So you think you have never been hypnotised? Think again!
Let us pray…! Prayer can be a gateway into a mildly altered state of consciousness, in other words a mild trance ― which can be relaxing, fulfilling and healing.
People in prayer often close their eyes and in so doing they enter a state different from when the eyes are open. With that gesture a person who prays moves by one small step from the outer world of the material to the inner world of the spirit. Whoever is officiating at a service of faith will suggest to those gathered, ʺLet us pray!ʺ and after some shuffling and adjustments to posture, people accept and action the command. Those gathered close their eyes and listen. They listen to the words of the given prayer and they can also participate. Participatory words and phrases can almost sound like the words of an incantation. Groups gathered together for the purpose of worship often chant or repeat words of a holy and worshipful nature. Repetition induces a change in the person who says or hears them. Repetition brings about a sense of centring within the being in prayer and naturally it provides a focus for the gathering. It narrows down the focus and the concentration such that a person begins to experience a quietening within and a peace within.
Like hypnosis, prayer is not an out-of-mind state; prayer is an inner-mind state. With practice it fosters a relationship with oneself and with the divine. Hypnosis and therapy can be thought of as a kind of secular equivalent to prayer.
Hypnosis, I would say, is a fast-track way to reach a meditative and contemplative state. Some may argue that different types of meditation involve carrying out quite different processes internally but the experience of each is similar. In both you gain access to an encyclopaedia of inner wisdom. Reflective meditation requires that you speak respectfully with yourself. Often a sense of revelation, reconciliation and a ʹlightness of spiritʹ engages within you having put all the negative thoughts to one side. You emerge as though you have deeply enjoyed a restful nightʹs sleep. These meditative conversations can be compared to forms of prayer.
Have you ever entered the ‘zone’?
Power walking, running on a treadmill and pedalling vigorously on a stationary bicycle all induce trance-like altered states of awareness. Joggers describe entering ʹthe zoneʹ, a different, high and highly desirable state of consciousness. In these altered states you are potentially as responsive to hypnotic suggestions as you would be when hypnotised in a relaxed and therapeutic setting. Thus it is that hypnosis can be induced during a programme of vigorous exercise.
During extended exercise such as running, your mind is released from its engagements with the daily cycle of work and responsibility. Your brain does not need to answer the phone, text a friend, check out a web site, or email a colleague. There is nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other. The whole mind can let go and go with the flow. The rhythmic movement of steps locks the floating mind down to a stable state accompanied by steady, deep breathing. The brain is in neutral ― receptive and open. It is a mild trance state which some people use to give themselves periods of enhanced creativity and a time to stand back and reflect on a bigger picture. Business people who use exercising trance in this way enthuse over how quickly they solve problems that seemed insoluble.
Do you listen to music?
Music is the food of love as Shakespeare would have us believe. If so, it may be because the gods recognise how nutritious a supplement music is for spiritual fulfilment. While words may be food for thought, music is food for entrancing journeys into the inner mind. It may be said that music often bypasses the conscious mind. Music takes us outside the realm of concepts and notions that can be defined and nailed down by words. To be sure, music can be emotionally evocative. It can make us happy or sad, brave or fearful, energetic or sleepy. But it can also take us into a realm of its own, a subtle state that is altered from our normal state in some inexpressible way. In that sometimes sublime realm we may find that we have access to inner mental resources of strength and creativity that are hard or impossible to reach otherwise.
Do you drive?
If you drive a car then you enter into an altered state of relaxation on almost every trip you make. In that daydreaming state you may come up with ideas for the home and for work. You may imagine decorating a room, writing a presentation, thinking up the menu for a social gathering, or endlessly re-playing more inspiring and witty responses to conversations you had hours, days, weeks, or years ago. On your brainʹs autopilot you gain access to a deeper wisdom and an ability to make connections that illuminate and inspire, and lead to future action. Some people do their best thinking in the car.
