Training: Overview of Holotropic Breathwork

This five-day training retreat explores the basic elements of Breathwork workshops: group process, intensified breathing, evocative music, focused bodywork, expressive art, and integration and closure.  The history of depth psychology and its culmination in Transpersonal Psychology are provided as a crucial backdrop. The format includes four Breathwork sessions, supplemented with lectures, discussion, group sharing and processing.

Lecture, discussion topics, and references are given below.

Day 1  –  The nature of group process

Grof, Holotropic Breathwork, chapter 4
Grof, Psychology of the Future, chapters 1 and 2

Indigenous origins

Historic uses of breathing techniques, physiology of breathing

Instructions for participants:

Introductory Talk – Theoretical Points
Cartography and dimensions of the psyche.
The nature and architecture of emotional and psychosomatic disorders.
Therapeutic mechanisms and the process of healing.
The strategy of psychotherapy and self-exploration.
The role of spirituality (distinct from religion) in human life.
The diverse nature of reality.
Introduction to Holotropic Breathwork (PDF Format).
Introduction to Holotropic Breathwork (PowerPoint Format).

Introductory Talk – Practical Points (Technique/Mechanics)
Technique Summary

Day 2  –  Physiology and phenomenology of the birth process: Grof’s Basic Perinatal Matrices, Abnormal Psychology and psychosomatic disorders, bodywork

Grof, Psychology of the Future, chapters 3 and 4
Ontology of the Shadow, Lenny Gibson
The Timing of Birth (Scientific American, March 1999, pp. 68 ff.)
Evolution of Human Birth (Scientific American, November 2001, pp. 72 ff.)
Early Embryonic Development
The Miracle of Life, video of 9 months of life in the womb
Human Biome: “Germs Are Us”

Learning before birth
Annie Murphy Paul: What we learn before we’re born:  TED Talk
Learning Before Birth, Transcript
Learning Before Birth, Video

Day 3 –  Depth Psychology: From Freud to Transpersonal Psychology

Grof, Beyond the Brain, chapter 3
Grof, Psychology of the Future, chapter 5
Wilhelm Reich — Depth Psychology and Bodywork, Lenny Gibson

Transpersonal Psychology – History and Development

William James
An American origination
Life and thought
Dynamic continuity of the real and the ideal
Mental illness vs. personal development
Structuralism and Functionalism
The Legacy of William James, Stanley Ivie
Influence on intellectuals such as Émile Durkheim, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam, and Richard Rorty, and even Presidents, such as Jimmy Carter

Abraham Maslow
Life, thought, and influences
Electric Dreams account
Hierarchy of needs
1. psychoanalysis
2. behaviorism
3. humanistic psychology

Antonio Damasio

“This is Descartes’ error: the abyssal separation between body and mind, between the sizable, dimensioned, mechanically operated, infinitely divisible body stuff, on the one hand, and the unsizable, undimensioned, un-pushpullable, nondivisible mind stuff; the suggestion that reasoning, and moral judgment, and the suffering that comes from physical pain or emotional upheaval might exist separately from the body.”

Transpersonal Psychology – More Antecedents and Accompaniments

Early Biographies


The singularity of human birth
Perinatal matrices

The 60’s
Eastern thought (Alan Watts)
Perennial philosophy (Aldous Huxley, Herman Hesse)
Experiential psychology
Psychedelic History and Developments

Lenny Gibson papers
The LSD Experience: A Whiteheadian Interpretation
Whitehead, LSD, and Transpersonal Psychology
A Whiteheadian Perspective on Psychedelic Experience and Research 

Near Death Experience
Kyle Buller, A Near Death Experience
August L. Reader, The Role and Physiology of the Visual System in Contemplative Practices
Albert Heim, Account of a Fall

Extraordinary Experience and Human Potential, Lenny Gibson

Positive Psychology

Day 4 –  Integration, Music

Expressive drawing
The varieties of non-ordinary experience 
Integration of extraordinary experience into ongoing living

Grof, Holotropic Breathwork, chapter 5
Grof, Psychology of the Future, chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9.
Jung, Mandala Symbolism, from Volume 9i Collected Works

Characterization for use in Breathwork sessions
Some elementary musical concepts
Sound systems
Breathwork Music Suggestions

Grof, Holotropic Breathwork, pp. 32-37
Grof, Psychology of the Future, pp.186-194

Closing considerations
Ongoing nature of the process
Go easy, revisit mandalas (see story about Lenny’s mandala)
Facilitator transparency, availability