What is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis is an internally focused state of mind and body very similar to the state achieved by following a guided imagery meditation or visualisation, or even the way you feel when completely absorbed in a story within a really good book or film. To be in hypnosis feels a lot like the experience of daydreaming when you use your imagination to create an inner experience.
The state of hypnosis is very similar to Rapid Eye Movement or the REM state of sleep, which is what occurs when you are dreaming. During dreams your imagination creates very real images, scenarios, sounds, colours, even smells and physical sensations, dreaming is in fact the deepest type of hypnotic trance.
The reason that we all dream is to discharge the emotional arousal and expectations of the day, so this is why dreams can often mimic life, sometimes by creating stories and hugely exaggerated scenarios which do in some way reflect our actual experience during the day.
So for example, if you felt quite frustrated at work, and unable to really tell your boss what you thought of them, you may dream of yourself shouting at them, as a way of processing the frustrated emotions, releasing the thoughts so your mind can, looking back on the day, differentiate between what actually happened and what you may have imagined happening.
Having REM sleep and dreaming is a little like your brain doing its filing, collecting up all of the loose bits of paper (feelings and experiences) and then filing them away neatly, therefore processing, reaching greater understanding of those feelings and experiences. It is also a time when we learn from our experiences.
The REM state can be accessed outside of sleep, because your imagination is so connected to your instincts, your body doesn’t distinguish between reality and imagination. For example, think of your most embarrassing memory right now, and notice how you feel, you may even blush, simply at the memory, almost as if the situation was happening now!
You have probably seen an old film of a hypnotist swinging a pocket watch from left to right in front of someone, whilst telling them ‘you are going into a trance, a deep trance’ the swinging of the watch is
Mimicking the REM state, encouraging the person to go into that internally focused state, where their imagination can create all kinds of scenarios. Hypnotic trance, which is extremely close to the REM state, is accessed by creating a single point of focus.
Bring to mind now that feeling when you are daydreaming, staring at that one spot just there out of the window, time can seem as though it disappears, and thoughts and imaginary scenarios really can go in strangest of directions. There is no mystery to hypnosis, it is an instinctive and natural state, that we actually go in and out of many times during the day.
Hypnotherapists no longer swing pocket watches, but what we do today is to encourage clients to become absorbed into their inner world into a state of high focus and awareness of that inner world. This can be achieved by using progressive relaxation or the simple use of your imagination.
Interestingly, the trance state can also be accessed via a shock, or fear. Stage hypnotists utilise the shock method of tipping someone backwards and commanding that they ‘sleep’. When we are in extreme fear or shock, the first thing that happens, even if it is just for a second, is that we freeze, and in this fraction of time, we are shocked into the trance state.
Hypnosis, being closely aligned to the REM state, is a state of being where we can access our instinctive learning abilities. Babies spend the last three months in the womb in intense REM sleep, and this is where our instincts are ‘laid down’ for life. So things like, knowing how to feed, to cry when in need, to mimic facial expressions and to fear heights are all learnt instinctively during this time. There was no need for you to consciously learn these instincts, which can all referred to as pattern matches, and are all good helpful pattern matches. However, sometimes, when we are triggered into the trance state by fear or shock, we can form unhelpful pattern matches, such as an irrational fear or phobia which we can never really explain.
A client may comment ‘I have never been bitten or attacked by a dog, never even had a dog, but when I see one, even if its over the other side of road, my heart races and I feel sick’. Maybe during their younger, formative years, the client saw a dog in a fraction of time, at the same time that they witnessed or heard something that generated fear, and a pattern match was created, not a helpful one, but nonetheless, until this day, their mind associates the visual message of seeing a dog, with fear. The more episodes of seeing a dog and feeling fear occur, the stronger the association becomes.
Therefore, when you need to update a learned instinctive response, an unhelpful or faulty pattern match, for example a phobia, then it makes sense to use hypnosis. Hypnosis is the learning state, when our subconscious mind can focus completely and absorb positive suggestion. In hypnosis we can learn to change our outworn faulty pattern matches, fears or unhelpful beliefs and learn more positive, life affirming ways of being.
The unconscious or sometimes called subconscious mind can be described as ‘everything within your experience and capabilities that you are not currently thinking about’. So for example, the name of someone you were friends at school with twenty years ago, or an experience you had during your first job, years before is stored in your subconscious mind until you are reminded of it, and it is then brought forward to the conscious mind.
The autonomic nervous system which activates physical bodily processes that occur automatically, without us having to consciously think of them, such as breathing, pupil dilation, growth, healing fending off viruses, is controlled by your unconscious mind. Similarly, issues such as depression, low confidence, or blushing are not something you consciously think about, these things can happen automatically, as a result of the unconscious mind learning to respond in a certain way to a certain stimulus, and they become a faulty pattern match, leading to unhelpful feelings or behaviour.
Another example is an unhelpful habit, somehow at some time, the faulty pattern match had been created in the unconscious mind so that feeling anxious triggered nail biting, therefore the behaviour continues to happen, automatically. Nobody consciously decides to bite a little piece of their own finger nail, with all the possible germs attached, it happens before they have consciously thought of it.
It makes perfect sense that the state of hypnosis, which connects to the REM state of instinctive learning, is the perfect state to be if we wish to unlearn outworn and unwanted patterns, and to create new more positive ways of being.
No mystery, no magic, hypnosis really is simply natural and also something you have been doing your entire life!