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September 28: Holotropic Breathwork workshop in Montreal

HOLOTROPIC BREATHWORK EVENT IN MONTREAL
Saturday, September 28, 2019

Come awaken the power of your inner healer.

Click here to register.

One-day Holotropic Breathwork workshop,
facilitated by Alain Menier and Philippe Levesque, Certified Holotropic Breathwork Facilitators, with Isabelle Clement, authorized apprentice
From 8:30 am to 7:00 pm
At Studio 1900MOOV, 7190 Marconi (a 5-minute walk from either Parc or De Castelnau metro station).
Cost of the workshop: 135 $

Click here to register.

Contact us for more info.

WHAT IS HOLOTROPIC BREATHWORK?

Holotropic Breathwork is a powerful approach to self-exploration and healing that integrates insights from modern consciousness research, anthropology, various depth psychologies, transpersonal psychology, Eastern spiritual practices, and mystical traditions of the world.

The process itself uses very simple means: it combines accelerated breathing with evocative music in a special set and setting. With the eyes closed and lying on a mat, each person uses their own breath and the music in the room to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness. This state activates the natural inner healing process of the individual’s psyche, bringing him or her a particular set of internal experiences. With the inner healing intelligence guiding the process, the quality and content brought forth is unique to each person and for that particular time and place. While recurring themes are common, no two sessions are ever alike.

The Hidden Power Within

I like original thinkers, people who have very personal, thoughtful and articulate opinions on all subjects. These thinkers who come to make us question certainties and evidence. But I have no attraction for gurus. For those people who are quick insert their certainty back in place of the certainty they have just shaken. For those people who say they can change us, “save” us or show us the way to salvation. Especially when they dare to say that they are the only ones who can offer us salvation.

This mistrust of the gurus is something that has strongly attracted me to Holotropic Breathwork. What we call the holotropic attitude is the belief – the voluntary belief – that we already have all the resources to grow, heal, learn, etc. And it is the essential experience that Holotropic Breathwork aims to achieve: taking a moment to listen to what is happening inside us or for us, at a specific moment in our lives. In this respect, Holotropic Breathwork can be likened to meditation. Holotropic Breathwork, like meditation, is a technique of exploration, observation. But that’s where the similarity ends.

The strategy, in Holotropic Breathwork, aims to turn your attention inward and try to make everything bigger, whether it is an emotion, a physical sensation, a memory, a “weird” experience, etc. But the strategy also aims to “stay with” what is happening, not to reject the experience as useless or insignificant a priori. It can be really challenging work, but it can also be very difficult. The word “breathwork” talks about breath, of course, but it also talks about work.

What always amazes me is when a person who has just worked very hard and obtained a result that seems to create a feeling of relief, comfort or satiety will often attribute their condition to someone else, especially to the facilitator who has just worked with them. I make it my duty – and it is the duty of every Holotropic Breathwork facilitator  – to always give the power back to the person.

“Thank you for giving me credit, but you did the work.” It should be noted that it gives me the right to do the same thing when someone wants to pin his or her difficulties on me. I do not own the successes or difficulties (the word “failure” has no meaning in Holotropic Breathwork) of the breathers. My responsibility is to ensure that material and human conditions foster a sense of security. That is the meaning of the expression “to hold space”. The work that is done in this space is not my responsibility and as a facilitator, I consciously decide to have no plans for people who breathe. And this is the difficult work of a facilitator: avoid projecting his or her will on the work that occurs in a breathing room.

This points to a simple method for identifying a guru: the guru is the person who takes credit for your work and presents your difficulties as failures. This is possible because the guru has a project for you: he declares that he knows better than you what you should be or become. But gurus can only take all this power because people are willingly giving it to them. And this is where the apparent paradox of power lies.

If you ask people if they want more power, the vast majority of people will say yes. But this is far from being the case. Power is even a source of vertigo, of terror. After all, as superhero movies say, with power comes responsibility. And power can only be obtained according to the responsibility one is willing to accept.

Example: in the face of the challenging environmental situation, it is tempting to refuse to see your power. To refuse power is to allow yourself to do anything, because, ultimately, you convince yourself that everything you do is useless or meaningless. But taking power means deciding that the actions you take count. With this logic, someone will try to reduce his or her energetic footprint, consume less, favor renewable resources, reduce waste, etc. The actions to be taken are infinite and it is almost impossible not to feel awe in front of all that will still be left to do.