The subconscious is very much to the fore, primarily observing the road, enabling you to travel in your mind far and away from your present situation. You manage to do this safely because your subconscious mind knows the route you are taking. You arrive at ʹBʹ with no recollection of the drive from ʹAʹ. Yet, you can come back to being fully aware of your surroundings in a heartbeat and apply the brake pedal with exquisite timing when you need to pull up quickly because the car in front of you is suddenly slowing down. In effect, you are driving in a trance-like state, in a state of light hypnosis. Yet you are manifestly not asleep. Tragedies do occur when the driver falls asleep at the wheel and the brain ceases to be in control of the situation. In the relaxed but alert attentiveness of trance-like driving, the conscious mind may quietly slip into neutral and drift onto a range of other topics while the brain as a whole expertly retains control of the situation. This emphasises the complete difference between sleep and hypnosis.
Ever practised yoga?
Another example is that of the relaxation experience at the end of a yoga class. The yoga teacher may direct you to relax from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, relaxing each and every part of your body progressively in turn. Although the end-result is very similar, the terminology is different. Although yoga would employ a different terminology this experience is known to hypnotists as a progressive induction into a trance state.
Why is the progressive induction so effective? Telling someone to relax their whole body completely in one go will not get very far unless he or she is already trained in meditation or self-hypnosis. The multiplicity of different parts in the body, each with its own muscle groups ― and each muscle group with its own tension ― renders the body as a whole impossible to target for physical relaxation. Successful bodily relaxation relies on addressing individual parts separately. Rather than haphazardly picking out this and that part of the body it is more effective to start at one end and work systematically through the whole frame of the body. That is because the skeletal muscles of the body form a balanced network: tension in one part triggers tension in neighbouring parts. I generally find starting with the toes and working up to the crown of the head is the better of the two possible directions. This is because higher-body tensions feed off the tensions lower down the body. There is nothing mystical about this: it is just that the mechanics of keeping the body upright against the pull of gravity requires that the lower muscle groups in the legs and the spine have a stronger role to play and their tension influences the head and neck more than vice versa.
In yoga, each pose or asana performs a specific purpose. At the beginning and the end of a yoga session, it is normal to introduce the asana of complete relaxation, savasana (sometimes translated as the pose of the dead man). Outwardly you are just lying down doing nothing. Inwardly you are progressively relaxing every muscle group then checking every part of the body for relaxation, relaxing the nervous system and finally disengaging the conscious mind from the room and from everyday life in general. To those of you who have experienced this I would say that you have experienced the trance state. You will have a pretty good notion of what it is like to experience hypnosis.
Ever experienced a professional massage?
For some people massage is the only route to reach the deep state of relaxation in which one is perfectly content to remain ʹblissed outʹ without moving or fidgeting. It is not sleep, as the mind remains fully conscious and alert; nor is it temporary paralysis for one could easily get up if one so desired. But it is a state from which one does not wish to be roused. This state is essentially the starting point for hypnotherapy and is normally achieved by a spoken induction. A small percentage of people, however, find it hard to enter the deep relaxation through spoken induction but some of them can nonetheless enter the same state through receiving massage.
Massage obviously bypasses the whole logical and linguistic apparatus that is generally under control of the conscious mind especially in the left hemisphere of the brain. Massage at first relieves the physical tension of the skeletal muscles but then with its reassuring and rhythmic motion it also allows the mind to let go of its tight grip on mundane life.
People whose job is only to press a button or push a lever spend seven and a half hours a day in trance. Adhering to the necessarily repetitive actions and movements on a production line induces an altered state. Production lines function best with happy workers who wear the same uniform and who hold similar beliefs and values and who can tune out. Amidst the background noise conversation is negligible. Piped music aids and abets the lull. On a production line a person ceases to seek stimulation. Tuning out for longer and longer periods becomes a habit. Be it packing burgers or pushing chocolates into line, the ease with which a line-worker can get into the altered state is perceived as a pre-requisite for the job.
Chatting on the telephone
Mobile phone telephony is masterful at inducing self-hypnosis. You must have seen many times someone sitting using their mobile in a crowded place, in a trance-like state oblivious of anyone else around. It is as though in some situations people who use a mobile in public places, step into an invisible private room, a cocoon of their imagining. Speaking loudly their conversations reiterate the frequently heard words and phrases: ʺIʹm on a bus …ʺ ʺThe bus is just coming into the station. Iʹll be there in ten minutesʺ.
So you have been hypnotised in one way or another… Can you think of any more?
Watching television … are you a couch potato, watching in an ‘altered’ state?
Manicures … the repetition of the manicurist can induce self-hypnosis…
Read my thoughts about hypnotherapy here.