The holotropic breathing method changes the flow of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body. “You’re almost having the signs and symptoms of the experience of hyperventilation, but there seems to be some regulatory mechanism that keeps you from going into a full-on hyperventilation syndrome,” says Matluck. “Instead, you move into this altered state of consciousness.” And everyone will experience this state a little differently.
Though I’ve always known the breath to be powerful, I went into my holotropic session having a hard time believing that simply taking deep breaths could do much of anything. But then, just a few minutes into the practice, my mind went to a place that is difficult to describe (like Matluck said, it can be a hard thing to put words to). I suppose it felt like dreaming while awake.
Over the course of the two-hour session, I never felt out of control; just the opposite actually. I felt more in tune with my body than I had in a really long time. At one point I started dancing to the music. At another point I settled into a deep stretch. Each movement took on new depth and exaggeration, which actually started to freak me out. Realizing how much I could shift with my breath made me think back to childhood when I would suffer from panic attacks. There were a few dicey moments there, but I was able to work through them by reaching out for my spotters hand and continuing on with the breath, maintaining trust that the feeling would pass. It did, and at the end of the experience, I was rewarded with visualizations of some of my closest friends and family.
All in all, my session was a lesson in freedom and autonomy, and the reward that can come on the other side of a wound. This tracks with what I’ve heard that other people feel during their respective journeys.
In the largest study done on the effects of holotropic breathing (conducted on a group of 11,200 psychiatric inpatients in Saint Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri, over a 12-year span), 82% of those polled reported feeling transported to another place or time, while 16% reported revisiting prior life experiences. Only 2% said that they didn’t feel anything during the session.
Another study out of Denmark in 2015 found that after 20 participants completed holotropic breathing, they all reported positive changes in self-awareness. Another 1996 report concluded that the technique could improve “death anxiety and self-esteem” compared to verbal psychotherapy.