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.


7 thoughts on “Frustration about Holotropic Breathwork: a Holotropic experience”

  1. Found your post helpful thanks. It resonates a lot with my own experience and it’s a good reminder before going into my holotropic breathwork session.

    1. I read your post and it related to my first experiences with Holotropic breathwork. I had some experience ( training) with other breathwork modalities and found the group technique strange from my perspective. First of all was the music. I had used music before in facilitating both individual and group sessions but usually at the end after there had been a noticeable shift in energy and the client/s were integrating the experience. In addition to that was the choice of music. I believe usually a cathartic type of music is used in the first phase of Holotropic breathwork. When I did that weekend, I was in a particularly down state connected to a relationship breakdown. The cathartic tribal music the facilitators played during this group session was so out of sync with where I was at that it seemed to impede any emotional movement for me. Of course there are limitations to any group session as it is less individualized; and also I suppose I could have surrendered to the situation and sank into the feeling of being pissed off for not getting what I wanted or felt I needed. I did attempt that but I didn’t feel pissed off only sad and hopeless and the music only distracted me from that core feeling. I think that the breath often times is enough particularly with beginners. My main point here is that breathwork is mainly an internal experience; and thinking you can match external music to the individual internal processes of a group is a bit arrogant and intrusive and frankly doesn’t necessarily work. Breathwork is like unraveling an onion; and everyone process is different. We can teach techniques of breathing, but trying to control people’s feelings through music is just fcounter productive.

      1. Hi Michael,
        Thanks for sharing your experience. It is interesting that you shared “getting pissed off for not getting what you wanted or felt you needed”. This is extremely common and it is one of the many things that Holotropic Breathwork facilitators prepare breathers to face during the breathwork. Opening the psyche means going into the unknown. It means relinquishing control and allowing to be shown something that might not be expected. It is opening up to the possibilty that what you will get might not be what you want, but might still be extremely relevant. This is what opening up to a higher intelligence or healing force means. And it does not happen by itself: it requires work.
        About the music, I have witnessed that the exact same soundtrack can trigger an incredible array of different experiences: it does not control feelings, it does not direct the process. It is not my opinon: it is a verifiable fact. It seems to me that you are using the music as a justification to express the “pissed off feeling” that you did not allow to unfold during the session. I agree that breathwork is an internal experience. Focusing on the music and writing a comment about it on a website is anything but internal. It is the very definition of a projection.

  2. I am one full of fruatration about Holotropic breathwork. Did it 3 times with a group, twice solo. I honestly tried my best to stay open, to not judge, not evaluate, relinquish control over the process. Can’t say that my effort was 100% effective, but was utterly honest.
    It’s three months since first trip and nothing has changed in my psychological state. Nothing healed or cured inside my head. I am frustrated as hell, because of high hopes I had for this method.
    Should I continue doing it? Maybe it just takes more time for some?

    1. Hi !
      Thanks for your comment.
      The only thing we can do is try our best. If you feel your efforts were honest, well, that’s great work! Don’t judge it as not being effective. It is work. It is effort. The results are not in your control: only the effort.
      You say that you had high hopes and that nothing is healed or cured inside your head. But expecting to be “changed” or “cured” with a few breathwork sessions is putting the bar rather high. Change or transformation is a slow process of moving towards something. It is a journey and not a destination. You have to be present to everything that is happening on this journey. At this moment, you are experiencing frustration about not having reached your desired destination yet. This is something. And it can be something very powerful if you allow yourself to feel that in itself and not as an obstacle to what you think you should be feeling. If you can stay with this frustration and ask yourself if it is familiar, if it manifests in other areas of your life, how it presents itself, what your usual strategies to cope with it are, etc., well you will certainly learn something important. Only then will you be able to go beyond frustration to experience something else that will help you on your journey.
      You feel like nothing is happening, but staying with this feeling without wanting to get away from it and take the time to properly give this feeling some space is hard work. I am absolutely positive it will be helpful if you stay with it.
      On another note, I am a bit puzzled by you doing breathwork in solo. Did you have an individual session with a facilitator or did you just do it alone at home? Just a reminder that there might be other types of breathwork that are done alone, but not Holotropic Breathwork. It is never done alone. Part of the process is creating a space of safety and having someone there at all times to support you helps create this sense of safety. Without this feeling of safety, I would really advise against any deep dive in the psyche.
      Sending good thoughts your way! Keep up the good work!

      1. Solo means I did it alone. At home, where I feel most safe and comfortable. Apparently I somehow still have enough faith in my mental strength to not be afraid of doing it without other people.
        Or at least consciously I didn’t feel any fear or anxiety during the process.

  3. People that have these kinds of reactions to the Breathwork are the ones that need it the most. I try to understand where they are and gently encourage them to come again and purge themselves of whatever comes up. I try to give the people wanting to give it up right away a little more sharing if they are open. They were there for some reason…💕💕

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