#101: Holotropic Breathwork – Real-world Results

November 06, 2015

Jesse and a small cadre of DIY enthusiasts attempt to attain altered states of consciousness through a process of vigorous hyperventilation – known in psychology circles as “Holotropic Breathwork.” Find out what happened in the unsupervised experiments inspired by the interview with Dr. James Eyerman in Episode #89.

Note: This is the first episode where Jesse records audio while not fit to operate heavy machinery.

Curious to know what “axonal sprouting” means, or to suss out the truth about differences between male and female brains? Stick around for our regular feature segments; the answers might surprise you.

Want to conduct your own Holotropic Breathwork experiment? We’ve put together a Spotify playlist with all the tracks recommended by Dr. Eyerman to use in your session.

PS: Want to be a part of future experiments like this with Smart Drug Smarts? Sign up below and expect weekly courses of Brain Breakfast delivered to your inbox.

Show Notes
  • 00:00:38

    Take a deep breath and let's begin.

  • 00:01:38

    This Week In Neuroscience: Axonal Sprouting.

  • 00:04:13

    The audience interaction segment.

  • 00:05:11

    Few follow-ups from Episode 100.

  • 00:07:36

    Let the experiments begin.

  • 00:08:28

    Holotropic Breathwork recap by Dr. James Eyerman.

  • 00:09:40

    With a little help from my friends - or not.

  • 00:10:58

    First impressions.

  • 00:11:33

    The Abyss.

  • 00:13:14

    Physical sensations.

  • 00:14:44

    Atmosphere and ambiance.

  • 00:16:23

    Tribal dance?

  • 00:17:29

    Visual trips.

  • 00:19:50


  • 00:21:53

    The verdict.

  • 00:25:52

    Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: Brains of men and women.


  1. Don Barrett says:

    I had a session around a month ago and am still trying to decide if it was fun, beneficial, or just weird. Part of the problem with this kind of subjective experience is that we are caught between what we want it to be versus what it actually may be. I would love to think that I was somehow connecting with the Universe at some primal energetic level, and during the session, I blacked out momentarily.
    I think there is a lot going on in Holotropic Breathwork, including Hypocapnia, which is a significant increase in carbon dioxide in the blood, which impacts quite a few physiological functions which no doubt have their psychological effect.
    It was strange, and different, and new, but I don’t know that it was revelatory, or just a high brought about by increases in CO2.
    So for me, the jury is still out; but I am glad I did it.


  2. Mike says:

    How about a little simple research, before devoting a podcast and your listeners time to questionable and probably useless methods?

    From Wikipedia-

    Following a 1993 report commissioned by the Scottish Charities Office, concerns about the risk that the hyperventilation technique could cause seizure or lead to psychosis in vulnerable people caused the Findhorn Foundation to suspend its breathwork programme.[7]


    Breathwork has no verified beneficial effect on health, although there is some evidence it may help relaxation; some people, however, find its effects distressing.[2]

    The only thing I could find in the way of studies, cited the possible hazards of this practice, which essentially is just hyperventilating.

    1. Jesse Lawler says:

      Hi there Mike – Thanks for writing, and sorry you didn’t like this episode. Not every episode’s topic will be found to be a winner, or health-promoting, or even a very good idea. ๐Ÿ™‚ However, I wouldn’t say that breathwork is “useless”; it definitely has effects — but whether those effects are useful to any particular listener is up to him or her to decide. It’s not to treat a disease or promote physical health; it’s an induction method for an altered state of consciousness. (And not all people should put themselves into altered states of consciousness – but again, that’s up for adult listeners to decide for themselves.)

    2. John says:

      Hey Mike,

      Most of us crazy listeners take products that not only are not FDA approved, but are actually research chemicals. Some people actually inject them. Also we claim to feel effects that haven’t been proven, or have been proven wrong (which is obviously placebo at play, but also our individual body chemistry in my opinion) I want to hear everything and anything related to nootropics and being smarter, however I thank you for providing this warning because it’s always important to know what you are dealing with, and then decide if you will take the risk!

  3. steve says:

    By any chance, would you be able to publish the playlist you used for your Holotropic Breathwork session?

    1. Jesse Lawler says:

      Yep — Just added the Spotify list above.

  4. Alex says:

    Hi there,

    I’m curious. What was the playlist you used for this. Is it available online, or would it be possible to get a track listing. I’d like to try this, but it sounds like the music is integral to the experience.

    1. Jesse Lawler says:

      Hi there Alex — We just added the Spotify list above. Enjoy! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Nick says:

    I’m wondering the pace of breath you (any of you) used to achieve the result. Did you just pace the music or use some subjective metric? I’d lke to use something like this to get a specific breath rate going. Will post my results.

    1. Jesse Lawler says:

      Nick — Great call. I know that I didn’t really stick to a consistent breath rate / metronome during the times I’ve done it and it’s probably varied a great deal with both a) the beat of the current song and b) me just electing to change the pace to try different things. We’d all love to hear results from your systematic approach.

  6. MikeM says:

    Anyone have any more specific directions on how to do the breaths? I’ve explored all types of pranayama and have recently been turned onto and am greatly enjoying the methods of Wim Hof. He’s able to withstand sub-freezing temperatures and actually boost his immunity through breath work. No jokes:
    Feel the above would be good for MIKE who posted above to read. Just pulling up something from Wiki isn’t really a solid answer. There’s a great amount that’s still unknown about breathing techniques, and people with health issues should take it slowly. And everyone in general should use some precautions. But to say it has no known benefit in light of studies on deep breathing, pranayama, and the recent ground breaking stuff of Wim Ho, not to mention the 11,000 people in the podcast excluding others all over the country who find great therapeutic benefit in breathing workshops/classes. .I think you’re judging too quickly, Mike.

    And, for those who do go balls to the wall. Hell. This is probably way safer than a lot of other things they could be doing to get high.
    I’d much rather have the youth spending nights having breathing sessions than boozing binges.

    Keep the podcasts coming, Smarties.

    1. Jesse Lawler says:

      Thanks Mike. Thanks for writing and yes, I *completely* agree about possibly your most salient point: Of all the ways that people may choose to alter their perceptions, breathwork is probably among the safest. The readily-accessible “off switch” is a nice bonus to this technique that’s hard to match elsewhere. (i.e. “Let your breath go back to normal.”)

      You’ll be happy to hear we’re looking to get Iceman Hof on the show soon. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I haven’t done a Holotropic Breathwork session in several weeks now, but your message is a nice reminder. I think I’ll try to squeeze one in before year’s end.

  7. Meg says:

    Hi Jesse, another great show! I’m a new listener and I’m combing through the archives looking for brain candy, and I’m just now hearing this episode. I’m in total agreement with MikeM’s comment about the relative safety of Holotropic Breathwork. Also in HUGE agreement over getting Wim Hof on the show. He’s got a big, fun personality and does a lot of cool stuff (pun intended). Keep up the great work.

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