3. Is Holotropic Breathwork a kind of shamanism?

There are many ways in which Holotropic Breathwork resembles shamanism. As in shamanism, participants in a Holotropic Breathwork workshop go on a journey into a non-ordinary state of consciousness to find healing. Music is played to support this journey. But there are many differences between Holotropic Breathwork and shamanism. First, there is no roadmap for the Holotropic Breathwork journey: participants are not asked to imagine an entrance to a shamanic world, and don’t begin their holotropic journey with an intention to work on a specific problem or question. It certainly makes sense to look for a spirit guide or power animal at a shamanic workshop, for these are typical features of the shamanic world, but to do this in a holotropic session would constrain the process. In a holotropic session, the whole world of possible spiritual experience, from any tradition (and from no tradition), is available to each client.

One of the most remarkable features of Holotropic Breathwork is that people can have so many different kinds of experiences, and are free to interpret them differently, without any specific language or worldview. I have seen Christians having Buddhist experiences, and Hindus having Christian experiences. I have seen atheists have shamanic experiences and shamanic practitioners have Sufi experiences. (I even remember a Catholic priest having a Christian experience, and expressing surprise and delight to discover what his faith was really about.) I have also seen people have experiences that seem to pull from many different traditions at once, and have seen some people have experiences from no tradition yet identified. So although Holotropic Breathwork has many features that are similar to shamanism, it is much bigger and broader. In this sense, it is a truly post-modern practice[ii].