Have you ever wished you could experience the effects of psychedelics without the risk of ingesting drugs? What if I told you people are experiencing similar effects through breathing alone?
Today we’ll talk to Michael Stone, a facilitator in Holotropic Breathwork – a powerful approach to self-exploration that has been known to unlock new states of consciousness and even trigger hallucinations!
Holotropic Breakthwork was developed by Dr. Stanislav Grof and his wife in the mid-1970s. The name Holotropic means literally “moving toward wholeness” and the practice integrates insights from modern consciousness research, anthropology, various depth psychologies, transpersonal psychology, Eastern spiritual practices, and mystical traditions of the world.
Learn More About Michael Stone
Michael Stone is the founder of Holotropic Breathwork LA and a Stan-Grof-Certified Holotropic Breathwork facilitator, leading intros and workshops including the Holotropic Breathwork in the Desert Retreat, all Inner Awakening Breathwork workshops and the breakthrough Retrain Your Brain, Master Your Own Life workshop.
Learn More about Holotropic Breathwork
0:00:00 Melissa: Welcome to Mind Love episode 2. Today’s episode is all about getting high the natural way.
0:00:06 Michael: You don’t drink a Richesburg, you just don’t do that. But the girl that I brought down there, she wanted to do it so…
0:00:12 Melissa: And don’t worry, no drugs were ingested in the making of this show.
0:00:38 Melissa: Today we’re diving in to holotropic breathwork. Holotropic breathwork is basically a breathing exercise that’s supposed to get you high without any substances.
I found out about holotropic breathwork through an event happening in L.A. late last year and I decided I had to sign up. The reviews on it were amazing. People were basically saying they were having experiences from hallucinations to enlightenment to spiritual awakenings just through doing this breathing exercise and I knew I had to be a part of it.
It was developed by a Czech psychiatrist named Stan Grof who was influential in studying the effects of LSD on the psyche otherwise known as the field of psychedelic therapy. So Stan sets off to study the effects of patients on LSD versus non-LSD.
0:01:33 Michael: Basically, their mental defenses were down and so he was able to work with them so that they could access stuff that needed to be released from their psyche much more freely and to be able to actually bring it up and effectively release it out of their system in their body.
0:01:48 Melissa: So Stan is discovering all these amazing benefits of LSD and he called the states of consciousness that his patients would access non-ordinary states of consciousness.
Suddenly, LSD is banned and he can’t do his research anymore so he sets off on a search to find other ways that people can access non-ordinary states of consciousness without the use of substances. His research led him to study what traditional societies had done such as shamanic societies, Buddhism, the works.
0:02:24 Michael: What he found was was that traditional societies, the common threads what they use were 1: some kind of sound whether it was music or in the case of shamanism, it was drumming or rattling. And then second of all, in many cases, it was something to do with the breath.
0:02:46 Melissa: Stan gathered all these knowledge and began scientific trial and error research with test study groups.
0:02:53 Michael: What really attracted me to this was that this is not a human modality that someone said they downloaded from the universe or they just came to them or something, this was actually done through scientific trial and error method.
0:03:06 Melissa: Michael is a logical guy. He has a background in chemical engineering but one day he takes a trip to Peru with a lady and he’s presented with the option of bringing a shaman along on his weeklong trip for a mere hundred dollars.
0:03:21 Michael: Said the girl: why not? Could be fun. So we took them along with us and like one day in to the trip, he, through an interpreter, he can’t speak English, he just spoke his kinda native language down there, tribal language, said that if we wanted to, we could participate in a religious ceremony with people down there.
So okay, what’s that?
And so he said: well, works like this, I go out in the rainforest and I find this vine and this leaf and I kinda put it all together and put it in a big cauldron pot and whirl it up and mix it altogether and you drink it. Now, you have to understand, for me, I’m in chemical engineering, right? It’s like within chemical engineering, you mix .25 grams of this and .52 grams of this, you don’t drink a witches brew, you just don’t do that.
And so I’m going oh my God, I can’t do this. But with the girl that I brought down, she wanted to do it so, you know how social pressure works out, I don’t wanna look like a wimp.
