Public perception of hypnosis tends to see it related to relaxation a great deal. Many people think relaxation and hypnosis are the same thing. They are not.
Banyai and Hilgard (1976) showed that by having an individual exercise vigorously for a period of time prior to a hypnosis session, the individual could still be hypnotised, but would not be at all relaxed. In fact, they would be alert and focused and have a heart rate and pulse that was very active and alive. A patient undergoing relaxation training in any form of psychotherapy would not gain the benefits of the relaxation in the same way, making the two quite different. This study has been successfully replicated (James, 1984).
As often seems to be the case, many people wrongly suppose that hypnosis is simply relaxing and many people perpetuate the myth and it comes to be thought of as having relaxation inherent within it. This is not the case. Hypnosis can be used to develop relaxation though, and it can be used to enhance relaxation to ensure we derive much benefit from relaxing. In fact, studies have helped us to recognise how a profound physiological state of deep rest can be created by suggestion and hypnosis.
This is particularly interesting and important when you consider that, as Platonov (1959) showed, that natural sleep does not always completely rest all of our bodily functions and organs. When we look at the origins of hypnosis, James Braid originally termed it “neuro-hypnotism” meaning “sleep of the nervous system.” Braid’s early use of hypnosis was to induce a deeply relaxed state, which vaguely resembled sleep, but the individual being hypnotised had a conscious awareness of it. When we see that some individuals derive a seemingly more profound benefit from the relaxation achieved alongside hypnosis sessions, it makes sense to learn how to do this and benefit from it ourselves, doesn’t it? That is what this article shows you how to do.
You should aim to have a minimum of 10 minutes to invest in this, though ideally a fair bit longer as you practice more aiming to gain the major benefits from it (20-30 minutes). You’ll also want to make this part of a regimen that you put together and practice daily for at least 2-3 weeks to derive the benefits from it and to build up an ability to do this for longer thereafter. Find a comfortable seated position to be in with your feet flat on the floor and your hands not touching each other.
If your intention is to use this to drift off to sleep, then you’ll want to be lying down in bed, however, to gain the full benefits of hypnotic relaxation, you do not want to fall asleep. You associate lying in bed with sleep, so unless that is your aim, do this seated. Throughout the upcoming process, remember your goal is to relax deeply and ideally deeper than usual. Make it your aim to learn how to induce deeper levels of relaxation within your self-hypnosis sessions.
Therefore, whenever possible, convince yourself gently that you are relaxing, adopt the position and behaviour and thought patterns of someone who is deeply relaxed and help yourself along with the process – without trying and without exerting effort, just gently assuming you are relaxing and doing this beautifully well. Imagine that you are completely relaxed throughout and let your imagination help you along. Now follow these simple steps:
Step One: Induce hypnosis.
There are hundreds of ways of doing this, however the eye-fixation induction is great one to start with. The basic premise is to attempt to produce a great deal of strain on the eye muscles by having to look upwards with the eyes and without moving the head. I suggest that you attempt to look up at your own forehead, or that you pick a spot on the wall or ceiling to focus on.
The spot needs to be high enough to be a slight strain to stare upwards at. The reason that the gaze is pointed upwards in this way is of course to advance and enhance the tiredness felt in and around the eyes in a speedy timescale. You do not tilt the head backwards at all, otherwise you assist the eyes and just end up staring upwards with a bent neck.
You position your head, hold it still, then raise the eyes upwards until it becomes a slight strain to hold the gaze there. With the eyes fixed in this way, creating some minor strain, you induce a slight sensation of being sleepy. Importantly though, this process gets you to concentrate in an intense fashion. Aim to close your eyes after around 30 seconds or so of fixing your gaze. Once your gaze is fixed on the elevated point, you need to employ your imagination to make your eyes feel like closing. This is incredibly important.
You must help the process along with your thoughts – imagine that your eyelids are getting heavier, tell yourself that they want to close and that it will be so nice and comfortable when they do so. Convince yourself of them getting heavier. All the time that you are communicating with yourself in your mind in this way, ensure that you keep your gaze fixed in that same position without waivering or moving or allowing your eyes to relax by compensating in some other way.
Keep your head and eye position in the way that ensures the eyes become tired. Then, once they are ready to close, you let them close and that is the initiation of your hypnosis. Like opening a door to your mind using focus and absorption.
You’ve seen what happens when someone is fighting falling asleep. Like when I am sat in front of the fire with the TV on after my dinner in the evenings. I get that sensation in my eyelids where they start to close and I keep snapping them open to regain my focus. Adopt that same behaviour and posture; let your eyes close slowly like someone drifting to sleep. Then proceed to let your entire body relax deeper by imagining the relaxation you now have in your closed eyelids spreading through your entire body. Spend a few moments doing this and telling yourself you are relaxing more and going deeper into hypnosis.
Use a gentle, relaxing tone when you communicate with yourself, encourage yourself by telling yourself how well you are doing this. Too much effort or anxiety will impair the process. Be gently assured with yourself. Then move on to step two.
Step Two: Once you have induced hypnosis, you want to initiate the relaxation response. Whatever active component you used in your induction (eyelids, arms etc) you can imagine that area becoming totally relaxed. Start to let your breathing happen automatically; that is, stop interfering with it, just observe it and let your body breathe by itself.
Don’t try to change it and don’t try to stop it from changing. As you relax, your body will require less oxygen, so your breathing may become lighter and shallower, just let that happen. Using your imagination, just imagine your entire body settles and relaxes with your breathing for a few minutes. Keep allowing a gentle, relaxing mindfulness to of yourself to form and you can return to this mindfulness at any stage throughout the process again.
