything. I realised that the feeling of fearlessness, detaching from emotions, seeing a bigger picture behind life and living fearlessly was a true gift. I recalled Anita Moorjani’s recent book Dying to be me where she described “being fearless” as one of the most important steps in reaching a fulfilled life.

Through my professional practice, I am aware of the wisdom of our psyche and Holotropic Breathwork’s vision further supports that it is not the healer or the therapist who is wise, but the psyche of the individual whose wisdom is tended and brought to flower.

According to Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung (1875-1961), the psyche is not a product of the brain and it is not contained in the skull; it is the creative and generative principle of the cosmos (anima mundi).

Similarly, French Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) said, “We are not human beings having spiritual experiences, we are spiritual beings having human experiences.” [Source: Le Phénomène Humain, 1955]

Holotropic Breathwork is recommended to anyone who is on a journey of self-discovery. Some sessions may not be a walk in the park however every lesson we take is another step on our way to true self.  Ultimately, every part of our existence, even personal growth cannot be learnt, it has to be experienced.

Alexandra Salkova McKenzie of Inner Self Consultancy is a certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, NLP Master and Coach, EFT/EET, Reiki and ThetaHealing Practitioner and Ham-Sa Yogini. 

She provides private coaching for those seeking change, growth and health as well as meditation classes and workshops. 

Tel 050 698 46 12 or email: alexandra@innerselfconsultancy.com


Holotropic Breathwork UAE

Keen to try Holotropic Breathwork? Drop an email to vanessajarnold@hotmail.com for information on the next workshop being offered in the UAE.


If you were thinking that ‘holotropic breathwork’ is quite the mouthful, you wouldn’t be the first. The term was coined by psychiatrists Stanislav and Christina Grof and translates as ‘moving towards wholeness’.

A husband and wife team, the Grofs were researchers into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of exploring, healing, and obtaining growth and insights into the human psyche.

Stan Grof distinguishes between two modes of consciousness: the hylotropic and the holotropic. The hylotropic refers to “the normal, everyday experience of consensus reality”. The holotropic refers to states that aim towards wholeness and the totality of existence. The holotropic is characteristic of non-ordinary states of consciousness such as meditative, mystical, or psychedelic experiences.

Christina Grof died in June 2014 at the age of 73, she is survived by her husband who is now aged 83.



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