People have been pondering and arguing over hypnosis for more than 200 years, but science has yet to fully explain how it actually happens. But we do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and have a model of how it works.
It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It’s not really like sleep, because you are alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of “losing yourself” in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
In the everyday trance of a daydream or movie, the imaginary world may seem kind of real to you in the sense that it fully engages your emotions. Some imaginary events can cause fear, sadness, happiness, or you may even jolt in your seat if you are surprised by something (a person leaping from the shadows or a door slamming for example). Some researchers categorize all such trances as forms of self-hypnosis. In fact, while reading this article you will most likely experience a hypnotic state, if you haven’t done so already. Hypnosis is hardwired into us.
Hypnosis is a natural state of selective, focused attention. Our ability to enter this incredible state of consciousness opens the door to countless possibilities for healing, self-exploration and change. When we enter into hypnosis, we can use our thoughts, talents and experiences in ways not usually available to us. With the guidance of a trained professional, we can make desired changes in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors a reality. For reasons that are as yet not clear, the focused state of hypnosis allows changes to intentionally be made “automatically”, changes that we could not ordinarily consciously make.
In this special mental state, many people feel relaxed and uninhibited because they tune out the worries and doubts that normally keep their actions in check. You might experience the same feeling while watching a movie: As you get engrossed in the plot, worries about your job, family, etc. fade away, until all you’re thinking about is what’s up on the screen.
In this state you are also highly suggestible, and the body responds physically to thoughts. For example, when we think a frightening thought, we can experience increased heart rate, shortness of breath, “butterflies” in the stomach, muscular rigidity, sweating, shaking, and so on. Similarly, when we think of something pleasurable, we can experience reduced heart rate, deeper breathing, relaxation of muscles, and so on. These are autonomic nervous system responses that are involuntary, but they can be utilized to promote health. When hypnotized, an individual is very open to suggestions that can enhance positive and diminish negative physical reactions.
Suggestions are an invitation to experience the world and life in a different way. They can be used to produce changes in sensation, perception, thought, emotion, or behavior. Suggestions can actually be delivered in or out of hypnosis. Some may include instructions to use your imagination, creativity, or visualization. But for the most part, the effect feels like it is happening all by itself while you are in the relaxed hypnotic state.
Hypnosis is natural, safe, and effective.