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My hypnosis teacher, Gil Boyne, used to say there were two common reasons people gave for being afraid of hypnosis. They are: "I won't wake up," and "I will tell all my secrets."
Nobody goes so deep into hypnosis that they can't come back out. Do you know of anyone who disappeared because they didn't come out of hypnosis? If there were a lot of people like this, wouldn't somebody notice?
You won't tell your secrets, because you remain in control. You won't lose your inhibitions and make a fool of yourself either, if you don't want to.
A persistent myth is that a hypnotist can gain control over your mind--sort of a Manchurian Candidate effect. This isn't true. A hypnotist can never make you do anything against your principles. Here's an example. A stage hypnotist convinces his subject that a glass of water is really wine. But he can't get her to drink it, because she doesn't believe in drinking alcohol.
Another myth is that only people who have a weak will or low intellect can be hypnotized. Actually, many hypnotists believe that more intelligent people are the best subjects, because of their ability to focus.
The idea of the mind as a computer is intriguing. Norbert Wiener is credited with being the first to postulate that the subconscious works like a mechanical computer, though it is much more complex. The psychologist Leslie LeCron questions if this would mean there is no free will.
Maxwell Maltz, in his classic, Psycho-Cybernetics, emphasizes the importance of self-image. Positive thinking only works when it is consistent with one's self-image. Cybernetics is the science of communication and control theory, especially automatic control systems. Maltz sees the mind as a goal-seeking machine, although he emphasizes that we are not machines, we use machines.
Maltz gives a baseball analogy. The batter hits a fly ball to center field. The center fielder must instantly calculate the ball's speed, velocity, curvature path, wind direction, and more. He then compares the calculations with stored data and gets to the right place to make the catch, all subconsciously. He doesn't think about his brain operating like a computer, though it does.
The computer needs an operator. It can do a lot, but it can't set its own goals. With self-hypnosis you can program your own mind. You can accept the theory of the mind as a computer or not. Self-hypnosis works anyway.
A professional (or amateur) hypnotist helps you get through to your subconscious mind. In a way, he or she is a go-between.
In self-hypnosis, you get through to your own subconscious. In effect, you talk to yourself.
You have the ability to manipulate your mind and change fixed ideas in your subconscious that keep you from reaching your goals.
Self-hypnosis is a procedure that helps you change your mind. Will power doesn't do it. Trying to use will power can end up reinforcing the attitudes that are standing in your way. When there's no deep-seated block in the way of trying something new, often you can "just do it" with will power. Even then, relaxing will let you slide through and do it more easily.
Some sort of self-hypnosis, even relaxation, is necessary for you to talk to yourself and make real change.
The notion of hypnotizability is based on the theory that not everyone can be hypnotized. Estimates range from as low as 20% of the population to almost everyone. For those of us who deal in self-hypnosis, a natural state, it is clear that anyone with a normal ability to concentrate can be hypnotized if they want to be. Even children can be hypnotized.
You may have seen a stage hypnotist at work and thought you would never do what his subjects were doing. Remember, these are volunteers who want to be hypnotized, and the hypnotist knows how to choose the best potential subjects. Also, the subjects may have been drinking a bit, which lowers inhibitions. This is ok if you want to quack like a duck but not if you want to learn to be less nervous when taking exams. Do self-hypnosis when you're sober and not too tired.
Try this. Sitting or standing, extend your arms in front of you, parallel to the floor. Turn your right palm up and your left palm down. Close your eyes and imagine a pail full of sand in your right hand, so the handle is in your palm and the pail hangs down. Look at the pail and imagine its shape and color. Now imagine there is a string attached to your left wrist, and on the other end is a big red helium-filled balloon. Concentrate on the pail as it gets heavier and heavier, and on your left arm being lifted by the bright red balloon. Do not deliberately move your hands.
After a few minutes, open your eyes and see where your hands are. Typically, you will see your right hand has dropped and your left hand lifted. A big gap shows your imagination is working well. If your hands haven't moved, you are puttting up some resistance and should spend more time with the relaxation exercise you will learn. In either case, you're hypnotizable.
Although the phenomenon of hypnosis goes back to ancient, perhaps prehistoric times, modern hypnosis starts with Franz Anton Mesmer.
Mesmer was born in Germany and studied medicine in Vienna. He began practicing his theories, eventually called Mesmerism, in Vienna but moved on to Paris where his work became fashionable. He used the term "animal magnetism" for a fluid or force within his body that would let him connect with and cure his patients. The king finally sent a commission to investigate Mesmer, and they determined there was no physical force but any results were due to imagination, or placebo, as we would say. The commission members were the great chemist Lavoisier, the astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly, the physician and inventor M. Guillotine, and the American ambassador Benjamin Franklin.
Mesmer did awaken an interest in the power of the mind, and various people studied his theories. An English physician, James Braid, decided the cures were due not to animal magnetism but to suggestion. He called his relaxation technique "hypnosis."
