Holotropic breathing, interview with Elisabetta Corbieri

Holotropic breathing, interview with Elisabetta Corbieri

What is holotropic breathing and how can it allow consciousness to evolve and open perceptual channels? What really happens to a seminar on the technique developed by Stanislav Grof? Interview with Elisabetta Corbieri.

Holotropic breathing, interview with Elisabetta Corbieri

Patient, capacious, loving, lively . When you meet Elisabetta Corbieri you get these sensations. But above all, you can feel the beauty of having someone in front of you who does not believe they possess scepters or hold crystal balls.  

This interview took place on a meadow, in the presence of the sun and some trees that gave us deeper breaths. It is precisely from breathing that we started, since Elisabetta, together with her activity as a psychologist and psychotherapist, has been carrying out holotropic breathing seminars since 2001.

After graduating in psychology, he obtained a specialization in clinical psychology at the Institute of Clinical Psychology of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Siena. You have worked for some years in a Mental Health Center in Rome and at the Institute of Clinical Psychology in Siena, in various Higher Institutes in Rome with projects of Health Education and prevention of psychological distress also on the web. 

Since 1994 he has been working privately as a Jungian-trained psychotherapist . In 1999 she became aware of the existence of the Holotropic technique and came into contact with the GTT ( Grof Transpersonal Training ) in the United States where she obtained training and qualification for Holotropic therapy.

Experiencing this therapy is one thing, reading another, without exception for this article. It should at least be clarified that the technique was brought to light by Stanislav Grof, a Freudian-trained psychiatrist who developed the technique starting from his studies on the psychedelic discovery known as LSD .

If we take Grof’s words: “ I discovered that in America – continues Grof – Freud and mysticism did not give problems, but that for LSD we went to jail, like Timothy Leary ”. Thus, the Prague psychiatrist developed a series of techniques, called “holotropic” (which means “towards totality”) and based on breathing, capable of provoking “non-ordinary states of consciousness.” (quote taken from an article published in Corriere della sera, 15.4.00, by Cesare Medail). 

To participate in the seminar, you fill out a form with basic information on your state of health, you have a brief meeting or conversation with Elisabetta. The experience lasts two days, in one of them you can breathe and in the other you assist another member of the group. During the two days of work, consciousness changes through the combined use of accelerated breathing, evocative music and body work to release any blocked energies.

The work allows access to new levels of understanding of oneself and of reality , drawing on one’s creative, evolutionary and spiritual potential. 

I chose to interview Elisabetta because I can say from direct experience that in her seminars she becomes care, strength, grace, listening. She dances with immense presence and moves with active senses among the participants, keeping the observation alert, the attention divided. She feels safe there. Something prepares for the ritual. In the room, the conditions for going in depth naturally arise. 

Holding holotropic breathing workshops requires a notable presence, it seemed to me. Have you always had this ability? Has fear ever set in?  

When I started I was certainly more insecure, I was also much more attentive to the people who accessed the groups. Now the management is more immediate, I can also move well between the various sensations, for example of pain or suffocation, experienced by those who participate. 

A person participates in a holotropic seminar then returns to the incessant rhythm of the “crisis”, to the apparent stresses, to the people, to the technology. How does this hectic era reconcile with the rituality inherent in the holotropic experience? How is the profound change that this technique triggers guarded? 

It seems to me that very slowly things are changing a bit .

Perhaps the strong pressure given by the frenzied rhythms is accompanied by a need on the other side of the inner search , regarding the willingness of people to look for something that helps them.

Certainly something is changing; also from a point of view of theoretical acceptance with respect to holotropic breathing. I mean there is more openness than working through non-ordinary states of consciousness. 

We are talking about holotropic withdrawal crises. I attend a holotropic seminar, enter more into the inner world, develop an addiction and enroll in all the seminars scheduled in the calendar. Have you ever had these cases?  

I have had some people who have entered “fixed”. But then at a certain point they stop coming. Some are constant over time, but they know what cadence to give and this is a different, conscious discourse. Others sign up for all the seminars but then, in the long run, they don’t come anymore.

In holotropics I tend to leave people somewhat free , also because I don’t follow many of them in therapy and there is no comparison in this sense.

The cadence of the sessions is decided by those who have the experience and the frequency is therefore linked to the importance of personal work.

To those who think they can solve all the inconveniences with some holotropic seminar, what do you answer?  

I don’t believe in short roads. Okay, in sporadic cases “miracles” can occur, let’s say so, but here I don’t believe in the streets where there is no work and a deep process of some kind.

Above all I don’t believe in the streets where someone or something is supposed to do the job for you and alleged healing would involve putting your life in the hands of another individual.  

Last year, after having had the first experience of holotropics, I happened to talk about it with a neuropsychiatrist who had no direct experience, just a few notions read here and there. She mentioned the risk of possible addiction to altered states of consciousness. To put it more simply: I become a tiger during holotropic breathing, then I get trapped in this experience and I lose lucidity by identifying too much with that lived sensation. What about it? 

I have seen many taking animal forms and more, even among those I follow in therapy, and I don’t think any of this has ever happened. It may have happened that a person who during breathing had “crumpled”, physically twisted and suffered in the following days from some muscle contracture, but it is a normal physiological response.

Obviously, the reading of what happens depends on the degree of awareness . It may happen that you “become” tiger while breathing – in many cases in the holotropic animal conditions are relived – and you experience the power of that animal, which becomes aware of how this force dwells in you. You contact that kind of energy that you can then find in your inner dimension. 

I have often wondered why so many people end up in the animal kingdom , as it is also true that so many reports have made me think about human evolution. Without excluding even planetary evolution, given reports of big bangs, stellar visions, planetary suspensions that refer to historical eras, to the evolutionary passage. 

You specialize in Sand Play Therapy, what is it? 

I’ve been working on it for 3 or 4 years, relatively little. It is a therapy that uses sand as a vehicle, an element that has considerable healing power and develops various creative possibilities. Sand is placed inside a blue box which is then also wetted in the various phases.

Objects are made available to the patient and small indications are given, but the person works in absolute freedom of expression , it being understood that the sand cannot be thrown out of the container. Sand has to do with the maternal and over the years the therapist learns to read well the messages that the person leaves.

If you want, sand is like a Rorschach test ; to those who have experience and knowledge of it, it allows you to read what is in the unconscious or at least the dominant ones, to lay the foundations for a diagnosis. Until a few years ago it was a widely used therapy at the Bambin Gesù Hospital, with impressive results.

Together with the seminars you carry on your work as a psychologist. Is language “expired milk” or is it still a valid tool to help on the human side? Can psychological distress really still count on verbal help? 

Words are the necessary premise for people to access a level of knowledge . Several people come to me and do not have a proper knowledge of my own profession, they do not know what a psychologist really does. I’m not interested in working leaving them in the dark, I explain a lot, I stretch out my hand to put useful tools in them.

I worked a lot on the internet, in particular on Psiconline.it , the first portal created with the aim of providing free support to users. I was confronted with all kinds of questions – anonymity allows you to express even more particular and intimate sensations – and even in those cases I tried to return a minimum of tools that could guide users. 

How does holotropic breathing compare to meditation? 

I don’t think we can make a univocal speech. Broadly speaking, I think I can say that the conclusive work of holotropics and the depths that are available through meditation can lead to this unusual, very powerful stillness.

I believe in the work of holotropics we go more to “fish” in psychic material . Regarding the results of the two techniques, I have experience of several people I follow in therapy who have found themselves practicing meditation using it as a “plug”, something that contains, puts under, compresses.    


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