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How Does Breathwork Mimic a Psychedelic Experience?

Updated: Jul 7, 2023


Breathwork is a practice that involves intentional breathing patterns to induce altered states of consciousness. Psychedelics are substances that can also induce altered states of consciousness. There are some similarities between the two experiences, including:




  • Increased awareness: Both breathwork and psychedelics can lead to an increased sense of awareness of oneself and one's surroundings.

  • Visual distortions: Both breathwork and psychedelics can cause visual distortions, such as seeing colors more intensely or seeing patterns or shapes that are not actually there.

  • Emotional release: Both breathwork and psychedelics can lead to emotional release, such as crying, laughing, or feeling intense emotions.

  • Spiritual insights: Both breathwork and psychedelics can lead to spiritual insights, such as a feeling of connection to something larger than oneself or a sense of understanding about one's life.

However, there are also some key differences between breathwork and psychedelics. Breathwork is generally considered to be a safer practice, as it does not involve the use of any substances. Additionally, breathwork is often seen as a more controllable experience, as the practitioner can choose the intensity and duration of the practice.


If you are interested in trying breathwork, it is important to find a qualified instructor who can teach you the proper techniques and help you to have a safe and positive experience. You should also avoid breathwork if you have any underlying health conditions or if you are taking any medications.

Some important leaders in physiology changing breakwork include:


Stanislav Grof, a Czech-American psychiatrist and psychologist, is known for his research on non-ordinary states of consciousness, including holotropic breathwork. Grof began experimenting with holotropic breathwork in the 1970s, after the research on LSD was shut down in the United States. He was looking for a safe and effective alternative to psychedelics that could induce similar states of consciousness.


Grof and his wife Christina Grof developed holotropic breathwork as a way to access non-ordinary states of consciousness through breathing exercises. The breathwork involves rapid, deep breathing, often accompanied by drumming or other music. The practitioners are encouraged to surrender to the experience and allow whatever comes up to come up.

Grof found that holotropic breathwork could produce experiences that were very similar to those induced by psychedelics. These experiences included:

  • Altered states of consciousness: The practitioners reported feeling a sense of detachment from their bodies and surroundings, as well as an increased sense of awareness of their inner world.

  • Visual distortions: The practitioners reported seeing intense colors, patterns, and shapes.

  • Emotional release: The practitioners often experienced intense emotions, such as sadness, anger, or joy.

  • Spiritual insights: The practitioners sometimes reported having spiritual insights or experiences of connection to something larger than themselves.

Grof believed that holotropic breathwork could be a powerful tool for personal growth and healing. He wrote extensively about his research on holotropic breathwork and its applications in psychotherapy. Holotropic breathwork is now practiced by therapists and individuals around the world.



Wim Hof is another pioneer in breathwork who teaches a specific type of breathwork that he calls the Wim Hof Method. The Wim Hof Method involves three pillars: breathing, cold exposure, and mental focus.


The breathing technique is a type of hyperventilation that involves taking 30 deep breaths in a row. After the 30 breaths, you hold your breath for as long as you can. The breathing technique is said to increase oxygen levels in the blood and lower carbon dioxide levels. This can lead to a number of benefits, including:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety: The Wim Hof Method has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety by increasing the production of endorphins, which are natural painkillers.


  • Improved sleep: The Wim Hof Method can help to improve sleep by relaxing the body and mind.


  • Increased energy: The Wim Hof Method can help to increase energy levels by stimulating the metabolism and circulation.


  • Reduced pain: The Wim Hof Method can help to reduce pain by increasing the production of endorphins, which are natural painkillers.


  • Improved mental clarity: The Wim Hof Method can help to improve mental clarity by increasing blood flow to the brain and reducing inflammation.


  • Enhanced creativity: The Wim Hof Method can help to enhance creativity by opening up new neural pathways in the brain.


  • Spiritual connection: The Wim Hof Method can help to connect you with your spiritual side by helping you to experience altered states of consciousness.



The cold exposure pillar of the Wim Hof Method involves exposing yourself to cold temperatures, such as taking a cold shower or swimming in cold water. Cold exposure is said to boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, improve mood and circulation.


The mental focus pillar of the Wim Hof Method involves practicing meditation and visualization. Mental focus is said to help you to control your body's response to stress and to improve your overall well-being.


Leonard Orr developed rebirthing breathwork. Rebirthing breathwork is a type of breathwork that involves rapid, deep breathing that is said to help release suppressed emotions. It is based on the belief that we are all born with a natural ability to breathe deeply and fully, but that this ability can be blocked by trauma or stress. Rebirthing breathwork aims to help us to reconnect with this natural ability and to release the emotions that are holding us back.


The rebirthing breathwork technique involves lying down on your back and breathing in and out rapidly and deeply. You may be guided by a facilitator who will help you to stay focused on your breath and to allow any emotions that come up to be expressed. The session typically lasts for one to two hours.


Rebirthing breathwork is said to have a number of benefits, including:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety: Rebirthing breathwork can help to reduce stress and anxiety by increasing the oxygen levels in your blood and calming your nervous system.

  • Improved sleep: Rebirthing breathwork can help to improve sleep by relaxing your body and mind.

  • Increased energy: Rebirthing breathwork can help to increase energy levels by stimulating your metabolism and circulation.

  • Reduced pain: Rebirthing breathwork can help to reduce pain by increasing the production of endorphins, which are natural painkillers.

  • Improved mental clarity: Rebirthing breathwork can help to improve mental clarity by increasing blood flow to the brain and reducing inflammation.

  • Enhanced creativity: Rebirthing breathwork can help to enhance creativity by opening up new neural pathways in the brain.

  • Spiritual connection: Rebirthing breathwork can help to connect you with your spiritual side by helping you to experience altered states of consciousness.

It is important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your practice as you become more comfortable with it. If you have any underlying health conditions, you should talk to your doctor before starting rebirthing breathwork.


If you are interested in exploring breathwork, Sage Soul has breathwork retreats in beautiful locations and virtual breathwork sessions regularly. Book a discovery call today to learn more!





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