Demons; spirit guides; celestial lights; rebirth; divine love… for nearly three hours, I sat rapt as Dr. Stan Grof described the transformative qualities of Holotropic Breathwork. Utilizing special music and breathing patterns, it’s possible to experience transpersonal, mystical states and to be revitalized, enlightened, and scared to shit.
Curious about this “alchemical cauldron,” I had come with one hundred and twenty-something other participants, to the weekend workshop in the Berkshire Mountains. After Grof’s lecture, we each chose a partner to work with the following day. Then we divided into six smaller groups, each led by three Breathwork facilitators who outlined the next days’ events.
Each partner would take turns being “breather,” and “sitter.” The breathers were to lay supine, eyes closed, on a mat. As music played, the breathers would deeply inhale and exhale, without pause between breaths. This would elicit the healing trance state. The sitters were to watch intently. Tissues, blankets, and water should be given to the breathers, if needed. The sitters should help the breathers stay safely on their mats. It was possible that their internal experiences could impel them to move in ways harmful to themselves or others. The facilitators would also assist.
I was relieved to hear of these safeguards. I’d been intrigued by Holotropic Breathwork since learning that many breathers re-experienced their births while in a trance state. Consciously re-experiencing the claustrophobia and fear inherent in the journey from womb to world was reportedly integral in ridding the subconscious of phobias lodged there during labor and delivery.
If I were to re-experience my birth would the feeling of doom so often shadowing my life disappear? It was worth a try. But I was also afraid. My original passage had left my mom hemorrhaging and scarred. What would happen a second time? Would I lose my mind, my self-control? It was a good thing that help was lined-up.
“Each couple should decide tonight who’s going to take the first turn as breather or sitter in the morning session,” we were told. “Some people prefer to eat a light breakfast if they’re breathing in the morning. There will be plastic bags available though, if anyone needs to vomit.
“So… any questions before we break? I know it’s been a long evening, and we meet here early in the morning.”
“Yeah, I came late. I’m not sure what you mean by the breather and the sitter… should I?” The thin female with short, spiky hair spoke laconically, as if it were no great importance to her whether she knew or not.
I loathed her immediately. Should she know what a breather and a sitter is! If she’d come on time, she’d not only have known how important they are, but heard it from the originator of the process himself. Plus, she would have learned what impelled Dr. Grof and his wife to develop the technique in the first place. What was she even doing here if she cared so little? How superficial could you get!
The facilitators were unfazed. “Stay after the others leave. We’ll try to answer all your questions.”
In the morning, all the chairs had been replaced by wall-to-wall mats in the auditorium. Water bottles, eye shields, and other personal items placed on the mats laid claim to most. Two free mats remained in our group’s section. The previous night’s late arrivers stood eying them. Finally, they moved next to one of the mats. “You’ve chosen that one?” I verified.
They nodded. I put my stuff down on the other mat. Sierra, one of our group facilitators, came over to the two women. “I’m sorry. We can’t use this mat. Group six is using this section.”
“We’ll take that mat, then,” the spiky-haired female said, moving towards my mat.
“I’m sorry. You already chose the other mat. This one’s mine.” I was proud to hold my ground. Ms. Laconic Hussy wasn’t pushing me around.
Counting mats in the close-together sections, Sierra moved away with the two women. My partner appeared, carrying a pillow. “We’re over there,” he said. He put the pillow on another mat. “I was here earlier. I had to go up front about my medical history. I told them my pressure’s under control. But they gave me an extra pillow to punch–just in case I need to release any energy. I usually punch pillows when I get angry.”
“You’ve left your mat,” Sierra appeared next to us, looking troubled.