Written largely based on information from http://www.holotropic.com.
In an alternate universe without the Cold War division of Europe, Stanislav Grof might be known today as the "Timothy Leary of Czechoslovakia" or even the "Timothy Leary of Europe".
Grof pioneered a psychedelic technique known today as "Grof Holotropic Breathwork", sometimes more simply called just "Holotropic Breathing." This technique combines accelerated breathing with evocative music in a special set and setting. I won't say that it's bunk or wonderful here; that's for any eventual holotropic breathing noder to do. I can, however, attest that it does have an effect on people, sometimes quite strong. Grof has founded an institute that provides trainings in this technique, and their whole attitude and self-presentation would be enough to immediately drive off anyone from my cynical generation, who grew up in contact with a vast quantity of New Age bullshit. However, this is a shame -- there is much sincerity and wisdom behind the bullshit (and, as I said, the technique works, for better or worse).
Grof is also a pioneer of transpersonal psychology, a field he co-founded with Abraham Maslow.
Grof was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where he also received his scientific training - an M.D. degree from the Charles University School of Medicine and a Ph.D. from the Czechoslovak Academy of Science.
His early research in the clinical uses of psychoactive drugs was conducted at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague, where he was Principal Investigator of a program systematically exploring the heuristic (?!?) and therapeutic potential of LSD and other psychedelic substances. In 1967, he was invited as Clinical and Research Fellow to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. (snip) In 1973, Dr. Grof was invited to the Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California, where he lived until 1987 as Scholar-in-Residence writing, giving seminars, lecturing and developing Holotropic Breathwork with his wife Christina Grof. (snip)
He currently lives in Mill Valley, California, conducting training seminars for professionals in Holotropic Breathwork and transpersonal psychology, and writing books. He also is Professor of Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and gives lectures and seminars worldwide. (snip: plans to retire in summer 2001)
He has published over 100 articles in professional journals. (snip: long list of books published)
The following is extracted and interpreted from two interviews on HealthWorld Online:
As a child, Grof was more interested in film than in psychology; he was "converted" the day he began reading Sigmund Freud's Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis and basically devoured it in one sitting. He did not remain an orthodox Freudian for long, however: He gradually began to see psychoanalysis as far too narrowly-focussed. Meanwhile, he became interested in altered states of consciousness; his interest was first piqued when he volunteered in 1954 for an LSD experiment in Prague (using Sandoz LSD). Sandoz had asked that his department assess the therapeutic value/uses of LSD; Grof concluded that it could be useful a) in very small doses to create "experimental psychoses," whatever that means, and b) psychiatrists could use it as "training" to enter states of psychosis themselves, to see the world of their psychotic patients.
Note: it is interesting that such potentially controversial research was going on in such a bottled-up country at this point. There are two possible reasons that might have both contributed to this: a) a situation at the beginning of the psychedelic era where the consensus makers of the country had not yet picked up psychedelics on their "radar" or not realized their effect in degrading social control, and b) the destalinization and "rehumanization" of the country that was going on in the years prior to the fall 1968 Warsaw pact invasion.
Indeed, it was the 1968 invasion that led Grof, who was on his John Hopkins stay at the time, to remain in the US, as many Czechs and Slovaks did at that time. There, he continued his psychedelic research, including, in 1973, the last government-sponsored psychedelic research project in the United States (at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center).
Grof has been developing holotropic breathing during the last 17 years; he mentions that it provides a "more controlled" experience than the one provided by psychedelic drugs, but I think it is reasonable to assume that legality is a damned important reason too. I have found only one statement by Grof that admits this: "it became much more complicated politically to work with psychedelics. This was because of the unsupervised experimentation with psychedelics, particularly among young people."
Grof's interest in psychedelics is evidently strongly linked to his interest and research in transpersonal psychology, which is closely related to spirituality and states of consciousness outside of everyday, rational experience. This is in sharp conflict with the traditional view of non-rationality as being "bad" or "broken"; one of the main thrusts of his work is disputing this attitude, which he calls an "unfounded metaphysical assumption".
Grof still explores, and evidently will continue to explore, the realm of transcendental experiences, whether they be from psychedelics, from holotropic breathing, near-death experiences, "spiritual crises" (a term of his describing both states that we would normally call temporary psychoses and other states), or religion.