Understanding Hypnosis – What it is, and What it is Not.

The word Hypnosis conjures up images of a dark figure commanding “Sleep… Sleep…” in a deep baritone voice or a swinging pendulum that puts each and all under its spell. In reality, hypnosis is far removed from these Hollywood visions.

Far from being a way to take control of another’s mental (and physical) faculties, hypnosis is a method to help one gain focus, concentration, and relaxation. It also helps get over phobias, traumas, and even ease physical pain.

As most practitioners put it, “all hypnosis is only self-hypnosis, with or without an external guide”. It is about attaining an altered state of mind, quite similar to the relaxed and focused state attained via a meditative trance. When a person goes into a hypnotic trance, in good faith and as an extension of his voluntary cooperation, she or he can attain a lot more than is easily possible in the regular (fully conscious) state.

It is important to understand that most myths about hypnosis are just that – myths and misplaced fears. For starters, hypnosis is not about losing control, it is not about getting into a coma state where one is oblivious to the world around. In fact, in the relaxed state of hypnosis, one is able to concentrate much better, hear and focus on voices and sounds much farther than normal.

Equally misplaced is the apprehension that one may slip into a irrevocable hypnotic sleep, and one that the hypnotist may fail to bring one out of. This fear — along with the belief that the hypnotist is all powerful and can make you do anything they want — is one of the major reasons why many folks have trouble getting hypnotised.

Hypnosis is all about voluntary cooperation of the subject to take a mental journey, through the realms of one’s own consciousness, willingly. It is an artificial sleep, a trance that alters the conscious state, to enable one to concentrate and focus better at the issue or topic at hand – and thus be able to find solutions using all the power of the mind.

Even in the most rarest of instances, if one slips into sleep, this would be the regular sleep that we all have, and the sleep would end after a short while, and the person would awaken normally. If at any time, the hypnotist mandates the hypnotised subject to do anything that they would not in normal circumstances — or an act that is against their moral framework — it would result in the subject opening his/her eyes and coming right back to a fully conscious state.

More than anything else, hypnosis is about concentration and belief – a playing along with vivid visualisation to see and feel what the hypnotist suggests, and in that connection what the subject agrees to see. Putting it crudely, hypnosis is a visualisation technique, one of the strongest and effective ones, especially in regard to relaxation, concentration, and problem solving.

All Understanding is in the Experience

The best way to understand hypnosis is to experience it. Put aside your doubts and apprehension, if any, and give this a spin!

  • Clasp your fists, interlocking the fingers of both hands together. Now close your eyes, and imagine — visualise as vividly as you can — that the fingers and being welded in place with a painless laser light. See this picture like a movie in the minds eye. Make it colourful, vivid, and real.
  • When the welding process has completed, try to separate the fingers: all the time believing that they cannot be separated, as they have been welded together. Do this exercise with keeping your eyes closed, and you will find that the fingers are indeed inseparable.
  • In fact, the more you try, the more tighter and inseparable they feel. Once you have experienced this, just relax and imagine the same laser working its magic yet again – to remove the welding. Now open your eyes, look at your fingers and open and unclasp the hands.

If for some reason you had trouble with this – as in it did not quite work, try it again, this time believing that it will. More importantly, visualise the welding process as vividly as you can. It will work.

An Effective Way to Quick Relaxation

The essence of hypnosis is in breathing: slow, deliberate, coordinated breathing. Read through this small section describing a quick relaxation technique and then give it a try – for this forms the essence of hypnosis.

  • Sit comfortably in a chair, your back straight and the feet firmly planted on the ground.
  • Close your eyes. Keep it closed through the whole exercise (For now read through, and then try it as explained).
  • Take a deep breath. Hold it for two seconds. Let it out in a slow deliberate way.
  • Repeat. Deliberate deep breath. Hold it. Let go. You can already feel the body relaxing.
  • Repeat a third time. Deep breath. Hold it. Breathe out. Do all this giving attention to the breathing, giving it your fullest attention.
  • At the end of the third breath, just sit still, observe your mental state, and feel the relaxation that your mind and body is experiencing.
  • After a couple of moments, tell yourself that you will open your eyes and return to your regular state as you count to 3.
  • Slowly and deliberately count 1 – 2 – 3, and open your eyes.

