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Range of experience

The possible spectrum of experience of holotropic breathwork encompasses the entire mental structure, which, according to Stanislav Grof's 'cartography of the psyche', consists not only of biographical experiences, but also of perinatal impressions of one's own birth experience as well as transpersonal experiences. According to Jahrsetz, there is also the area of the 'current unconscious'. There are also experiences with increased sensory perception.


People see themselves, and others, through social conditioning in multiple roles and identifications. This goes so far that personal identity can be viewed as a product of these roles and identifications and experienced separately from its own power. In this way people live and function in a 'consensus trance' (Charles Tart). This can be experienced directly in holotropic processes.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.



All experiences from birth to the present day belong to the biographical area and can be experienced in holotropic processes, regardless of whether they are suppressed in the subconscious in the classic sense or very present. Those scenes and moments tend to emerge that have not yet been finally processed. They are not just remebered but are relived holistically, with all the senses on a psychological, emotional and physical level, This gives the psyche the opportunity to complete this 'gestalt'.


It is thanks to Stan Grof to have recognized the enormous influence of the intrauterine time between conception and birth on everyday well-being. The own birth experience can be relived in holotropic processes, often this also happens in mythological and archetypal symbols. This perinatal period thus forms a bridge between the personal and the transpersonal. Grof distinguishes between four basic perinatal matrices (BPM), which are based on the effective birth process.

Freud once compared the psyche to an iceberg. He announced that what we had thought was the totality of the psyche - the conscious ego - was only its tip. Psychoanalysis, according to Freud, revealed the hidden part of the psyche, the individual unconscious. Taking Freud's simile further we can say that classical psychoanalysis discovered only the tip of the iceberg, while psychedelic research uncovered depths of the human psyche that had remained concealed even to traditional psychoanalysts. As mythologist Joseph Campbell whimsically put it: "Freud was fishing while sitting on a whale."

Stan Grof


The first basic perinatal matrix relates to the time between conception and the onset of labor. In the experience of the fetus of a healthy pregnancy, the entire existing universe provides warmth and nourishment. BPM I is then often perceived as a paradisiacal, oceanic state of undifferentiated unity. Difficult pregnancies on the other hand might be seen in pictures of a toxic environement. 


BPM II begins with the onset of the first contractions until the cervix opens. The environment becomes life-threatening, unknown forces squeeze the fetus in and seem to crush it. There is no way out because the cervix is still closed. This state is often experienced in the most varied of images of a metaphysical hell, it can show the entire human experience of feeling of entrapment and hopelessness, the 'dark night of the soul' (John of the Cross).


In BPM III, the cervix has opened and the baby is moving through the birth canal. Contractions act as strong mechanical forces, often accompanied by pain and dangerous lack of oxygen. In addition to realistically reliving this in holotropic processes, there might be images of the forces of nature and human aggression as well as encounters with demonic elements. Intense sexual content and episodes with skatological elements can also occur.


BPM IV describes the actual birth and the cutting of the umbilical cord. This is where the recurring motif of death and rebirth is located: the fetus 'dies' as an intrauterine aquatic being and is 'reborn' as a terrestrial, breathing baby. In a spiritual sense, our unprocessed birth experience-based conception of the self and the world dies under metaphysical fears to give way to a state of grace and redemption.


Grof supplements his 'Cartography of the Psyche' with a wider range of experiences in which consciousness overcomes the limits of the body and the ego, of linear time and three-dimensional space. These transpersonal experiences break the boundaries of duality and polarity as well as logic. This can lead to the experience of identifying with other people or groups of people across all ages, with other forms of life and even with inorganic elements. Transpersonal experiences can have to do with archetypal images and mythological beings and symbols from all cultures and times.

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