Below is a description of what a session of holotropic breathwork might look like.
Holotropic breathwork is most often practiced in a group setting led by a trained facilitator. It may also be offered in individual sessions or as part of a retreat.
People are paired off in a group setting. There is one "breather" and one "sitter."
The sitter only helps the breather if needed. The breather is the person actively practicing and experiencing HB. The sitter ensures that the breather is safe and supported during the session.
A facilitator guides the session. Direction is given to increase the speed and rhythm of the breather's breathing. The breather is told to breathe faster and deeper while keeping their eyes closed. While the speed of breathing increases, attention is paid to keep breathing even, which helps practitioners avoid complications from hyperventilating.
A session might last from 2 to 3 hours in total.
The breather will lie on a mat for the duration of a session. Laying down grounds the breather and gives them the ability to move freely, in whatever pose their breath takes them.
Repetitive music is played. The rhythmic music encourages the breather to enter an altered state of consciousness (similar to having a vivid dream). The music starts off with drumming, and eventually reaches a peak and switches to "heart music." From there it eventually changes to meditative music.
The session is open-ended. This means that each person is able to derive their own meaning and attain self-discovery in whatever form that means for them. In addition to moving in any way that they want, breathers are encouraged to make any sounds that feel right to them.
Afterward, participants draw mandalas about their experience and discuss what happened. This could be the re-experiencing of past trauma, feelings of joy, or the development of spiritual awareness. Essentially, the goal is for HB to be a catalyst for bringing to the surface the most important issues a person needs to address.
Breathers and sitters swap roles for future sessions.
There is not a specific guideline or expectation of what must occur or what issues are explored during a session. Participants are free to work on whatever comes up for them as they enter the altered state.