Exploring Altered States of Consciousness: Psychedelics and Beyond

Human consciousness is a vast and mysterious realm, and throughout history, people have sought to explore altered states of consciousness (ASC) as a means of expanding their understanding of reality, spirituality, and the self. These altered states can be induced through a variety of methods, including meditation, sensory deprivation, hypnosis, and more. In this summary guide, we will explore the diverse ways humans have pursued ASC, with a particular focus on psychedelics as a potent tool for this exploration.

Meditation and Mindfulness:

One of the most ancient and widely practiced methods of accessing altered states of consciousness is through meditation. The practice focuses on training the mind to focus on a single point of concentration, such as the breath, a mantra, or an object. Through this process, the practitioner aims to achieve a state of deep concentration and mental clarity, which can lead to a sense of inner peace and spiritual insight.

Meditation or Dhyana while being practiced as a component of many Eastern religions is one of the eight limbs of yoga, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Believed to have lived as long ago as 5,000 BC, but as recent as 300 BC, Patanjali’s teachings are compiled from ancient teachings.  The Sutras speak to the very basis of Meditation focusing on the question of the mind’s true capacity, how to master the mind-body connection and ultimately how to subdue the conditioned mind.

Over time, regular meditation can lead to profound shifts in perception, increased self-awareness, and a sense of interconnectedness with the universe.


Sensory Deprivation Tanks:

Isolation tanks, also known as sensory deprivation tanks or float tanks, were invented by John C. Lilly, an American physician and neuroscientist, in the 1950s. Lilly developed these tanks as part of his research into the effects of sensory isolation on the human mind.

The first isolation tank, which Lilly called the “sensory isolation tank,” was created in 1954. It consisted of a soundproof and lightproof chamber filled with warm water saturated with Epsom salt, allowing a person to float effortlessly. The buoyancy of the saltwater and the controlled environment within the tank eliminated external sensory input, including sound, light, and tactile sensations.

Over the years, isolation tanks have been used for various purposes, including relaxation, stress reduction, meditation, and exploration of altered states of consciousness. They gained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly within counterculture and New Age movements, as well as in scientific and therapeutic contexts.

Today, isolation tanks can be found in wellness centers, spas, and float centers, where people use them as a means to relax, meditate, and experience sensory isolation. The practice of floating in these tanks is often referred to as “float therapy” or “floating,” and it continues to be of interest for both recreational and therapeutic purposes.



The science of hypnosis is complex and multi-faceted, and researchers continue to study the underlying mechanisms that make hypnosis effective. New scientific discoveries indicate what practitioners have already established.  The hypnotic state is obviously a profound altered state of consciousness.  During hypnosis, the person enters into a state of focused attention, similar to meditation or even daydreaming which makes them more receptive to suggestion and more able to access subconscious thoughts and feelings.

In this altered state, individuals may experience heightened sensory perception, memory recall, and a sense of detachment from their surroundings. Hypnosis has been used for therapeutic purposes which include the intricate exploration of past traumas.



For the most part, there are two very different types of breathwork discussed in the culture today.  The first is a practice based on the traditional and ancient practices integral to yogic practices.  Known as Pranayama, it is the 5th Limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga.

Pranayama is a fundamental practice in yoga that involves the control and regulation of breath. The word “pranayama” is derived from two Sanskrit words: “prana,” which means life force or vital energy, and “ayama,” which means control or expansion. Pranayama techniques are used to harness and manipulate the breath to enhance physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

The second practice is known as holotropic breathwork or Wim Hof Method, which utilizes controlled rapid breathing techniques.  This practice was created to intentionally induce altered states of consciousness.  While many find it difficult to practice, it can lead to profound emotional releases, increased vitality, and a sense of expanded awareness.


Yoga and Kundalini Awakening:

Yoga, with its various branches and practices, has long been associated with altered states of consciousness. Kundalini yoga focuses on awakening the dormant energy at the base of the spine and channeling it upward along the chakra system or energy centers along the spine.

The awakening of Kundalini energy is said to cleanse and balance these chakras, leading to greater physical and emotional well-being. Kundalini Awakening Yoga is known for its dynamic and vigorous nature, and it is often characterized by rapid and repetitive movements, as well as strong breath control. The practice aims to awaken and integrate the Kundalini energy, which can result in profound spiritual insights, increased awareness, and personal growth.


Dream Work and Lucid Dreaming:

Dreams are a product of the subconscious mind.  The subconscious mind is where most of the workings of one’s motivations and decisions take place.  Thoughts, memories, feelings and ensuing behavior are all initiated in the subconscious and dreams are the stage upon which much of those elements take place.  The subconscious is largely hidden from us, which makes dream analysis quite important if one is to find answers to many of life’s questions and concerns.

Exploring altered states can also occur during sleep through lucid dreaming. In a lucid dream, the dreamer becomes aware that they are dreaming and can sometimes exert control over the dream’s narrative. Lucid dreams can offer opportunities for self-exploration and even problem-solving.


Sound and Music:

Sound therapy, also known as sound healing or sound meditation, is a holistic practice that uses the power of sound, including vibrations, frequencies, and harmonious tones, to promote relaxation, reduce stress, enhance well-being, and support physical and emotional healing. It is based on the belief that sound can have a profound impact on the mind, body, and spirit.

Sound has the power to alter consciousness, as evidenced by practices like shamanic drumming, singing bowls, and binaural beats. Certain frequencies and rhythms can induce trance states, making sound an essential tool in various spiritual and healing traditions.


Psychedelic Experiences:

Psychedelics, including substances like psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), LSD, ayahuasca, and peyote, are known for their profound capacity to induce altered states of consciousness. These substances can produce intense visual and sensory experiences, ego dissolution, and a sense of unity with the universe. They have been used for spiritual, therapeutic, and personal growth purposes, often under the guidance of experienced facilitators.

While there is still a lot to learn about how psychedelics work, two of the leading hypotheses involve both physical areas and chemicals in the brain.  The default mode network is a network of brain regions that is active when a person is at rest and not focused on the external world. It’s associated with various aspects of self-referential thinking, mind-wandering, daydreaming, and the sense of “self.” Disruptions or hyperactivity in the DMN have been linked to various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD have been shown to reduce the activity and connectivity within the DMN. This decrease in DMN activity is thought to be associated with the dissolution of ego boundaries and the experience of a more profound sense of interconnectedness with the universe, often described as ego dissolution or “oneness.”

At the center of discussions surrounding psilocybin’s effects is its interaction with the brain’s serotonin system. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known for its role in regulating mood, emotion, and perception. Psilocybin’s chemical structure is strikingly similar to serotonin, allowing it to bind to serotonin receptors in the brain.

While associating with both the DMN and the serotonin centers may account for much of what is experienced during a psychedelic journey, there remains a mystical element at the heart of the experience that science does not understand, like in many of the other ASC areas.

Despite the limits of science, we know psychedelics are working and they are working very well.  They are even working miracles, with many deep seated heretofore treatment-resistant issues resolving and resolving quite efficiently.

Exploring altered states of consciousness is a deeply human pursuit, driven by our curiosity about the nature of reality and our place within it. While psychedelics are a prominent and powerful avenue for this exploration, there are many other paths to consider. Regardless of the method you choose, it’s essential to approach these experiences with respect and a commitment to personal growth and self-discovery. Each path offers its unique insights and potential for transformation, inviting us to dive deeper into the mysteries of our own (sub) consciousness.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *