Why holotropic breathwork is the new yoga in Australia

Holotropic breathwork is touted as a drug-free alternative for stress and better sleep. Breathwork guru Johannes Egberts explains what the technique is about.

It may sound like some sort of futuristic virus, but holotropic breathwork is taking the wellness world by storm.

“Holotropic” comes from the Greek words holos (whole) and trepein (to move towards), and means “moving towards wholeness”.

Said to have mental, spiritual and physical healing benefits, this form of breathwork is thought to have the capacity to bring about increased self-awareness and a more positive outlook on life.

Netherlands-born biohacker Johannes Egberts, now based in Sydney, says breathwork is the single most powerful (and easily available) tool he’s found to achieve health, happiness and strength.

So, what actually is holotropic breathwork?

Also known as “psychedelic breathwork”, the practice of holotropic breathing – a technique that involves fast, controlled breathing – was developed as a drug-free alternative to soothe away stress and big emotions, inducing an altered state of awareness.

“Instead of using drugs to get high, this is the other end of the spectrum,” Johannes says.

“Holotropic breathwork involves taking deep and rapid breaths, which leads to changes in the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body, changing your state of consciousness.”

Typically, you’re guided through the exercise by someone trained in emotional release, with the cycle then changing to slow breaths to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system.

“It really is the new yoga, but it’s instantaneous,” Johannes says.

“With meditation, it may take 10 days or more to start noticing the difference, but with breathwork you can feel it [the effects] within just a quick 10- or 20-minute session.”

A chance meeting with Wim Hof changed Johannes’ life

Now 28, Johannes says he’s living proof of the power of breathwork.

After a turbulent childhood and suffering mental health issues in his teens, Johannes arrived in Australia when he was 18, with just the clothes he was wearing.

At 21, he tried to take his own life – but a chance meeting with Dutch extreme athlete and world breathwork expert Wim Hof, aka “The Iceman”, changed the course of his life.

“We’ve had a lot of crazy adventures, but Wim showed me that we already have the power within us,” Johannes says.

“Holotropic breathwork is a very powerful thing, and it got me back to feeling again – nothing else could do that, not seeing a psychologist, not meditation…it changed everything.”

After founding Breathless Expeditions in 2019, Johannes now teaches the practice of holotropic breathwork, along with freediving and ice bath experiences, to thousands of Aussies, including businesses, the Australian Defence Force, and professional athletes.

The organisation has trained more than 300 breathwork coaches who are now operating across Australia.

Can holotropic breathwork change your life?

Johannes’ published research with the University of Queensland found breathwork can help with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, recovery from addiction, compulsion and depression.

“Breathwork is the largest growing wellness trend in Australian businesses, and there’s a reason why – the breath is the remote control to the human body and nervous system,” Johannes says.

“The average human takes between 12 to 20 breaths per minute; the first step is to use this breath retraining protocol to bring our chemistry back.

“When you learn to control it [breath] the right way, you can use it to shift the state that you’re in.”

Healing benefits of holotropic breathwork

Holotropic breathwork has also been shown to be helpful in treating chronic stress, sleep issues, an inability to focus, and a lack of energy.

“When we restore people’s natural breathing patterns, we restore their health,” Johannes says.

“I’m Dutch and I’m very practical and not spiritual by nature; but five minutes into this breathing, I literally felt my whole state of being change, it’s remarkable.”

If you can’t find a breathwork coach close to where you live, Johannes says there are lots of free tutorials online.

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Written by Liz McGrath.