Taking power, taking responsibility, is an act that condemns us to discomfort, work and uncertainty. Taking power requires a lot of courage. It is much easier to give our power to someone who already claims to know everything, to someone who is certain of things. This is what makes gurus or personal growth stars so popular. It is also what eventually causes their downfall, because power, concentrated in few hands, always causes corruption.

How about you? Do you have the courage to claim your power?

The Infallible Inner Healer

One of the central concepts of Holotropic Breathwork is that the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness creates a contact with a mysterious force called “the inner healer”.

It is important to note that Holotropic Breathwork does not ask for strict adherence to any system of belief, and that one could very well practice HB without ever mentioning the inner healer. But the use of the inner healer has some very interesting implications.

First of all, let’s try to explain what the inner healer is, for HB practitioners. To use the description given by the facilitator’s handbook: “When the body gets a cut or scratch, it moves into action to make itself whole again. This movement toward healing and towards wholeness is always trying to happen and the inner healer in each of us is always looking for opportunities to bring our minds, emotions and bodies into connection and wholeness with ourselves and Spirit.” In other words, the inner healer is described as a force that works to heal, to help someone grow, to help someone develop his or her consciousness and/or awareness.

To my knowledge, Stan Grof has never said publicly what he personally believes about the ontological nature of the inner healer. Is it a force that is outside us, like a guardian angel? Some sort of archetype? Is it an extension of the immune system? Is it a purely psychological function? Something else entirely? A combination of some or of all of the above? His answer seems to be: “Take your pick”. And it makes perfect sense, since Holotropic Breathwork is about personal experience. For religious people, this inner healer might be an extension of the divinity. For people who have gone through 12-step programs, it might be a version of the higher power. For more rationally inclined people, it can be a psychological function.

Let’s just say, at the very least, that considering the possibility of the existence of a force that has more or less the properties described above can be a useful hypothesis.

But what is it useful for?

First, it nurtures optimism. The image of the half empty/half full glass has been used to death. However, most people have experienced, to a degree or another, the self-fulfilling prophetical power of optimism or pessimism. In general, if you are convinced that you will fail at something you will fail. If you are convinced that you will succeed, you probably will. I would not cross a highway with my eyes closed relying on optimism alone to guide me, but then again, this would be a dishonest (and probably fatal) experience: I don’t think anyone could ever muster enough optimism to try such a thing. And if success through optimism can often be helped by the ignorance of certain obstacles or pitfalls, I do not think it could ever benefit from outright stupidity.

Optimism works because it will, at the very least, make you imagine or try to imagine a positive outcome to the situation you are contemplating. It will create a vision or a model to emulate; it will give you the representation of a new state more favorable than the one you are in now.

Second, the hypothesis of the inner healer is useful because it creates a connection (or at least a sense of connection) with something/someone else or something/someone greater.

Human beings are social by nature. They have a deep need to feel connected to others and to the world around them. A lot of people seem to have this intense need to feel like unique individuals, and a lot has been said about the courage to do your own thing. But this very fact presupposes that, by nature, we are not individuals per se. A very important part of us is collective: we are a body composed of atoms/matter/energy which interacts with absolutely everything else in the universe. We are in constant interactions with other human beings or animals. Being an individual can only be defined through not being an individual: a tree has to plant its roots in the soil and intertwine them with other trees or plants, or it will simply not grow. To be an individual means to be grounded in something that is not. Connectedness is what allows us to emerge, grow and thrive as individuals. It favors both mental and physical health.

Third, the hypothesis of the inner healer promotes trust. There are of course a lot of similarities between optimism and trust, but where optimism has to do with the mind and our capacity to imagine, trust has to do with emotions. Where optimism rises out of a contemplation about the future, trust is a sense of confidence and security, an inner calmness and ease that happens in the here and now.

Feeling trust means you can relax, and stop feeling like the world or other human beings represent a threat or an imminent danger.

So, the hypothesis of the inner healer, at the bare minimum, fosters optimism, connectedness and trust. Even if you only entertain the inner healer as a possibility, those three allies will manifest. Imagine someone suffering from depression or going through a very dark and difficult time: how can it not be useful to feel – even for 10 seconds – optimism, connectedness and trust, when those feelings might have not been felt for months or years?

The useful hypothesis of the inner healer in its mildest form can give a little spark where there is only darkness. Properly nurtured, it can shine like a bright light and why not, radiate like a powerful star.

