DMT, Holotropic Practices, and the Use of Breathing for Transformation

Use of Breathing for Transformation

Ready to embark on a paradigm-expanding, ‘rabbit-hole’ style adventure through the realms of breathwork and psychedelics? Well, you’re in the right place! In this article, we are going to explore the intersection where science meets consciousness, and where breathwork intertwines with mystical psychedelic experiences.

So, let’s dive in and uncover the fascinating connections between breathwork, DMT, and the work of a visionary ‘psychonaut’ who paved the way for modern breathwork practices that can act as a doorway to the divine.

We are also going to check out the intriguing back story around the birth of psychedelic breathwork, as well as demystifying the science behind it all.

And to top it all off, we’ll explore 4 of the most powerful modern breathing techniques – Breakthrough Breathwork, Shamanic Breathwork, Holotropic Breathwork and Rebirthing Breathwork – that you can use to alter and elevate your consciousness, gain deep insights, achieve long-lasting healing and access a myriad of incredible life-changing benefits that mirror those experienced in plant medicine journeys.

The Psychedelic Breathwork Rabbit Hole

Breathwork has a profound capacity to alter consciousness and create breakthroughs on all levels; healing and reprogramming the body and mind, and opening a doorway for connection with spirit, much like plant medicine journeys with well-known psychedelics such as ayahuasca, peyote, San Pedro and psilocybin and substances like MDMA and LSD.

Both breathwork and plant medicine are well and truly ‘on the radar’ now and are gaining a lot of public, scientific and media attention. There have been recent scientific studies on both, and one research paper that even combines the two – you can check it out here.

Interesting Fact

New to Breathwork? Interested in Spirituality?

If you’re new to the world of Breathwork you might like to also check out my article on How to Get Started with Breathwork – a Beginners Guide. If you’re interested in learning more about how breathwork can be a potent companion on the path to spirituality, then check out The Power of Breathwork for Spiritual Ascension.

Plant Medicine & Breathwork – What Do They Have in Common?

You might be surprised to learn that it’s quite common for breathwork practitioners and participants in breathwork ceremonies to have visionary experiences that they say are similar, or reminiscent of the magical, often intense and otherworldly healing journeys with ayahuasca and other psychedelics.

Some of the similarities in experience between plant medicine and breathwork include:

  • Transcendent encounters
  • Sensations of unity with the cosmos
  • Releasing of past traumas
  • Healing of PTSD
  • Healing on physical and emotional levels
  • Encounters with divine entities and insights
  • Glimpses into profound aspects of the self
  • Journeying back to childhood memories
  • Life-altering revelations
  • Awakening to spirituality

Can Breathwork Create Psychedelic Experiences?

It’s not breaking news that breathwork holds a profound capacity to unlock the mysteries of consciousness, akin to the transformative journeys induced by psychedelic substances. Psychedelic communities have been using the transcendental power of breathwork to achieve spiritual highs since Woodstock, and meditators and yogis have used the breath as both an access point and a tool to access expanded states of awareness and being for millennia.

One of Wim Hof’s most famous catch cries is “Get high on your own supply”, and it’s well known that breathwork practitioners report transcendent encounters, emotional healing, and spiritual revelations that parallel ayahuasca ceremonies.

But what fuels this profound shift in consciousness? How does it all work and what makes this possible? We will demystify the science and uncover the mechanisms as we continue.

The Relationship Between Breathwork & DMT

Some researchers propose that breathwork’s power to transport us to altered states where we can access psychedelic-like experiences, release trapped emotions, receive deep long-lasting healing and the resolution of trauma, and tune into the frequency of unity consciousness may be partially attributable to breathwork’s ability to liberate the body’s innate DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine).

So What Exactly is DMT?

So, what is DMT exactly? Maybe you’ve heard of it, smoked it, or ingested it through plant medicine – or perhaps you’re still in the dark about what is often referred to as “the spirit molecule”.

Either way, it’s an enigmatic substance that permeates the very fabric of our being.

What is DMT

DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a hallucinogenic tryptamine compound belonging to the same class as LSD and psilocybin. Whilst it’s most commonly associated with the plant-based Amazonian shamanic brew called ayahuasca, DMT is found abundantly in nature, present in various plants, animals, and also within the human body. DMT offers a gateway to transcendent realms and mystical experiences. While the precise mechanisms of DMT release remain elusive, theories abound linking breathwork practices to the liberation of endogenous (naturally occurring) DMT.

