8. Do participants leave the workshops ‘ungrounded’?

After any dramatic experience, there is a risk of being ‘ungrounded’. People returning from an ashram or meditation retreat, and even from a therapy session or massage, can be ungrounded. Deep experiences are often unsettling, and it can take some time to integrate such experiences with ordinary life. This is why Holotropic Breathwork sessions are usually offered in overnight retreats, and at minimum in day-long retreats. A residential set-up helps people go into the experience more deeply, and gives them more time to complete the experience. Good facilitators make sure that people are sufficiently grounded before they leave a workshop, and are available to help them after the workshop if necessary. Holotropic Breathwork facilitators will often refer people to an appropriate therapist for continued support and integration of their experiences (and many therapists refer clients to Holotropic Breathwork as an adjunct to their therapy).

In some ways, Holotropic Breathwork actually offers a superior form of grounding. Facilitators commit to staying with a client until the client has reached a reasonable level of closure with the session. Most people finish their session within 2 to 3 hours, but facilitators understand that the ending of a session cannot be imposed arbitrarily: each session has its own internal logic. (On rare occasions, I have seen some facilitators, including Stan Grof, stay with someone all night.)

More to the point, there is no one ‘method’ of closure. Facilitators work with each client, if necessary, to ensure appropriate closure. Before trying Holotropic Breathwork, I had had many deep experiences at the hands of therapists who didn’t understand this. They ended my sessions at a time of their choosing, or at our pre-arranged time, by using a guided visualisation, a closing ritual, or simply pointing out the time and subtly encouraging me to get up. While this is understandable from the point-of-view of the schedule, it may have absolutely nothing to do with the needs of the client, and it is potentially damaging to the innate wisdom of the client’s psyche. Why invite a process to begin, in a spirit of trust, only to constrain it arbitrarily?

This is not just a matter of time. A Holotropic Breathwork facilitator encourages each client to find the unique symbol (i.e. expression, realization, image, or need) that completes his journey and helps him feel ready to return. It was only when I encountered Holotropic Breathwork, properly facilitated, that I was able to find authentic closure on certain issues, finding the unique answer that my own particular psychological predicament required. I no longer had to ‘hoist myself back’ to ordinary life to meet the demands of others, but instead learned how to find my own way back, in a way that felt authentic.

Sometimes, of course, a journey cannot be completed in one session—some journeys last lifetimes—but there can at least be appropriate closure on that particular leg of the journey. However, shutting down a session prematurely is like asking Jason to return home without the Golden Fleece because his dinner is getting cold. To allow people find their own way back is both more empowering, more ethical, more satisfying, and ultimately, much more efficient.