Notable among other practitioners was a surgeon, James Esdaille, who performed 2000 operations using only hypnosis as anesthetic--with no pain for the patients.
In the 20th century, the psychologist Milton Erickson used both verbal and nonverbal techniques to bypass the conscious mind. His work with indirect suggestion changed the face of contemporary hypnotism.
The evolution of self-hypnosis is not recorded, but we can assume that some people used it naturally and others saw what was evolving in medicine, and said, "I can do that myself."
Self-hypnosis and meditation are similar, but not the same. The subjective feeling is similar when you are meditating and when you are in a state of hypnosis, and the brain waves are the same. The main difference is in the intent.
Meditation stills your mind and opens it to the universe. It is not something you should manipulate for a specific outcome. Regular meditation can lead to lower blood pressure and other positive health outcomes, but you generally don't just meditate on that. Meditation is included in many spiritual traditions but can also be used without a spiritual component, as in the Relaxation Response, described in the book of that name by Herbert Benson.
With self-hypnosis, you have a specific goal you want to support. (There is some crossover when your goal is relaxation.) There is nothing necessarily spiritual about self-hypnosis. It is a practical skill that you can learn easily.
Ideally, you should practice regular meditation for enlightenment as well as its health benefits, and do self-hypnosis for practical results.
"Meditation is not a method of achieving anything at all. It is peace and blessedness in itself."...Great Master Zhiryi (538-597)
If you're a little skeptical about hypnosis, you may want to know exactly how it works. Sorry, we don't know. Money Magazine, in an article on alternative medicine, gives hypnotherapy a good review regarding its effectiveness as a pain killer and anxiety treatment, but admits we don't know exactly how it works. It's difficult to prove such things scientifically. Hypnosis certainly doesn't lend itself to double-blind studies.
Modern science has made great strides in unlocking some mysteries of human physiology, but we can't say the same for the workings of the mind. Someone once said that if the mind was simple enough to be understood, we would be too stupid to understand it. Enjoy the mystery.
Only recently have scientists begun to understand how aspirin works, but that hasn't stopped people from getting good results with it for over a hundred years.
You will learn to use your mind to change your mind. The techniques of self-hypnosis are easy to learn. You will not be able to equate it to release of some neurotransmitter or other, and no one has been able to put self-hypnosis in a pill. Just relax. The old way works.
You may be wondering if there's anything hypnosis cannot do. There is. Don't try to use it to cure disease. It won't enable you to control or influence another person without their knowledge. It won't magically give you knowledge or skills you haven't studied for.
It is controversial whether hypnotism can be used to recall repressed or forgotten memories. I find this unlikely. As you will see, the brain often cannot distinguish between real and imagined events, so that we can't be certain that a given "memory" is a real one. Hypnotism is not generally accepted as a way to find the truth in court cases.
So it's worth trying self-hypnosis when you want to remember where you put your diamond ring. It may help by clearing your mind so you remember, but it probably won't help re-enact the time when you hid it.
Some people think that hypnotism can help them to recall their past lives, or the moment of their own birth. I am skeptical about that, but you can make your own decision on that.
Self-hypnosis is an everyday way to handle everyday problems.
The mysterious and exotic stories are interesting, but not of practical help for most of us.
There is phenomenon called "highway hypnosis." On long, straight roads, drivers were found to enter something of a hypnotic state, where the monotony dulled their attention. Road builders started putting curves into roads where the landscape didn't require it, just to keep the drivers alert.
Although hypnosis is a natural state, there are times you don't want to be in it. When you learn self-hypnosis, you will be able to enter the hypnotic state deliberately and better control your mind.
You can use self-hypnosis to break harmful habits and form healthy ones. It can help you overcome phobias. Use it to improve sports performance or help you play a musical instrument better.
You can get yourself better organized and become more efficient at work. Improve your self-confidence and excel at activities you have been hesitant to try. Conquer test anxiety. Are you nervous about public speaking? Self-hypnosis can help.
Self-hypnosis can improve your health and well being. We will discuss some of the ways as we go along, and others you will find yourself.
Hypnosis is a natural state of mind. What's more, you can use it yourself to solve problems and for self-improvement. You may have seen a stage hypnotist in action, but that is entertainment. You may have read stories of hypnotists who gain control over someone else's mind. That is fiction. You may have heard of medical uses for hypnotism. That is true. (Hypnosis and hypnotism as used here mean the same thing.) Here, we will concentrate on self-hypnosis, that is, how you can hypnotize yourself. Don't worry. You will be able to do it. In fact: all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.
You are not asleep when you are hypnotized. Your brain waves are different when you are in a state of hypnosis than when you are sleeping. Hypnosis is a state of increased concentration, but it works through the subconscious mind.
You probably go in and out of hypnosis several times a day. Maybe you drive on "automatic pilot" and don't remember the specifics of how you got to a familiar destination. Or you may be so engrossed in a book or a project you are working on that you don't notice someone entering the room. When an athlete is "in the zone," that can be a form of self-hypnosis, as is the runner's high.
You can learn to use this natural state to improve your life.