Research has confirmed that DMT is synthesised in various human body parts, including the brain, cerebrospinal fluid…and interestingly considering the link with breathwork, in the lungs. It’s speculated to play roles in near-death experiences, deep meditation states, and the vivid dreams of REM sleep.

As the only known naturally occurring psychedelic in humans, DMT is renowned for its profound effects, often inducing intense psychedelic and mystical experiences. Its presence in the human body and the enigma of its purpose have captivated both the scientific community and spiritual enthusiasts since the 1940s.

Rick Strassman and The Spirit Molecule 

Researcher Rick Strassman, M.D., is responsible for coining the term “the spirit molecule”, by which DMT is known. It’s also the title of his book “DMT: The Spirit Molecule”. His research has shown that DMT can replicate near-death experiences, leading individuals to perceive transcendent realms beyond the physical body.

Strassman suggests that DMT may be present at birth, facilitate transitions between life and death and play a crucial role in meditative states.

Additionally, DMT’s involvement in deep REM sleep and dreaming, as well as its potential impact on human consciousness evolution, is a subject of speculation.

The detailed mechanisms of DMT’s synthesis and release are subjects of ongoing scientific inquiry and highlight DMT’s central role in our ability to transcend ordinary consciousness.

The Pineal Gland and DMT Production

The pineal gland, historically associated with mysticism and referred to as the “third eye”, was proposed by Strassman in the 1990s to secrete DMT, potentially explaining its connection to mystical experiences.

While the process of DMT production is complex and involves more than just the pineal gland, the gland’s association with spiritual experiences continues to be a point of fascination.

How The Banning Of LSD Unlocked More Research Into Breathwork

From the 1950s through to the 70s US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) extensively researched the effects of LSD on hundreds of participants and explored the possibilities of pharmaceutical mind control and psychological warfare.

Once the CIA realised it was no good as a mind control tool or as a ‘truth
serum’, and that LSD could also fuel anti-establishment sentiment and awaken people to higher levels of consciousness they decided to ensure that no one could use it by banning it.

Now it’s time for Dr Stanislav Grof, a Czechoslovakian LSD researcher and Professor of Psychiatry, to enter the frame – a maverick psychiatrist whose ground-breaking work with LSD research revolutionised psychotherapy, and the world of breathwork and spiritual exploration.

Stan Grof

With the abrupt criminalisation of LSD, Grof and his wife Christina pivoted towards breathwork. Together they created a method called Holotropic Breathwork; a potent tool for accessing altered states of consciousness, as a way to liberate the body’s natural DMT and access the psyche’s depths without the need for psychedelic substances.

Their work was monumental in the integration of breathwork and psychedelic experiences.

What Is Holotropic Breathwork & Does It Create Psychedelic Experiences?

Holotropic Breathwork is a method of rapid and sustained breathing that can induce states like those experienced with psychedelic substances. This technique facilitates emotional, psychological, and spiritual growth by helping individuals tap into non-ordinary states of consciousness via the breath.

The Connection of Breathwork to Psychedelic Research

Grof’s pioneering work in LSD therapy laid the groundwork for Holotropic Breathwork, bridging the gap between psychedelic experiences induced by substances and those achieved through breathwork.

This research underscores the belief in the healing and insightful potential of altered states of consciousness, whether reached through psychedelics or breathing techniques. This is backed up by a recent study that found some similarities in the benefits of breathwork and ayahuasca.

The Intersection of DMT, Breathwork, & Holotropic Practices

The similarities between psychedelic experiences and those reported in breathwork sessions are remarkable. Given that DMT occurs naturally in the body and its release may be triggered by stress or altered physiological conditions, it’s theorised that breathwork techniques, including Holotropic Breathwork, might stimulate the body’s DMT production.

Intersection Infographic

Although direct evidence linking DMT release to breathwork practices is still forthcoming, the hypothesis is supported by anecdotal experiences and theoretical models. The physiological changes induced by breathwork, such as altered carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, might trigger a response that includes the release of endogenous DMT, offering a potential explanation for the profound experiences of breathwork practitioners.

Comparing the Benefits & Similarities of Psychedelics & Breathwork

Many of the benefits of LSD mirror those associated with breathwork. Grof’s research in LSD found benefits for a wide range of psychological and spiritual purposes including:

Grof’s pioneering research in LSD therapy laid the foundation for Holotropic Breathwork, bridging the chasm between psychedelic experiences and breathwork techniques. Through his work, Grof illuminated the transformative potential of altered states of consciousness, whether induced by psychedelics or breathwork.