0:04:21 Melissa: Classic case of Eve and the apple if you ask me.
0:04:25 Michael: Just sort of background, ever since I was a child, like my parents were Nazi Germany escapees and they lived in Germany for their family for hundreds of years and had really been like major players in their towns, like my grandfather had the iron cross for saving a bunch of people’s lives and while we’re one of the German side and then they had to run for their lives.
And so ever since I was a child, I’ve kind of imprinted this belief that the world is not a safe place, you can’t even trust your country. So that was kind of this childhood imprinted that I grew up with and so this was really like a breakthrough experience for me, like really feeling yes, the world is a safe place and everything has a reason, it happens for a reason and it’s not like I have to put up this protective shield all the time.
It turns out that it was ayahuasca which I’ve never heard of before and I ended up having this amazing experience of connection with the universe that it was really the first time in my life that I had felt like really the universe was a safe place and it just totally blew my mind. I felt like I was kind of part of everything and dissolved into everything.
And so when I got back, this was before I knew about holotropic breathwork, I kind of was thinking along the same lines as Stan Grof that well, if I can have this experience with a substance like that in Peru then the receptors are there in my brain so there should be a way to kind of access the same receptors without a substance and that was what kind of started me on the search that ultimately brought me to holotropic breathwork.
0:06:13 Melissa: Once Michael started holotropic breathwork, he ended up having an experience very similar to his ayahuasca experience and after that, he was hooked.
0:06:23 Michael: The underlying principle of breathwork is that everybody has his inner healing capability that they already have inside of them, it’s just your mind gets in the way.
So this is not like other things that, I mean, I explored other things after I got back from Peru, one was shamanism and actually went through three year shamanic training program but what really attracted me to breathwork is that they call people after the training program, they call you facilitators and so it’s not like you’re leaders or gurus or this or that and basically your job is just to support people in getting their mind out of the way so that they can access this innate healing power that they already have which is to me, it’s just like whatever call radical self-empowerment.
It’s like you already have everything you need. We don’t need to be your intermediary, we don’t need to channel energy, it’s like we’re just there to basically get everything off to the sides, you can access the center of healing power. And it makes sense because in the same way that your body, if you have a cut, it heals itself, your mind doesn’t have to figure it out.
Your psyche has the same capabilities, it’s just you’ve got to get all the layers that are kind of in between out of the way so that you can access it. So I’m always been tuned in to stuff that really tells people or allows people to understand that they can do it all themselves and they don’t need to basically have someone else to, that they have to keep running to to keep supporting them to do their own healing so that really turned me on to this modality of breathwork.
0:07:56 Melissa: As part of his research, Stan catalogued thousands of experiences and realized that they all fell in to five basic categories.
0:08:07 Michael: The first one is what they call a sensory experience. There’s energies that are stuck in your body that are generally stuck there because of emotional or traumatic experiences that you’ve had in your past that your mind did not feel safe in letting you fully experience and release so they’re kind of stuck in your body and there’s a body imprint in some body armoring around that.
For instance, your body can get super hot then it gets super cold or it can get stiff or it’s like all kinds of stuff that you wouldn’t think would be able to happen, can start happening in your body. And sometimes if you’re not prepared for it, it can be a little unnerving just coz that you feel sweaty and then two minutes later, you feel ice cold.
But one of the most interesting things that can happen is something that they call tetany. There is a basic physiological reality in your body that in order to get the best relaxation and release that it’s best to tense up the muscle as much as possible first. So if you wanna relax your body as much as possible, the best way is to tense up every muscle in your body for ten or fifteen seconds and then let go and your body will go completely the other way.
0:09:29 Melissa: If you’ve ever taken a yoga class and right before shavasana, they have you curl up in a tight little ball and squeeze all of your muscles, well this is probably why.
0:09:40 Michael: These tetany where it generally happens in your hands, it can happen in your feet or your toes also but your body is trying to maximize the tension in your hands to get the best possible release of energy that’s stuck in your hands.
