I attended a weekend intensive class through The New Earth Institute at Southwestern College last weekend. The course was titled Moving Toward Wholeness: The Intrinsic Wisdom of Body/Mind/Spirit. Its content centered around discovering Holotropic Breathwork, a technique developed by Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof in the 1970s. The course fulfills credit toward achieving a certificate in Applied Interpersonal Neurobiology so I registered because this is an area in which I am interested. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I signed up. My experience surpassed any positive expectation I had. To say it was profound would be an understatement.
I am not a stranger to non-ordinary states of consciousness. I did my fair share of experimentation when I was younger and I have practiced varied forms of meditation over the years. I have had peak experiences and powerful insights. I tell you sincerely though; one week ago I never would have believed that I could have such an incredible, trippy, colorful, significantly spiritual experience- without the use of drugs.
The convocation of the class occurred 6am-9pm on Friday and 9am-6pm Saturday/Sunday. I was kind of bummed out about ‘not having a weekend’ as the class approached. The introduction segment of the course, which occurred on Friday, was informational and well- not exactly all I dreamt my Friday night would be. We were provided history and theoretical framework. We introduced ourselves. When I got home on Friday I felt sort of stirred up though. I don’t know how else to describe it. I later discovered that some of my peers felt similarly. This was explained to me as perhaps my unconscious anticipating and beginning to process the coming events of the weekend.
Saturday was the day half of us were to “journey” or do the breathwork. We partnered up with a peer. The woman who was sitting next to me asked if I would like to be her partner and I said ‘yes’. We took an extended break prior to the first breathwork session. During this time, I spoke at length with my breathwork partner. I would be her “sitter” while she journeyed on this date. I asked her about herself and what she anticipated her experience would be like. She had no idea. (I thought I had some ideas of what my session would be like.)
The experience of “sitting” for her was complex and wonderful. She was relatively still compared to other journeyers who were compelled to gesture and vocalize as they released that which their unconscious urged them to. For nearly three hours I was intensely focused on being instantly available to her if she should need a tissue, a pillow, or assistance getting up and walking to the restroom. All of the other sitters were focused on their partner and our community was dense with caring and concentration. The loud insistent music, dim lighting, and humble arrangements of the mats created a mystical environment. Three hours passed in what felt like a single hour or so.
When the music ended my partner roused, and with a blissful smile on her face she stood and allowed me to guide her to the art room as I had been instructed to. This is where she would create a bright and stunning mandala representing her experience. The mandalas would help journeyers remember and share their encounters, as well as serve as a tool to assist individuals with the psychological processing of their experience.
After another extended break, the group reassembled and those who did the breathwork shared their experiences with the group. Some people did not want to discuss many aspects of their insights because they did not feel ready or because the content was too personal. Most contributed brilliant accounts of profound experience though. Every person’s journey was incredibly unique and potent. Hearing of my peer’s adventures, healing, and epiphanies was nearly as wonderful of an experience as having my own.
When Sunday morning arrived, I felt as though a warm current of calm had blown over me in my sleep. The restlessness and sense of being stirred-up which began Friday night had entirely disappeared. This was surprising to me as I thought I would feel a bit anxious prior to my own journey. The class assembled as it had in the previous days. Before long we were instructed to take a break, talk with our partners, and set up our mats. My partner helped me set up my mat, a 5” thick cushion which was approximately 4’ wide and 7’ long. I made it into a comfortable nest using blankets and a pillow from home. I brought my own eye shade and set it next to a journal, pen, bottle of water, and some tissues. My partner and I talked about my wants and needs for the impending experience.
When the time to break had ended, everybody came back into the large room. I tucked myself into my ‘nest’ and placed my eye shades on. Our assistant instructor guided us through a progressive relaxation exercise and then began the musical soundtrack to my adventure. The music was powerful and intense with a driving drum beat. It was loud enough to block out any peripheral noise; an exhale or whisper in the room.
The Journey Begins
It didn’t take long for my unconscious to start speaking to me. The whole experience was very lucid dream-like. It started with a feeling I was being called home, spiritually speaking. I had the experience of my pets, past and present, guiding me to a garden which I knew to be inside my heart. This garden was beautiful and enclosed. It made me feel safe. My pets somehow suggested that I lay down on a bench and rest. I did so and fell asleep (within the experience).
When I woke up it was night and I looked up at the stars. They were beckoning me toward them. One star in particular spoke to me and invited me to come to him. I was pulled toward the star and when I arrived there was a fascinating dance party involving light beings, myself, and other stars. We were listening to music and dancing somehow without physical bodies. I was asking questions of them and they were answering them. They also asked me questions and I answered. It seemed like hundreds of questions were answered in just a few minutes.
The soundtrack to the Holotropic Breathwork session changed and I suddenly started floating away from the star and my cosmic friends. I was drifting into space. I became aware of my physical body and began to experience a warm light filling my physical form. Colored light began entering and exiting my various chakras. A strengthening and balancing of these energy centers occurred while affirmations associated with each chakra filled my mind.
When my heart chakra became the focus of this healing process, I was presented with a scene in which tiny workers were disassembling a garden gate which I understood to be the door to my heart. I began helping them and I asked what they were doing. They said that we were going to build a much better door, and I helped them do just that. When we were finished the door was large and incredibly ornate, made of thick cherry wood. I realized that this new door could be intimidating to others and that not just anybody could enter.
The progressive journey through my chakras continued with a significant experience accompanying each one. When my crown chakra had been balanced I became aware of being entirely surrounded by light beings. It was as though I was deep in space but space was warm and white and I was surrounded by the glowing souls of friends, guides, and protectors. I had another experience of massive amounts of information being exchanged between myself and light beings within a very short amount of time. I asked what it is I need to work on about myself. Then I heard a collective caring giggle. I was told that I am absolutely fine and I shouldn’t work so hard. I was told that the first third of my life was hard work but the struggle is now over. A knot appeared in front of me and I was asked to untie it as a symbolic gesture of releasing my sense of struggle.
More Profound Experiences
I journeyed on and had more profound experiences. I talked with family members and told them things I wanted them to know. I expressed some unsaid things to former romantic partners and experienced closure which I knew would help me in my marriage. I saw my husband as a small child and held him in my arms. I became a child and he and I played, laughed, and connected as young children. Then he returned to his present age and he held me as a child, prior to me returning to my present age.
At some point the music ended and within a few minutes I was back in my body and the room. The woman watching over me, my “sitter”, walked me to the art room where I had been instructed to immediately represent my journey through the creation of a mandala. A photo of my mandala is included.
Like a dream, there are many aspects of my experience that I cannot clearly recall. I think that a lot of information exchange occurred on an unconscious level. I have a deep sense of having changed as a result of this journey though. I never expected this class to be so powerful and meaningful to me. I am considering further training and/or experience in Holotropic Breathwork. I highly encourage you to take advantage of any opportunity to try it for yourself!
For more information about Holotropic Breathwork: http://www.holotropic.com/
For more information about Southwestern College’s Applied Interpersonal Neurobiology Certificate Program: https://www.swc.edu/applying-to-certificate-specialty-programs/applied-interpersonal-neurobiology/#.Vhrx4PlViko