Realms of Consciousness according to Stanislav Grof

by | Apr 17, 2022 | Article, Holotropic Breathwork | 0 comments

What are the realms of consciousness, according to Stanislav Grof? This is a very complex issue, and the inventor of Holotropic Breathwork has developed a very comprehensive model. Accordingly, I would like to introduce the topic and create an overview in this article. This construct is the basis for my thesis of therapeutic significance in later papers and to explore the techniques that can be used to access these transpersonal realms.

In my experience, the method of Holotropic Breathwork and CranioSacral Therapy, in particular, have proven to be practical tools for penetrating the deeper layers of consciousness to devalue traumas there and thus neutralize the blockages that have arisen from them. I have written a detailed series of articles on this subject, of which this article is an essential component. So let’s get into the dimensions of consciousness.

What are levels of consciousness?

The Traditional Approach

Traditional therapy uses a model of the human personality limited to biography and the personal unconscious, described by Sigmund Freud. Possibly because of this, J. Upledger, the inventor of CranioSacral Therapy (CST), wanted to move away from it and coined the term “nonconsciousness” because he found no explanations in the classical model for his extraordinary experiences of consciousness expansion and channelings. This Sigmund Freudian approach may be appropriate in psychotherapeutic self-exploration using superficial techniques based on verbal exchange.

However, such a model fails to explain the dynamic processes involved in healing emotional and psychosomatic disorders, personality transformation, and consciousness evolution through highly effective techniques such as CST, holotropic therapy, or specific self-awareness methods HAKOMI, in modern psychotherapy.

These techniques activate and mobilize deeply unconscious and superconscious levels of the human psyche and require a much broader theoretical framework to understand them. I have dealt with this extensively in my last article and will return to it throughout the series.

Realms of Consciousness from Holotropic Perspective

The techniques that pave the way to experiences of the psyche’s unconscious dimensions usually activate the sense organs. As a result, a deep self-exploration predominantly begins with non-specific sensory experiences, such as visions of colors and patterns, perception of sounds, touch sensations on various parts of the body, and taste or smell sensations. All of these sensory experiences are more or less abstract in nature.

The next most easily accessible area on this path is usually the analytical-biographical level and the personal unconscious (nonconscious). These phenomena are of considerable theoretical and practical importance. Most traditional psychotherapeutic approaches discuss them as psychodynamic connections in the biographical realm.

These experiences are limited to significant events and circumstances from the person’s life from birth to the present. At this level of self-exploration, anything from their life, an unresolved conflict, a repressed memory yet to be integrated, or an incomplete psychological understanding may emerge from the unconscious and become the content of the experience.

Conflict and trauma

There is only one condition for this to happen: the content must be sufficiently emotionally charged. Herein lies a great advantage of self-awareness therapies over purely verbal approaches. The techniques that can activate the unconscious directly seem to selectively amplify the most significant material from an emotional point of view and facilitate those issues to become conscious.

Like radar beams, those methods scan the entire system, as in the arc technique of CranioSacral Therapy, and discover the material with the most substantial emotional charge and significance, the energy cyst. In this way, the therapist does not have to decide what is relevant and what is irrelevant. Further, in experiential self-exploration, the biographical material is not recalled or reconstructed but may be fully re-experienced. In the process, not only feelings arise but also bodily sensations, and visual and other vivid perceptions. Usually, all of this is accompanied by a complete regression to the developmental stage at which these events occurred.

Another important feature:

Traditional psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy focus exclusively on psychological trauma. Physical traumata are denied a direct influence on psychological development and participation in the emergence of emotional and psychosomatic disorders.

Traditional psychotherapy contrasts with the observations of experiential forms of therapy, such as CST, according to which memories of physical trauma, or even strong experiences of a physical and thus emotional nature, seem to be more important than anything else.

In various self-awareness therapies, re-experiencing life-threatening illnesses, injuries, and operations, or situations in which, for example, one almost drowned, i.e., died, is extremely common. The significance of such experiences undoubtedly far exceeds that of ordinary psychological traumas.


One can recognize an interdependency between the two levels; it remains only the question of which came first—hen or egg, emotional trauma or physical somatization? However, elaborating on the philosophy, which argues that all physical manifestations are based on a psychological conflict, the subject of symptom language would need a separate series of articles.

The emotions and bodily sensations leftover from situations in which the survival or integrity of the organism was threatened seem to play an essential role in developing various psychopathological forms. Academic science has not yet recognized this connection.

“Observations made in the context of self-awareness therapies make it clear that any psychotherapeutic approach limited to verbal exchanges is of limited value and cannot really penetrate to the core of the problems.”

Stanislav Grof

Continuing the dimensions of consciousness

Grof’s models of perinatal matrices

Stanislav Grof’s work in the context of Holotropic Breathwork has recognized that the first traumatic event of life is most often birth itself. However, the experience cannot yet be conceptualized by the child’s mind, yet the trauma can be highly disentangled. The birth trauma thus moves into the unconscious and is initially repressed because it cannot be processed at this stage. However, this extreme experience can create lasting imprints, psychological patterns, and even blockages that can determine a person’s life until the end.

Grof recognized four significant statics of the birth experience in his clients through repetitive patterns, which he calls perinatal matrices. Each stage can leave a unique imprint on the individual when complications become traumatic.

Overview of the matrices

Suppose we want to go into the dimensions of consciousness in detail. In that case, it will go beyond the scope of this article—Grof has written numerous books on the subject—but in my follow-up articles, I will go into the most critical aspects in a condensed yet understandable fashion. Here is the overview of the perinatal matrices:

Questions relevant to the topic

Continue to the follow-up article >

About the Author

Hello, my name is Eva Ursiny, I am a CranioSacral therapist, homeopath, and certified facilitator for Holotropic Breathwork. I live and work in Ursy, in the canton of Fribourg. Since an early age I have been interested in what is widely referred to as “Transpersonal States of Consciousness, Holistic Medicine, Hermetic Philosophies, and Yoga.” Accordingly, I publish the essence of my research on this page.

Eva Ursiny Craniosacral Ursy


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