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What if you could trip without taking any drugs? With psychedelic breathwork maybe you can.

Breathwork isn’t new and can be found in many forms in many cultures around the world. However, psychedelic breathwork in particular is a semi-recent discovery. Psychedelic breathwork, sometimes called holotropic breathwork, originated in the 1970s, first developed by a husband and wife duo of doctors. They had been using LSD to treat patients with various psychological disorders before the use of the substance became illegal. 

Today, psychedelic breathwork is experiencing somewhat of a revival regaining popularity among proponents of psychedelic therapies and treatments. Psychedelic breathwork is a form of controlled hyperventilation that combines sharp rhythmic breathing and energetic tempo-heavy music. The goal is to enter a psychedelic state. 

The psychedelic state achieved through psychedelic breathing can sometimes be on par with some of the most powerful substance-induced hallucinations. This is thought to be due to a change in the balance of the body’s oxygen and carbon dioxide.

“When you take your analytical mind offline temporarily, the body is so innately wise. When we [accidentally] cut ourselves, for example, we don’t have to tell our bodies how to go in and heal. Creating that space through the breath, you’re really able to hear yourself and guide yourself in what you need.” [1]

Amber Amendola, Psychedelic Breathing Facilitator & Integration Therapist at Field Trip Health

Breathing in 2020

Due to the rapid global spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, in-person or in-clinic treatments and supervised psychedelic therapies have had to be postponed. While losing resources can be difficult for anyone with mental illness at any time, losing these therapies during a time of widespread uncertainty and stress has left many searching for alternatives. Because of this, some patients have begun trying psychedelic breathwork at home under the supervision of their therapists. 

Though it is most common to perform in a group and for several hours, psychedelic breathing can also be beneficial for individuals wanting to do shorter sessions at home. The effects of even a short holotropic breathwork session can be uplifting, restorative, and clarifying, and many have found this practice useful for relieving stress during the pandemic. 

How to Perform Psychedelic Breathwork

Because breathwork is similar in many ways to hyperventilation, it is important to perform this practice in a controlled environment until you are confident in your technique. The process involves rapid, rhythmic breathing in order to alter your body’s natural balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This creates both physical sensations and an altered state of mind. Here’s how a typical psychedelic group session might go: 

  1. Pick a partner that you feel comfortable with. One will be the breather first, the other will watch them to make sure they stay safe.
  2. Lie on your mat on your back. This position will allow you to move as needed during the session, and can help make your breathing more comfortable.
  3. Follow your instructor as they describe how to breathe. They will guide you through questions and the mental components of psychedelic breathing. A common breathing pattern used in psychedelic breathwork is: one sharp breath into the belly, one sharp breath into the chest, sigh out an exhale, repeat. Your instructor will give you specific instructions for regarding pacing, and may guide you through various breathing patterns.
  4. Absorb the music as you breathe. Rhythm heavy music is used to encourage participants to enter a dream-like state, and to help keep your rhythmic breathing on track.
  5. Do what feels right as you breathe, since you may feel the urge to make a sound, move your body, etc. Allowing yourself to have an authentic response to the exercise is vital to your experience so don’t hold in your natural reactions.
  6. Draw, talk, or reflect on your experience. With a trained professional or psychedelic breathwork therapist present, you may be able to tap into emotional understanding on a new level. Some people report that it has helped to overcome trauma, reduce stress, gain confidence, etc. 

Side Effects: How Psychedelic Breathing Makes You Feel

There is no guarantee that psychedelic breathing will put you into a psychedelic state. However, most participants in this practice report at least some mild physical and mental side effects. Many practitioners report feeling tingly, dizzy, or like they were floating. Others report uncontrollable limb movements or have experienced a brief loss of sensation. 

A common side effect reported by proponents of the practice is a kind of waking-dream-state, wherein the individual see visions behind their eyelids. This is similar to experiencing mild hallucinogenic effects. Though these visions and sensations can be lost upon opening the eyes or being startled out of the trance, some people have reported having more than hour-long dream-states after practicing psychedelic breathwork. 

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