The Breathwork Experience: Exploration and Healing in Nonordinary States of Consciousness, Kylea Taylor, Hanford Mead Publishers, Santa Cruz, California, 1994, pp. 172

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

This book is a good, but elementary, introduction to the holotropic breathwork process. It will be of interest primarily to those who plan to experience breathwork or want to learn about the experience, but who might find the sometimes deeper writings of Dr Stanislav Grof (its primary developer) to be on a difficult level. The author writes that the breathwork experience is not only about holotropics but also encompasses rebirthing, integrative breathwork, core energetics, shamanic practices and primal therapy.

The author believes that those therapies allow us to access and heal repressed traumatic occurences from our past. Many decide to participate in a breathwork workshop simply to have the experience. Some are curious, and a friend's enthusiastic recommendation further whets their interest. Sometimes the participant gets more from a session than he expected! Undoubtedly, some may choose breathwork as a form of therapy rather than primal, because of time and monetary reasons. The first introduction to holotropic breathwork often takes place over a three day period as contrasted to the usual three week intensive of formal primal therapy. (See my article From Primal to Holotropics and Back which discusses the holotropic breathwork experience in detail.)

How are early memories accessed in a holotropic breathwork session? Combining speeded-up breathing with music results in a nonordinary state of consciousness, as memories and clear visions begin to flow automatically. But the set and setting are also important factors in allowing the repressions to lift. During the holotropic breathwork sessions, sensory perceptions are clearer than usual, a feeling of transcending normal space occurs as one can become transported to an earlier time and place. A feeling of "oneness" with all of creation is also a common perception among participants. Often, psychosomatic symptoms become lessened over time.

During a breathwork session, it is common to experience past events in our lives from our very beginnings at conception, during gestation and on including later hurts from childhood. An important healing phase of breathwork is re-living the traumas of our birth. Breathwork experiences are often re-lived with much emotion and deep sobbing is common as the breather is returned to a period of his infancy and childhood when repressed hurtful incidents relating to deprived need, humiliation, fear and other painful traumas occured. However, in breathwork, material from happy experiences can also be accessed.

The most bizarre aspect of the breathwork experience is one's access to the transpersonal realm. These experiences include, but are not limited to, seemingly re-living aspects of one's prior lives, of becoming the essence of an inanimate object, of living the evolution of animal and plant species, of meeting historial figures from the past and of events, such as out-of-body experiences -- all of which seem to be too incredible to be accepted as real -- even by the participants themselves!

Kylea Taylor includes short chapters on how holotropic breathwork can help heal post-traumatic stress, childhood sexual abuse, multiple personality disorder, and the behaviorial and chemical addictions.

After having described the deepest and most powerful form of psychotherapy imaginable, the author declares that breathwork is, nonetheless, not therapy and does not fall into the purview of the practice of psychology! She prefers calling it an "educational enrichment program," or "a spiritual exploration experience."

As for doing breathwork alone, the author says that it is not recommended. The presence of a facilitator or sitter makes access so much easier and the author writes that even experienced practitioners invariably choose to have a sitter for their sessions. However, she writes that one may combine holotropic breathwork with other forms of psychotherapy, especially those which support the process.

The Breathwork Experience includes sections dealing with similarities and differences between holotropic breathwork and other experiential techniques, a listing of addresses of organizations and centers and video and audiotapes which are available for purchase. The book ends with a short chapter by Stanislav and Christina Grof which outlines the theoretical principles of holotropic breathwork. Additional material includes the requirements for becoming Certified Holotropic Breathwork Practioners.