From psychotherapy to personal growth, healing trauma to spiritual exploration, the benefits of LSD mirror those of breathwork. Grof’s legacy continues to inspire a new generation of seekers, offering a roadmap to inner transformation and spiritual awakening.

As we explore the transformative potential of both psychedelics and breathwork, it’s intriguing to note the parallels between the benefits reported by Grof in his research on LSD therapy and those experienced through breathwork. Let’s dive into a deeper comparison of the benefits:

1. Psychotherapy:

Grof pioneered the use of LSD-assisted psychotherapy as a means of accessing deep-seated emotions, memories, and traumas. He observed that LSD could facilitate profound therapeutic breakthroughs, allowing individuals to confront and resolve unresolved issues and achieve greater insight into their psyche.

Breathwork: Similarly, breathwork provides a platform for emotional release and psychological integration, allowing participants to delve into the depths of their subconscious and address underlying traumas.

2. Personal Growth:

Grof believed that LSD could catalyse transformative experiences, leading to profound personal growth and spiritual development. He observed that LSD-assisted sessions often resulted in mystical or transcendent experiences, which participants described as deeply meaningful and life-changing.

Breathwork: Likewise, breathwork offers a pathway to spiritual growth and self-discovery, allowing individuals to tap into their inner wisdom and unlock their full potential.

3. Healing Trauma:

LSD-assisted therapy was found to be effective in treating various forms of trauma, including childhood trauma, PTSD, and existential distress. Grof observed that LSD could help individuals access repressed memories and emotions, facilitating the healing process and promoting psychological integration.

Breathwork: Similarly, breathwork facilitates trauma resolution and inner healing, providing a safe space for individuals to confront and release deeply held emotional wounds.

4. Spiritual Exploration:

LSD was seen as a tool for exploring the depths of consciousness and the nature of reality. Grof believed that LSD could provide access to non-ordinary states of consciousness, such as mystical experiences, spiritual insights, and encounters with transpersonal or archetypal realms.

Breathwork: Likewise, breathwork opens the door to mystical experiences and spiritual insights, allowing participants to connect with the divine and explore the depths of human consciousness.

5. Creativity Enhancement:

Grof noted that LSD could enhance creativity and innovation by stimulating the imagination, breaking down conventional thought patterns, and fostering openness to new ideas and perspectives. Many artists, writers, and musicians have credited LSD with inspiring their creative endeavours.

Breathwork: Similarly, breathwork enhances creativity and expands consciousness, allowing individuals to tap into their innate creativity and access new realms of inspiration.

The Future of Research & Practice

As research into DMT’s role in the body and the effects of breathwork continues, deeper insights into the potential of these transformative practices are anticipated. The exploration of breathwork, DMT, and consciousness promises to further our understanding of the human psyche and the therapeutic power of breath.

While LSD and breathwork offer distinct pathways to transformation, they share common ground in their ability to unlock the boundless potential of the human mind and spirit. Whether through psychedelic therapy or conscious breathing, an opportunity exists to embark on a journey of self-discovery, healing, and spiritual growth—ushering in a new era of holistic wellness and profound transformation.

4 Powerful Psychedelic Breathwork Techniques to Try

Here are 3 psychedelic breathing techniques that can elevate your consciousness and open doors to deep levels of healing and integration.

1. Breakthrough Breathwork

Called by many the go-to style to achieve “20 Years of Zen in 20 Minutes”, Breakthrough Breathwork offers a doorway and a mirror to our inner world, helping us identify, process, and let go of what no longer serves our growth and can be an incredible tool and catalyst in this process.

Breakthrough Breathwork can also provide an access point to higher states of heart-centeredness, evoking peace, a sense of heightened connection to self, others, and the cosmos; and a deep sense of release and freedom.

Breakthrough Breathwork

As one of the most profound techniques, this form of focused breathwork is entered into as a guided breathwork ceremony in which what needs and is ready to be released can be processed and let go, within a safe container, created and held by highly experienced breathwork facilitators.

Much like in Ayahuasca ceremonies, there’s an opportunity to go deep and detox emotionally to set yourself free, without spending a whole night in the jungle! Breakthrough Breathwork is a curated breathwork ceremony experience that incorporates a number of breathing techniques that will guide you to breathe slower than normal and also faster than normal, in order to open your heart. It’s about letting your breath set you free.

