When you think of hypnosis, two images probably come to mind. The first is from a B-grade movie where you see some Svengali-like doctor — usually deranged — dangling a pocket watch in the face of some innocent victim. The second is of some hypnotist on a stage with a dozen or so audience volunteers who are either dancing with brooms or are clucking like chickens. Fortunately, neither image is accurate.
Actually, hypnosis is less mysterious and far more mundane than you may think. Hypnosis is very safe, but, more importantly, it can be a very effective way of helping you relax and cope with stress.
No, you will not be turned into a clucking chicken
Probably no other psychological technique for stress reduction is as misunderstood as hypnosis. Take a look at some things you need to know:
- You are not asleep.
- You are not unconscious.
- You won't lose control or be under someone's spell.
- You won't do anything that you do not want to do.
Hypnosis is simply a deeply focused state that makes you more acutely aware of suggestions and allows you to be more receptive to those suggestions.
Some people are more susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. For hypnosis to be as effective for you as possible, try to adopt a receptive, non-critical attitude. Don't fight the process. Just go with it. If you remain totally skeptical and resistant, not much is going to happen. Have an open mind.
Surprise! You've already been hypnotized
You may not realize it, but chances are you've been in a hypnotic trance many times before. We slip in and out of hypnotic states all the time. For example,
- You've been driving on the highway and it scarily dawns on you that you haven't been paying attention to the road or your driving for the past five minutes.
- You've left the movie theater and realize that your attention was so glued to the screen that you had no idea who was sitting next to you or what was going on around you.
- You've been daydreaming or just lost in thought. You suddenly look at the clock and think with surprise, "Where did the time go?!"
In each case, you were in a hypnotic trance.
The power of a trance
When you're in a trance, you're in a different mental state. You are still awake and in control, but your attention becomes narrow and incredibly focused. In this mental state, you're more receptive to any suggestions you may give yourself, or that a hynotherapist may offer. You give yourself a shortcut to your subconscious. These suggestions can take many forms: cigarettes taste lousy, I'm growing taller day by day, I'm getting smarter, whatever. (Clearly, some suggestions are more realistic than others.)
Inducing a light trance
You can induce a hypnotic trance in many ways (even the dangling watch can work). Here is one of the simpler induction techniques to reduce tension and stress.
1. Find a comfortable position in a quiet, dimly lit room where you won't be interrupted.
Relax as much as possible. If you want, take off your shoes and loosen any tight clothing.
2. Focus on an object across the room.
The object can be anything — a smudge on the wall, the corner of a picture, it really doesn't matter. Just choose an object that is above your normal line of sight so that you have to strain your eyeballs a wee bit looking up to see your spot.
3. As you look at your spot, silently say to yourself:
"My eyelids are becoming heavier and heavier."
"My eyelids feel as if heavy weights are pulling them down."
"Soon they will be so heavy they will close."
Repeat these sentences to yourself about every 30 seconds.
4. Focus on your eyelids.
Soon you will notice that, indeed, your eyelids are beginning to feel heavier. Feel this heaviness deepen with time. Don't fight these sensations, just let them happen. Let your eyes close when you feel they want to close themselves.
5. As your eyes begin to close, say to yourself: "Relax, and let go."
6. When your eyes close, take in a deep breath through your nostrils and hold that breath for about 10 seconds.
7. Slowly exhale through your slightly parted lips, making a "swooshing" sound.
At the same time, let your jaw drop and feel a wave of warmth and heaviness spread from the top of your head, down your body, all the way to your toes. Continue to breathe slowly and smoothly. As you exhale, silently say the word "calm," or some other relaxing word, to yourself. As you breathe, let the feelings of relaxation deepen for another few moments.
Going a little deeper
After you induce a light trance, you're ready to move into a deeper state of hypnosis.
1. Take a deep breath and hold it for about 10 seconds.
Exhale slowly through your lips while saying the word "deeper" to yourself. Continue this process for several breaths more, saying the word "deeper" to yourself with every exhalation.
2. Imagine that you're stepping onto a descending escalator, a long, slow escalator that will take you into a state of deeper relaxation.
As you begin your descent, silently say to yourself,
"I am sinking slowly into a deeper state of relaxation."
3. As you descend, count backwards on each exhalation, from 10 to 1.
When you reach the bottom of the escalator, imagine that you are stepping off this escalator and are stepping onto a second descending escalator. As you imagine your descent, deepen your trance with each breath, again counting backwards from 10 to 1.
4. Continue to deepen your trance until you feel you have reached a comfortable level of relaxation.
You may need only one escalator ride, or you may need several. With practice, a deeper trance will come more easily and more quickly.
Get me out of this trance
Alright, you are now in a trance. You are feeling quite relaxed, and your mind is totally at peace. You can choose to remain in this relaxed state, and simply enjoy the benefits of relaxation and calm. You can also give yourself a suggestion that can extend this relaxation beyond the trance state. Here's what to do:
Simply count slowly backwards from five to one. Say to yourself beforehand,
"When I reach one, my eyes will open and I will feel totally awake and refreshed."
As you count, notice your eyes beginning to flutter and begin to partially open as you approach one.
For more information, you can consult a certified hypnotherapist who can show you how to use self-hypnosis to achieve benefits other than relaxation. Hypnosis has been shown to be effective in helping individuals overcome insomnia, smoking, overeating, and a variety of other problems and disorders.