0:09:56 Melissa: During my holotropic breathwork experience, I definitely felt tetany firsthand, no pun intended. I also felt some mild numbing around the face and a few gentle eye twitches, nothing too unnerving but I was definitely feeling the energy moving throughout my body.
0:10:16 Michael: So pretty much any of that stuff can happen to your body, it’s all totally normal and it’s all like energy that’s been stuck for years or decades getting permission to actually start moving and releasing.
The second experience is what they call biographical experience and that’s where you re-experience and many people actually do have visuals when they have that type of experience.
0:10:37 Melissa: These biographical experiences can range from something that happen just a few years ago to childhood all the way to possibly past life experiences. And usually, the biographical experiences occur because it was something that created a really intense emotion that wasn’t allowed to properly release so now, someone can go re-experience it and allow that emotion to fully work through them.
0:11:03 Michael: One example is there was this guy who came and he’d always been afraid of water his entire life and he had no idea why coz he never had a bad experience with water but even if he put a toe in a swimming pool, if you would, like almost had a panic attack. And during his breathwork session, he actually had a visual experience of being back in the early 1800s and falling into a river and drowning and he actually experienced this whole thing of drowning where he couldn’t breathe.
It was this super intense experience for him, it was very difficult to go through actually. But after that, he wasn’t afraid of water anymore. So, and again, whether or not it really was a past life experience or if that’s just the way his, what we call inner healer brought him the experience so he would get it the most impactful way, it worked and he was no longer afraid of water.
The third type is what they call a peri natal experience.
0:12:00 Melissa: By the time psychology was developed by Freud, it was widely believed that nothing that happened before you were born actually had any effect on you.
0:12:09 Michael: And the reason they believe that was because when you’re in the womb, your brain is not actually what they call myelinated enough to form like what you would now consider a normal kind of word memory. And so they figured well, if you can’t form these memories then nothing’s happening. And what they found since then is that that is true but your body from the time you’re conceived forms what they call implicit body memories and sensory memories in your body.
0:12:41 Melissa: One of the things that Stan Grof says affects us human so much is the actual birth process itself. So you start and you’re in phase one and you’re in this beautiful oceanic womb and everything’s taken care of for you and you’re warm and you’re cozy and then suddenly you get to phase two when you’re being squeezed out of this tiny tunnel and you think it’s never going to end because for a fetus, a minute feels like a lifetime, you’re literally just doubling your life as the minutes go by.
So suddenly, the birth canal opens and you’re fighting at the end of the tunnel to get out. And Michael says that there are studies that show that babies that have been delivered via C-section have a little bit harder of a time overcoming obstacles than those who have already overcome that very first obstacle of squeezing themselves out of the birth canal that was imprinted on their psyche.
So the birth process ends up being a pretty common thing that people relive during their holotropic breathwork experience.
0:13:43 Michael: The fourth kind of experience is what they call a transpersonal experience and that’s one where you actually have an experience that you could, like, never have and this kind of what they call ego encapsulated body. It’s where, like, the kind of experience that I had in Peru where you feel like you’re dissolved into the universe, you’re like in the stars, you’re part of everything.
0:14:05 Melissa: This is my personal holy grail of non-ordinary states of consciousness because this is where you access universal intelligence or the collective consciousness. You might have a vision of a family member in another country doing something in particular and then call them later and find out they were doing that exact same thing.
0:14:25 Michael: One example is there was this woman who had a very bad experience with her mother when she was a child, she thought she was very abusive and hadn’t spoken to her in twenty years. And she had this experience during the breathwork of actually being in her mother’s body when her mother was a child and seeing her mother going through her childhood.
And what she saw was that her mother have had this intensely abusive relationship from her parents and when she actually saw that, afterwards she checked it out with her mother, her mother never talked about it but most of it was more or less accurate.
It completely reframed her experience of her childhood where before it had been like my mother was abusive to me, she hated me, she was punishing me and this and that to now looking at this was this kind of imprint that her mother had when she was a child, that was how she grew up, that was kind of like inner body imprint and it wasn’t anything really to do with her, it was just her mother passing around this genetic conditioning.
So she recreated this whole relationship with her mother and have this, went forward in her life with this really close amazing relationship that wouldn’t have been available to her before based on this reframing she had done based on this transpersonal experience.
0:15:47 Melissa: And the final category of experience that Stan Grof noted was what he called the yoga sleep state where you just go into a very deep relaxation.
0:15:58 Michael: Some people when they have life experiences, they describe it like that where you actually completely lose track of everything and it can go for five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes and then all of a sudden at some point just kinda come out of it and then whoa, what happened there? And that happens especially when people have super stressed bodies and lifestyles and their body just needs this like super relaxation experience.
0:16:21 Melissa: Now I’m going to let you in on how holotropic breathwork works but as a disclaimer, Mike and Stan do not recommend that you do this on your own.
So you begin by just inhaling to about 95% then exhaling to about 95% and then you repeat the process. Your breathing will become very cyclical but you’re not getting that satisfaction of the full inhale and the full exhale.
You might think that you’re just going through oxygen deprivation but it’s actually a lack of carbon dioxide in the body that leads to a rise in PH levels in the blood. If you attend one of the workshops, you’re given a partner that’s there to monitor your entire experience including making sure that you don’t pass out and even walking you to the bathroom.
If you’re anything like me, you might be thinking well that sounds boring AF but apparently it has profound as the actual breathwork itself.
0:17:20 Michael: Really when you’re sitting, it’s an essence like a presence meditation where you’re just being present for another human being for three hours and for some people, it’s the first time they’ve ever done that in their entire lives.
And we just purchase stuff aside and be present. And it’s just an amazing experience not only to be able to put your stuff aside and just be in service to another person for that time period and you just see how that feels but also to be a sitter and to be a witness of what’s going on in the room. People releasing all this stuff that’s been stuck inside them for decades. Seeing the courage of people being willing to access release it and really focus on their personal growth. Many people say that the sitting experience is at least as profound, if not more profound, than the breathing experience.
A woman who came to a workshop once, we didn’t see her for about a year afterwards and when she came back, she shared that a couple months after her breathwork experience, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. For the next 6 – 7 months, she went through this process with her mother watching her while she’s passing and she said that if she hadn’t been in this breathwork workshop and had this experience of being a sitter, it would have been completely different for with her mother.
It would have been about “oh, what’s gonna happen to me when my mother dies?” “Oh, I’m gonna be lonely,” this that and the other. And she wouldn’t really been able to be with her mother in a way that supported her mother during the process. Instead, she just took this imprint from the sitting experience and used it with just being able to be with her mother while her mother was going through this process and have just this amazing completion with her. So both experiences are extremely valuable.
0:19:04 Melissa: Whether you’re the sitter or the breather, there’s always work to be done. And as the breather, it’s not just physiological, part of it can be that psychological choice that you are there to work through something.
It’s like you gave permission to your psyche to release certain things that you’ve been holding on to throughout this lifetime or even past lifetimes.
And if you remember what we mentioned in the beginning of this episode, Stan Grof realized that traditional methods to reach non-ordinary states of consciousness not only use the breath but also sound and sound plays a really big part in the holotropic breathwork experience.
You’re breathing for three full hours and the sound is structured with a certain trajectory to help aide in your physical and your emotional release and to help you kind of drop deeper into the entire experience. It kind of sounds like a movie soundtrack actually. It starts out kind of tribal and then it gets emotional and then it ends with sacred chants.
0:20:11 Michael: There is a specific design to it but it’s the breath kind of that creates the experience but the music enhances the depth of the experience. Generally, there’s two ways to treat experiences in life.
One is what we call horizontal and one is on the vertical. And the horizontal is how most people kind of walk through life and it’s basically whenever you have an emotional state, projecting the cause of that emotional state and something that’s happening in the outside world.
And the reality is if you really take the second look at it, it’s really not that way. As the example someone cutting in front of you in traffic, one person will care and another person will get super upset and it’s exactly the same thing happens.
0:21:01 Melissa: This reminds me of something that Don Miguel Ruiz said in his trilogy The Four Agreements, The Mastery of Love and The Voice of Knowledge and it’s that basically, there can be a row of people and you can go along to each one and poke each one and no one will really care but then all of a sudden, somebody will react and it’s because they already had a wound where you poked.