What you experienced now is the primary hypnotic state – the basic trance mode that enables most of the hypnosis related functions. Various methods are used to deepen the hypnotic trance and accentuate the effect of the same. The more deepened the trance, the more effective a hypnosis session will be.

Sharing the Experience with Others

Now that we have had a basic understanding of what hypnosis is all about, it is time to try it on another – to help them experience the power of relaxation. Since you are only using the relaxation technique, start by telling the person that you will share a powerful relaxation and visualisation technique. This will avoid the misplaced apprehensions that the word hypnosis brings along.

  • Ask the person to sit comfortably, with the back straight and relaxed, and the feet placed flat on the ground. Ask the person to close their eyes, and take them through the breathing technique. Do this in a focused, deliberate way; do not hurry or let your excitement get the better of you.
  • When the person has reached the relaxed state of mind at the end of the three long breaths, ask him/her to clasp their hands together, interlocking their fingers and take them through the welding visualisation (as discussed before). Again, remember to go through the process in a systematic and deliberate way, and give the subject time to go through the mental visualisations.
  • After having ensured that the person cannot unclasp the hands, take them through the un-welding and separation of the hands. Remember that this is a test of the person being in a hypnotic trance. Do not force it. Do not get the person to try and force separate their hands during the trance. Establish that it cannot be separated, and then go through the un-welding motions.
  • At the end of the exercise, inform the subject that they will open their eyes and return to their regular state on the count of three. Go ahead and give the count, taking about 2 seconds each in between the 1 – 2 – 3 count.

Bonus: A Hypnosis Demonstration

If you are in the need of making an individual or a group of people experience hypnosis in an easy but effective way, the following demonstration will work wonders.

  • Ask all to sit comfortably, with their backs straight and relaxed, the feet planted flat on the ground. Ask them to extend their hands out front, folded at the elbow, such that the arms are parallel to the ground. Ask all to hold the left palm facing upwards, and the right palm facing downwards.
  • Instruct everybody to now close their eyes. Run them through the three long breaths, and take them to the relaxed hypnotic state. Now you need to run them through the visualisation exercise as detailed below.
  • Ask them to imagine that a heavy book is being placed on their left palm. This is the heaviest book that they have ever come across, and this is now on their left hand.
  • Ask them to imagine that the right hand is being tied to a bunch of helium balloons, a huge bunch of big helium balloons.
  • Ask them to imagine and visualise this, as vividly and clearly as they can: the left hand with the heavy book, and the right hand with the helium balloons.
  • Keep suggesting that “the left hand is feeling heavy, really heavy, and is being pushed down,” and that “the right hand is light, really light, and is being pulled up”.
  • Repeat this suggestion of heavy and light a couple of times, as you continue to observe the audience. Very soon, you will see most of the audience will have their left hand being pushed towards the knees, much lower than where it started, and the right hand bring pulled up higher, much above the heads.
  • Instruct the group to stop the visualisation, but keep the hands exactly where they are. Get them to open their eyes with the count of 1 – 2 – 3, then to look at their own hands, and them have a look around the room. They will be amazed, and of course much better believers of the technique.

Leveraging the Knowledge

The above mentioned exercises do not make you a hypnotist, but give you the hands-on experience of understanding what a self-hypnosis session feels like. It also enables you to experience and enjoy the feeling of being a hypnotist, although limited to the relaxation technique.

You may use the breathing technique as an initiation for yourself, another, or even a group of others – to help increase the concentration and focus required during a creative, problem solving or brainstorming session. Do the breathing to initiate the hypnotic relaxed state, and let the people be in this state for 3–5 minutes. Tell them they can come back to the regular conscious state whenever then want by counting to three.

Using the hypnotic relaxation technique will enable deeper and effective problem solving skills, as the mind is equipped to reach into deeper realms of creativeness and consciousness.

To learn more about hypnosis or to learn to be a hypnotist – for self or others, you may join one of the myriad hypnosis workshops that are run around the country. There are numerous books on the topic, but to truly understand the advantages and limitations of hypnosis, one has to experience it – which you will in a workshop.

Note: This article was published as “The Science of Hypnosis: Lifting the Veil of Mystery About the Unconscious State of Mind” in the June 2012 issue of Popular Science India.
Published on August 6, 2014 at Medium.com/@nakulshenoy