The funny thing is that you do not have to believe in anything: just try to entertain the inner healer as a possibility. I am convinced that it will be helpful, one way or another. But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can just try it and decide for yourself whether it is new age crap or not.

Can I “direct” my Holotropic Breathwork session?

During some informal talk with participants after a recent Holotropic Breathwork workshop, one of them asked me: “Am I allowed to ‘direct’ my session?” Since I was not sure what was meant, I asked the person to explain. He added: “I wanted to try some bodywork, but I didn’t want to have to ask for it during the session, because I don’t like to talk. Is it ok to ask for some specific kind of bodywork before the session starts? Wouldn’t it go against the idea that what happens in HB should be spontaneous?”

First of all, a HB session should not be anything. Within the usual ground rules set for HB (mostly about not hurting oneself or others and not including others in the exploration of sexuality), the breathwork space is open in order for participants to freely explore their psyche. The concept that each breather is the only expert about his or her psyche is fundamental to breathwork. This is why facilitators and sitters should never intervene in the process without the explicit request of the breather. Personally, I know that it is not unusual for me to regress during a session, and I often ask my sitter to cuddle with me, if they see me curl into a ball. This is part of my standard contract. If they don’t feel comfortable doing it, I ask them to get a facilitator. After many sessions, I’ve found out that this is something I need very much, but that I simply cannot ask for when I am in the state of needing it very much. So I ask it before the session starts, in my contract with my sitter. This is the point of the contract: to ask for something that you might need in order to get this need met. The contract is a way of “directing” some elements of your session.

Of course, it happened that I do not curl into a ball at all, and it also happened that I did it and did not feel comfortable being held, because I wanted to explore going deeper into a feeling of abandonment. However, since I asked beforehand, when I curled into a ball, I felt a presence trying to comfort me. I just asked the person to stop, and I did not feel “interfered with”: I was still in charge of my process the whole time. Most of the time, I find this personal addition to my contract very helpful, as it helps to reinforce in me, beyond words, the sentiment that I am not alone and that someone can be there to take care of me when I need it. This repeated experience has been nothing short of life changing.

But what about first time breathers, or breathers that do not yet have an idea of what they can go through, when they do breathwork?

I would suggest approaching Holotropic Breathwork exactly like a sexual experience. When you make love for the first time, it would be rather strange to decide that you would like to try Kama Sutra exercices, or to go through elaborate role play, or something like that. Usually, the idea would be to try to be as present as possible, and just let things follow their course. I would suggest the same thing for first time breathers: breathe, try to be as present as possible to what happens, and go as deep as you can in whatever manifests. You don’t have to solve everything and try everything in your first session ! In fact, it is is very unlikely that you will.

After having talked for a while, after the same session, another participant said to me: “I was sitting, this morning, and I saw someone asking to be immobilized by facilitators. I was wondering what that might be like and that is why I decided to ask for it this afternoon. I do not yet know what to make of what happened, but something moved very deeply.”

This participant had already taken part in three or four sessions, and he was curious to explore what bodywork could do.

These two questions highlight what I love most about Holotropic Breathwork: the fact that it is a great personal and collective exploration process. The personal is obvious, but why collective? Because the sitting part is of course there to make sure that no breather is alone and that everyone’s needs can be met. But more than that, when you are sitting, you have a chance to witness some of the processes in the room. You have a chance to see what breathwork is like for some people. Each time some breather decides to try something new, to find new ways of exploring the psyche, they are sharing, at least in part, their experience with the group. When participants explore their psyche with dedication, courage, honesty, and openmindedness, their work will influence others. Their discoveries about what works for them will help others find what works for them as well. By being totally there for yourself, you end up being there for others. This is how Holotropic Breathwork evolves and grows: by this interplay of microcosm reflecting the macrocosm. Each participant is, in a way, a hologram that contains the whole of the process within him or herself. And this is why someone working at healing themselves during a session in Australia can eventually help someone else heal, a few years later, in Canada or in Spain, without ever having met them.

I feel a lot of gratitude for Stan and Christina Grof for the elaboration of this great method, and I feel a lot of gratitude for Philippe Levesque, the first facilitator I worked with, as I feel a lot of gratitude for Tav Sparks, Diane Haug and Diana Medina, who led all the workshops I had during my training and helped me to learn what a facilitator is. I could name many other facilitators, sitters, breathers, etc. I am grateful. But some of the healing I found in HB is also probably inspired by someone who breathed a few times, in a country I’ve never visited. This is why, in a very real way, each time someone breathes, they do not only breathe to heal themselves, but to heal the world at large. This is not some mumbo jumbo karmic energetic concept (even though I do not rule out this possibility as well), but something measurably real, as real as I live and breathe.