0:21:24 Michael: It’s something that’s already inside you, it’s coming up for recognition and release. So in order for this breathwork to work, people have to let go of this kind of blaming the outside world and whatever happens, kind of just allow whatever emotions to come up to come up and just make it bigger and work with what’s coming up inside and that’s the second piece of the puzzle for breathwork that allows it to work.
For example, this one girl was having this experience, she was breathing, she was going in certain direction and then all of a sudden, this guy next door started making these weird noises. He’s going like ugh, ugh, ugh.
At first, it jolts her a little bit and kind of pulled her out of the direction she was going but she remembered what we said about taking things vertical and she’s kept breathing and within a duration of period, she dropped into this childhood experience where these noises he was making were very similar to her younger brother’s noises he made when she was little, he was autistic.
And during her entire childhood, it was about taking care of her younger brother coz parents were at work so she really didn’t have that childhood so it brought her into that whole experience of it’s a lost childhood and it allowed her to really experience the grief of this and just release it and she just felt amazing afterwards and these crazy noises by this guy next to her because she took it vertical allowed her to have this experience.
If she had just gone on the horizontal as we said, instead of blaming him for sending her to different direction, it just would have pulled her out of her process. So those are really the principles that make it work along with this like breathing the music.
0:22:53 Melissa: Watching all these spiritual awakenings and emotional breakthroughs only got Michael more intrigued by neuroscience so he started to dig a little bit deeper to see what was really going on underneath it all.
0:23:03 Michael: Unfortunately, people take their past for what they see as having happening to their past and generally, it projected into their future. If they could never do something in their past, their brain will automatically assume that it can happen in the future because that’s what their memory says. And most people feel like memory is this kind of photograph that you take as you go through life and when you remember things in your past, that’s exactly what happened and that can be further from the truth.
You really only see about 5% of what’s out there and your brain creates the rest based on its expectations and its prior experiences. Your brain is very very good at making your current life view correct and giving you evidence to support your current life view.
So every time you create or change your life view, your brain will actually change the experiences in your past to agree with your current world view. And when you hear that you’re stable, that’s not possible, no way, but there’ve been studies that this is really the way it work.
As an example, there was one study where they ask people to fill out a questionnaire, young adults, about end of life decisions, like what would you want to happen if you were at car crash and you were vegetable, would you want to pull the plug or not? There was this whole questionnaire, hundred people. A year later, they had those same people fill out the same questionnaires.
Out of those hundred people, 23% of people changed their mind which is, that’s normal, people change their mind. The interesting part about it was that 75% of the people that changed their mind insisted that they’d fill out the questionnaire the same way a year before and that they hadn’t changed their mind.
So their brain rewrote their history to agree with what they currently believed and they 100% believed that they fill out the questionnaire the same way a year ago. And just thinking if that’s the way that it happens in one year, just think about these childhood memories from like 20 – 30 years ago. They’ve probably been rewritten a hundred times.
0:25:22 Melissa: Michael’s now integrating his knowledge of neuroscience, transpersonal training and even self-development in business to create workshops on rewiring your brain and releasing limiting beliefs.
0:25:33 Michael: From the insights that I got from that, I developed a workshop with my life partner, we do it together that based on these understanding of perception and memory, we teach people how to neuro pathways rewire their brain so they can open up possibilities in their lives that were not open up to them before.
0:25:59 Melissa: If you’re interested in learning more about holotropic breathwork, you can go to Michael’s website at holotropicbreathworkla.com. And if you’re in the L.A. area, I highly recommend one of his workshops. I had a completely unique experience with holotropic breathwork and that was just from the mini class so I can only imagine what an entire weekend could do.
Next week, we dive into a course in miracles with spiritual leader Amy Torres. Amy was sitting in our office as she watched the twin towers fall on 9/11 so she will tell us how a course in miracles ended up becoming the course of her life, pun intended, ha ha. She’ll also share some of the most effective and life changing insights from that spiritual path that you can start to apply right away. Thanks for giving your mind a little love today and I’ll see you next week.