Just let thoughts happen, let your breathing happen, imagine relaxing and gently settling and then move on the step three.
Step Three: Now you are going to use a progressive relaxation process.
The aim here is to spread relaxation into various parts of your body. As you get better at doing this, you can start to imagine more specific parts of the body are relaxing (rather than generalise areas), something referred to by hypnotherapists as fractional relaxation that I’ll describe in more detail shortly. With all of these ideas, you can also assume that they deepen your self-hypnosis too and let them become an inherent deepener. Here are some ideas of how to engage in a progressive hypnotic relaxation process:
a) Use your internal dialogue and simply tell yourself that each part of your body is relaxing. For example “my toes are relaxing deeper… and now my ankles… moving into my lower legs…” and so on.
b) As you work your way through your body, you may like to use a colour or light or imagined warming sensation and spread that through the muscles and imagine the colour (ideally one you associate with relaxing) spreading through the muscles as you reach each part of your body.
c) Additional cognitions can be used. Co-founder of the field of NLP, Richard Bandler, uses the word “soften” as he relaxes parts of the body in one of his audio programmes I owned several years ago. He focuses on each muscle and then says “soften” as he moves the awareness through the muscles of the body, you might like to do the same or perhaps use the word “relax” (or any other suitable word) if that soothes and helps you more. Remember to believe in the word you repeat to yourself without using too much effort.
d) You may imagine a relaxing sound moving through your body. This could be the sound of music, or even a gentle relaxing sound from nature, or a comforting sound that is personal to you.
e) You may imagine the muscles limp, loose, dormant; maybe like a loose rubber band, or a rag doll, or whatever else you can imagine indicating the relaxation spreading. I learned a great technique from Terence Watts who suggested imagining the body as a candle and as the candle softened and got warm and started melting, so the muscles of the body got warm and softened and so on.
f) Imagine (without actually doing) tensing muscles groups of your body and then relaxing them as you exhale. The imagined tension then makes the relaxation feel and seem greater than before. Do this for all of the muscles of the body systematically.
Ideally, use a combination of these elements. Bask in the relaxation you create, enjoy it and enjoy this time as well spent. You may like to repeat this step a couple of times to make sure you develop the progressive relaxation as much as possible. Once you have done so, move on to the next step.
Step Four: Use your internal dialogue and start to count downwards with each breath that you exhale. You might imagine the numbers in your mind, or simply say it with your internal dialogue. After each number, say the words “relaxing deeper” too. Say it in a highly relaxing tone and manner to yourself, so there is no hint of effort, just gently assume it is happening, counting downwards as you exhale and all the time focus on being deeply relaxed.
Tell yourself and imagine that on each number you count, you are relaxing deeper into profound hypnotic relaxation. This process works well if combined with breathing. You can breathe outwards with each number that you count. Make it your aim to be very deeply relaxed by the time you reach zero. I have seen it suggested that you count from 10 to 0 and then perhaps repeat if you want to, which encourages mindfulness and so on. I have also seen people count backwards from 100 and even stop if they are relaxed enough by the time they have reached a particular number.
You get to choose which and you might benefit from experimentation in this regard. When you reach zero, move on to the next step.
Step Five: The next step is to fix your attention and focus onto a single ongoing and repetitive train of thought. You will use the idea and belief of being highly and deeply relaxed. You can do this in a number of ways:
a) Continue to say certain words upon each breath you exhale. Such as “deeper” or “more relaxed.” Use whatever word you find to be most relaxing to you.
b) Focus on your breath; you might count your breaths and keep going. Do not alter your breathing, just count each breath as it happens and if you lose track of your counting, simply start from 1 again and see how long you can continue to be aware and keep tuned in before your mind wanders. Do this without challenging yourself, and without effort. Just accept it calmly if you lose count and start again. Enjoy the counting. You can also simply follow the movement of your breathing, maybe just watching the ribs expand, or the chest rise or noticing the change of temperature in the nostrils as you inhale and exhale and watch your breathing that way instead. Tuning into it and letting it consume your attention and train of thought.
c) Enjoying relaxing sensations. Simply notice somewhere about your body that is relaxed, notice what tells you it is relaxed and then watch those sensations start top spread to other parts as well. Again, bringing your awareness back to it if it wanders. Whichever of these you use, keep a fixed train of thought for the remaining time you have allotted to this. Keep encouraging your self, keep assuming it is working, being progressive and positive with yourself and engage in a gentle, easy way without ever ‘trying’ or getting anxious or worrying about anything.
Simply enjoy it lazily with utmost relaxation of the body and keeping your awareness and focus in place. When you have done this for the remainder of your allotted time, move on to the final step.
Step Six: Take a couple of deeper, energising breaths, wiggle your toes and fingers, count from 1 through to 5 and open your eyes and bring this session to an end. As with so many of the processes in this book, you’ll derive more benefit from focused practice and developing your skill (and thus your self-efficacy) with this.
Be aware that you can be physically relaxed while your mind races and you can be physically active while your mind is still and quiet (I swear I am at my most peaceful when running marathons) – this process addresses both; you get to relax the body first and then ease the thoughts and feelings you have by engaging in the continuous train of thought, engaging in repetition to still and quiet the mind and relax.
Practice and enjoy getting some deep hypnotic relaxation into your daily routine, the benefits are vast and you’ll be pleased you did it.
Adam Eason, author of “The Science of Self-Hypnosis: The Evidence-Based Way to Hypnotise Yourself.”