I was swimming to the bottom of a deep, deep blue ocean
when suddenly a roast chicken came floating past... ...
Being hypnotized is like capturing the moment just before falling asleep, when the frontiers of dreaming and awake are blurred. My whole body was sedated by comfort. As I lay sprawled out on soft leather, I was warm and cozy. Every inch, every muscle relaxed. I was a rag doll. I had receptive awareness but was bound in a daydream trance. I was overcome with a comfortable sensation like a child tucked into bed, eyes heavy after a long day. A slow, soothing, deep voice massaged my consciousness into submission. As I was guided deeper into my consciousness, distracting thoughts had to be goaded out of my headspace. "I am trying to reach the bottom of the sea so why am I thinking about what I'm making for dinner?" There goes the roast chicken - irrelevant and intrusive.
It was half out of curiosity and half out of enthusiasm that I wandered into my first ever hypnosis session. There is actually an art to teetering on the edge of consciousness. If you go too far along the continuum, you end up falling asleep and the process is useless as you are no longer receptive to the positive suggestions. I must admit by the end I had slipped into sleep and didn't hear the last part. But it was my first time to be fair and I didn't know how far "under" I was supposed to be. By the end, my head had fallen to the side of the chair, limp with relaxation. Its no wonder that the practice was named "hypnos" meaning sleep.
Are you handing over your mind to someone else's control? I could scratch my nose if I wanted to, I could move, I could "wake up" and reject the ideas if I wanted to. But the truth was I was too comfortable to be bothered and the content was so positive I didn't need to. I could hear the things that were being said to me. I could picture everything. I was in control. This is why what a hypnotist says are called "suggestions".
Perhaps hypnosis conjures up images of audience members turned into unaware puppets doing ridiculous things on a stage. Or waking up from a magical trance with their pants down looking like a fool. At first a feeling of vulnerability may stir enough fear to avoid the experience. However, there is a distinction between stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy.
For the academics, I'm sure this all sounds rather fluffy. Due to my scientific mind, of course , I started off with a little research. I chose a hypnotherapist (not a stage hypnotist) who was registered with a professional organization and looked at qualifications and testimonials from clients. I geeked it up with a cochrane literature search. What caught my eye ( and prompted me to give it a go) was the success rate for weight reduction programs. It appears that hypnosis in addition to diet/exercise/ behavioral programs gives more weight loss than just diet/exercise alone. Even weight loss hypnotherapy alone has been reported to give subjects an average weight loss of almost 3 kgs. However, the quality of studies still remains a bit sketchy and the effect seems to be seen only in low - moderate weight loss.
Crossing to the dark side? - The sexier side of stage hypnosis
Death from hypnosis, schizophrenics loosing their mind, audience members becoming suicidal. It's all the sensational aspect of stage hypnotherapy. Here Jeremy Wheeler writes an expose on the darker side and dangers of stage hypnosis. It's an entertaining read but not very evidence based. In my opinion, for someone to do something stupid on stage they must have wanted to do it because subjects are aware when hypnotized. They are not puppets. To sum it up in a word, "mass hysteria".
HypnobirthingDare I mention it? Hypnobirthing - listening to docile tones whilst your little one forges their way towards the light. I had to hold my cynicism at bay while watching this video of a woman in active labour looking unbelievably zen and quiet while something the size of a pumpkin popped out of something, well, not the size of a pumpkin.
Perhaps this would be a good option for scientologists observing the belief of silent birth?
All in all, an expensive alternative to daydreaming in the sunshine. A nice hour and a half of relaxation but no immediate effects after just one session.