The experience is guided to help the integration of this deep work, as well as the integration of spiritual insights that are often received. Johannes Egberts, renowned breathwork coach and expert, and founder of Breathless Expeditions, recommends Breakthrough Breathwork as a catalyst for profound inner change.

So if you’re looking to make lasting changes in your life, give Breakthrough Breathwork a try. You may be surprised at just how transformative the power of breath can be.

How to do it:

Find your breakthrough experience here by joining a live event of an online workshop.

2. Holotropic Breathwork

Drawing from ancient shamanic traditions and modern psychology, Holotropic breathwork offers seekers a pathway to altered states of consciousness without the need for psychedelic drugs. Through rhythmic breathing, practitioners embark on a journey of self-exploration, diving deep into the recesses of their psyche to access higher realms of awareness.

Some believe this method may even awaken the release of endogenous DMT within the body, facilitating mystical experiences and connections to the divine.

Holotropic Breathwork
With its potential for profound spiritual insights and emotional release, Holotropic breathwork provides a safe and supportive environment for transformation and growth on the spiritual journey. While basic Holotropic Breathwork sessions can be accessed through breathwork apps or online videos, larger, in-person events are more common. Alternatively, those unable to attend in-person sessions can opt for online Neurodynamic Breathwork sessions as an alternative.
How to do it:
  • Attend an in-person workshop or retreat.
  • Register for an online Neurodynamic Breathwork session.
  • Follow a guided breathwork session using an app or video.

3. Rebirthing Breathwork

Rebirthing Breathwork, also known as Integrative Breathwork or Clarity Breathwork, is a form of consciousness-connected breathing developed by Leonard D. Orr. It aims to create a safe space for practitioners to explore memories and emotions while inducing deep relaxation and altered states of consciousness.

This technique provides an opportunity to confront and heal past trauma and grief. Experts recommend completing at least 10 sessions with a trained practitioner before practising independently.

How to do it:

  • Book a private session with a practitioner (online or in-person).
  • Attend a group workshop or retreat with a practitioner.
  • Explore online options for continued practice.

4. Shamanic Breathwork

Shamanic Breathwork is a healing breathwork practice that facilitates access to altered states of consciousness through controlled breathing. It can help you to connect with your body and mind whilst experiencing a state of bliss. Sessions can aid in releasing past trauma, gaining a deeper sense of self, and exploring potentialities.

Shamanic breathwork is a transformative breathing practice that involves guided circular breathing, breath retention, and toning. It is often accompanied by rhythmic music, all typically facilitated by a trained guide.

Shamanic Breathwork

This technique, when executed well, can enhance circulation, boost red blood cell production, detoxify the body, and invigorate a person’s energy levels. It also supports nervous system regulation, strengthens respiratory function, and provides relief from anxiety and depression.

Keen to know more? Check out our ultimate guide to Shamanic Breathwork which explains more about the details, benefits and how to practise.

How to do it:

  • Book a private session with an experienced facilitator.
  • Attend an in-person workshop or retreat.
  • Follow guided resources available online.

It’s All Within Us

The good news is that to access healing and transformation we often don’t need anything but our breath and the breath is the most accessible tool we have – it’s with us all the time. We can access higher consciousness and altered states, essentially connecting with something greater than the egoic small self with breathwork.

Embracing the Journey Within Through Breathwork

Breathwork presents a potent, accessible avenue for personal transformation. Whether in pursuit of healing, insight, or spiritual awakening, breathwork invites individuals to explore the depths of their consciousness.

At the core of this journey is the acknowledgement of our inherent ability for self-discovery and the transformative power of our breath. As we continue to unravel the mysteries of DMT, breathwork, and the psyche, we open ourselves to the boundless possibilities for growth and transformation that reside within.

As we navigate the labyrinth of human consciousness, breathwork emerges as a potent tool for transformation and self-discovery. In the alchemy of breath lies the potential to unlock doorways to the divine, catalysing healing and growth on all levels of being.

So, take a deep breath, and embark on a journey of self-exploration through the science of breathwork and the mysteries of consciousness.

Anya is a yoga & IRest meditation teacher, breathwork instructor, divemaster and writer, ocean lover and solo adventurer.

She thrives on change and transformation, and spends part of her year working and living in the Amazon with indigenous doctors, learning about their system of healing, and helping to facilitate transformational retreats.

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