At 15:30 on Friday, I arrived at Berlin Central Station. It’s 18:45 now, and I’m back on the ICE headed to Hannover. This weekend, I attended a holotropic breathwork session. The workshop was split into three days. Friday evening, everyone met for the first time at the location to get to know each other, Saturday was a very intense day from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and we concluded the weekend with a 2.5-hour session this afternoon.
Typically, the organizers advise us to keep the experience we had this weekend to ourselves for the time being. We can share when we feel ready and when we believe the individual with whom we are sharing is ready.
I still want to record and reflect on my experience because I know many of my friends and family members are curious about what kind of weekend I had.
This may not be immediately clear because you, as a reader, have no idea what occurs during such a workshop. Holotropic breathing is not a typical breathing technique.
This technique was developed over decades by Stanislav Grof, a pioneer of psychology and consciousness science; it has now been practised consistently since the 1980s and is one of the most effective methods for self-therapy and exploring your true nature.
Before mentally reliving the weekend, I’d like to say a few things about holotropic breathwork.
About holotropic breathwork
Holotropic Breathwork is a technique used for relaxation, self-awareness, and consciousness expansion. Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof pioneered the method in the 1970s as part of his work with psychedelic substances.
Holotropic breathing is a deep breathing method used to oxygenate the body and induce a state of altered consciousness in the mind. By concentrating on the breath and breathing more deeply than normal, one can enter the unconscious and have strange experiences.
The process usually takes place in groups with the assistance of experienced facilitators who make participants feel secure, at ease, and capable of processing their experiences. During the process, participants might go through physical, mental, and spiritual experiences that can help them learn more about themselves and develop fresh perspectives.
Facilitators are the certified coaches of such a gathering.
The facilitator is essential in holotropic breathing because they assist participants in creating a secure and supportive environment in which to have their experience. The facilitator guides the session and instructs participants on proper breathing methods and how to prepare for the experience.
A good facilitator will typically have significant training and experience in holotropic breathing techniques, as well as a grasp of the psychological and spiritual aspects of the experience. He or she can lead participants through the procedure and offer assistance as needed.
There may be emotional, physical, or spiritual difficulties that require assistance during holotropic breathing. The facilitator can recognize these difficulties and respond properly by assisting the participant through conversation, touch, or other interventions.
Furthermore, by assisting the participant in reflecting on and understanding their experience, the facilitator can play an essential role in processing and integrating the experience. The facilitator can help participants put their experience in a larger context and possibly gain new insights and understanding through conversation and other techniques.
My workshop experience
So let’s get started with my weekend experience report. On Friday, I got to the venue at 7:00 p.m. The workshop was conducted in a large room at a dance school in the heart of Berlin.
When I answered the door, three shining faces greeted me with an intense, heartfelt, and very long hug. Even though I was nervous at first because there would be 30 to 40 people I didn’t know at the workshop, the first three facilitators I met made me feel very welcome in this community even before the workshop officially began. In Germany, I am not used to being greeted with such kindness. Several individuals approached me, introduced themselves, and we exchanged words. We’re on the same frequency, someone noticed right away.
The session began with a short group meditation. We sat in a big circle on the floor by candlelight with nearly 40 other people, and everything was quiet—a stillness that carried a sense of calm that I had craved for a long time. Mike (name altered), an elderly Englishman, greeted us all and opened the workshop. He embodies charisma, and he informed me during my preparation video call with him two weeks ago that he has been leading these sessions for over ten years. Our first actual activity began after a short round of introductions in which each participant shared something about themselves.
A large number of GEO magazines from the 1980s were put on the floor in front of us in a circle, and we were all given scissors and glue sticks, just like in primary school, to create a collage. That was a fantastic method to get started; I had a lot of fun doing it and discovered that my outcome completely resonated with me. Following the collage creation, all those who were attending for the first time this weekend were given an introduction to holotropic breathing.
The actual workshop began the following morning. At 11:00 a.m., we all gathered again in the dance school, where we found three rows of mattresses on which we would soon begin our breathing exercise.
The prior night, we all chose a partner to practice breathing exercises with. Josef (name changed) was my partner; he has several years of experience and provided me with a few recommendations before the session began. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I wanted to get started right away and have my own experience before observing others breathe.
Holotropic breathing is always performed in pairs. One individual breathes, while the other ensures that this person is not missing anything. So that you, as the individual breathing, can completely relax and concentrate solely on the breathing. Hand signals are created for everything before it begins, so you don’t even have to use your mind to speak and can express your needs entirely without words if you want to drink something, need a handkerchief, or go to the toilet.
The daily schedule for Saturday was as follows:
11:00 – 12:00 Arrival
12:00 – 15:00 first breathing session
15:00 – 16:00 break
16:00 – 19:00 second breathing session
19:00 – 20:00 break
20:00 – 22:00 Sharing round
So, in the first session, I was breathing and Josef was keeping an eye on me, and in the second session, the entire game was flipped once. During the breaks between sessions, we could snack from the vegan buffet and sip coffee or tea.
In addition, after our breathing session, we were able to create a mandala in a separate room with various art supplies to express and process our breathing experience.
I’ll go over my breathing exercise in more detail later. First and foremost, there isn’t much I can say about it. It’s much more something you have to feel for yourself. Second, it is a highly individual experience. Every person has a unique perspective. My experience was very physical; it took some time for me to connect with my breathing, but then I noted a very intense feeling in my chest that gradually spread throughout my upper body to my fingertips. The three hours I spent on the mattress felt like only an hour. When the session ended and I opened my eyes for the first time, I felt a sense of profound gratitude and calm that I had not felt in a long time.
I’d like to say more, yet I don’t want to go beyond the scope of this article, and I don’t believe it’s appropriate to put something so personal online. The second session, in which I did not breathe but watched over Josef and could see the other participants breathing, had a profound effect on me. Being in that room was something extraordinary. I started to cry because seeing so many people heal was so gorgeous.
The day ended with a sharing session in which everyone had the opportunity to share their experiences. I’ve never felt so deeply connected to a group of so many individuals in such a short period.
We had another integration round with tea, nuts, and biscuits today (Sunday) afternoon—an opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings with the group today after we all slept one night. The comments of the other workshop participants moved me deeply. I had no clue what to say, so I was almost the last one to open up and say something closing about the group, myself, and the weekend. My short speech was primarily about my emotions, and I found myself having to nearly cry and take small pauses while speaking. It felt great to talk about challenging topics in such a safe environment with so many like-minded individuals.
My first holotropic breath class was a success, and it will not be my last. The devotion with which the facilitators do their work inspires me deeply. I am impressed by their abilities as well as the fundamental concept underlying this technique. Stanislav Grof’s transpersonal psychology offers a new model of our psyche that is far more holistic than the models taught to future psychologists in our universities.