Does Holotropic Breathwork involve the use of drugs?
Grof was one of the earliest and most respected researchers into the clinical use of LSD. A Freudian analyst and psychiatrist, he became convinced that LSD had therapeutic value as a catalyst for the healing potential of the unconscious. Grof conducted LSD treatment at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague from 1960 to 1967, and continued this work at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. He worked with psychiatric patients, cancer patients, and drug addicts, as well as with artists and scientists who were curious about the deeper dimensions of their minds.
At the time, there were a variety of ways of working with LSD, but Grof’s method was remarkable for the use of a very safe setting and its inner focus. This involved the patient lying down with eyes closed, listening to music, and being attended at all times by two clinicians. Thus the focus was on inner experience, rather than interactive or psychodynamic experience, and on accessing the unconscious experientially, rather than intellectually, verbally or analytically. Grof observed and reported remarkable therapeutic benefits for his patients from this process. Furthermore he realized that these states of consciousness were not nearly as non-ordinary as they seemed: most pre-industrial cultures had some culturally-sanctioned way to enter these states, periodically, to promote healing or find wisdom, using things like drumming, natural psychedelics, meditation, or fasting as the catalyst.
Grof’s clinical research into LSD was extremely promising, but because of the street use of the drug, and its promotion by less sober figures such as Timothy Leary, the non-clinical use of the drug was banned in the U.S. in 1967, and clinical research ended in 1975. So he turned his attention to other methods of inducing a non-ordinary state of consciousness, and settled on the use of deep, fast breathing. This is the basis of Holotropic Breathwork™. Although Holotropic Breathwork has some of the similarities, in setting and intention, of Grof’s work with LSD, a Holotropic Breathwork session absolutely does not involve drugs. As with many forms of yoga, it is powered by simply breathing, at a rate controlled by the client.