So, let’s get back to the question that started it all: can someone “direct” his or her HB experience? Yes, of course, but only as long as the “directing” does not make them less present to what is happening here and now.

Do not hurt yourselves or others, do not include others in the exploration of your sexuality, stay until the end and keep what you witness confidential. Those are the rules.

Everything else is allowed.

Frustration about Holotropic Breathwork: a Holotropic experience

In my practice as a Holotropic Breathwork facilitator, I often get the feeling that the individuals who feel disappointed after a HB session are among the persons who could benefit from it.

I remember feeling extremely frustrated after my first few HB sessions, because I had expected something as powerful as my previous psychedelic experiences. However, even though I dutifully breathed for almost the whole duration of the session, I did not perceive any significant change to my state of consciousness. It was frustrating. And feeling this frustration, I handled it the only way I knew how: by justifying it rationally and projecting it outside. I remember thinking “What a rip off !” and feeling that everyone who seemed to have experienced something were somehow “faking it”.

I often had the feeling that it was a rather common experience, but of course, the people who feel this frustration after a session never contacted me about it. It would make sense that I would be the very last person they would want to talk with about this frustration, since I am partly the cause of it. Reading this Reddit post confirmed my suspicion.

This is interesting: it looks like some people are blaming the method exactly because they are not using it. The Holotropic method states that you should not favor any state of mind and that you should try to “stay with” whatever you are experiencing. If you experience frustration, you should “stay with” frustration. And “staying with” is the complete opposite of rationalization or projection. Why? Because rationalizing and projecting is a refusal to own something. It is a way of saying: “I am not frustrated, it is the situation that is frustrating. I am not responsible for this frustration, someone or something else is, because of this and because of that.”

But the Holotropic method says that you should stay with the frustration. It does not mean that you have to justify it. You should just feel it, because obviously, it is a very painful experience that you are trying to get away from in a hurry. The frustration-because-the-method-does-not-work is precisely the method working.

If you are into rationalization, you might argue that the Holotropic Breathwork method is unfalsifiable, meaning that it only turns the tables all the time, and that it is scientifically dishonest.

But Holotropic Breathwork is not a science. It does not aim to be consensually true. It only wants to create a space where you will be able to explore your psyche, to experience things in a different way.

Of course, you always have a choice to experience pain or not when it presents itself, but you also need to have the honesty to recognize that what is guiding you, when you are choosing not to experience something, is not intellectual or moral integrity, but plain old fear. And it is perfectly ok to be afraid, as long as you accept to own your fear. I keep saying it every session: “Holotropic Breathwork is hard work. I am in awe of the courage of people who willfully explore their psyche.” Those are not just words that sound cool. I believe this will all of my heart ! This work can bring us to some very painful and scary places, sometimes.

But when we choose to stay with those difficult sensations, emotions, feelings or thoughts, when we choose to stay with them just one more minute, some amazing things start to happen.

I cannot say what will happen to you. All I can share is what happened to me when I was finally able to stay with my frustration and own it.

Very quickly, I realized that my frustration was linked to a very deep sensation of shame: I was ashamed because I was feeling broken, unable to experience what I thought should be experienced or what I perceived other participants were experiencing. Ultimately, I was ashamed because I was questioning my sense of belonging in this universe and I was left with the clear sensation that “I am not wanted”. The origin of this “I am not wanted” is ultimately irrelevant, but I do understand that it is sort of my default programming: whenever I walk into a room, I feel not wanted; whenever I meet someone new, I feel not wanted; whenever I encounter any form of spiritual experience, I feel not wanted. This feeling was totally unconscious, and yet, it colored almost every experience I’ve ever had.

There is a tremendous sense of empowerement each time I am able to bring to my awareness this profound realization, because instead of automatically feeling “I am not wanted” as a truth in a particular situation, I understand that I am bringing the “I feel not wanted” bias to the situation. This might sound like a clumsy zen-wanna-be like realization, but to me, it is truly a game changer.

Not all my experiences in Holotropic Breathwork were of this nature and I did experience some wonderful states, but I was glad I was able to stay with my frustration a little bit longer and eventually find a practical tool I can use to transform how I am present in this world and how I relate to others.

I can only wish you will be able to find deep blessings in the most unusual places.