What Exactly Is Hypnosis?
In the mid 1700's, a doctor named Franz Mesmer, amid a number of healing experiments, ended up performing holistic healing on his patients whereby he would waive his hands just above the body in an attempt to psychically realign invisible energies. Other doctors found no evidence in what he "did" as being effective but in what he "said" as being extremely effective.
He told them to breathe deeply, close their eyes, clear their mind of all distracting thoughts and to focus only on the sound of his voice. He would then explain the steps their own minds were taking in order to eliminate the mental or physical pain that ailed them. Together, along with their trust in the doctor and their belief that they would leave his office cured, this brought about many cures.
His patients often said they were MESMERIZED by the soothing sound of his voice, a word they named after the good doctor, which was actually a combination of the above techniques which caused them to also become very relaxed and sleepy which, in turn, sent them into a very intense daydreaming state of mind. Pay attention because these steps in becoming mesmerised were later renamed hypnotized.
Around 75 years later, in the mid 1800's, another doctor, James Braid, used Doctor Mesmer's techniques on himself many times in order to heal himself of various illnesses.
This was the next great step in the evolution of Dr Mesmer's techniques because Dr Braid was able to utilize all of the above techniques on himself without the need for another person to do it for him. He later named this process self hypnosis.
He, too, noticed that as he performed the above techniques on himself that he would also become very relaxed, very sleepy. Having a knowledge of Greek, he renamed the word Mesmerized to Hypnotized or Hypnosis because the word "Hypnos" is the Greek word for sleep, named after Hypnos the Greek god of sleep.
He tried to make it clear to the public that hypnosis or being relaxed to the point of feeling sleepy was the RESULT of performing the above techniques on one's self and not the actual process itself. But the public, instead, chose to believe that hypnosis was the entire process and not the result. And therein lied the "rub."
Not long after, in 1894 a book was published called Trilby and in 1915 the movie Trilby was produced, both depicting a Svengali taking over a woman's mind causing her to shed her inhibitions and become a famous singer and when he died she could no longer sing. The movie called this ability to control her mind as in being hypnotized.
The superstitious people of that time connected a new popular word they misinterpreted with mind control and the public ran with it.
And that vision still exists today. Thanks to the movie industry and the thousands of movies that followed, there will always be people who feel the word hypnosis is mind control, against their religion and is used only on the weak minded. Today, if you were to ask anyone where they got the idea that hypnosis was mind control, every single person will tell you it was because of what they saw in the movies.
Once again, hypnosis or becoming so relaxed to the point of feeling sleepy is the RESULT of performing a combination on the above techniques on yourself or by having someone else, a guide, talk to you through those steps.
So let's forget the word hypnotized and go back to the word mesmerized, since that's what it really is. You are mesmerised when you can clear your thoughts of everything that is going on around you and focus only on that one thing that is directly in front of you. This is often called tunnel vision, where you are so "absorbed" in that which is directly in front of you that everything else around you is a blur or a distant sound in the background.
You were "mesmerized" by that person's beauty. He has a very "hypnotic" voice. The kids were so "focused" on the TV show that they didn't even hear me calling to them. Three words that all mean the same thing.
When you attempted to relax after a hard day, you may have noticed that the steps you were taking to relax are the same as the steps above. You closed your eyes. You tried to empty your mind of all the worries, cares, stresses and troubles of the day. You took deep breaths and exhaled all those thoughts and stresses away from you. And you attempted to think of only one thing, a warm bath, the warmth of a fireplace or the flickering of a candle. If, during this process, your eyelids became heavy and you became very sleepy, then you have mesmerised yourself, just like Dr Braid did to himself and just like Dr Messmer's patients did to themselves.
And again, mesmerised, or what is now called hypnotized, is the RESULT of the process in being able to completely and totally relax.
And now comes the good part. You may have noticed that when you are completely and totally relaxed, you think clearer, for instance, you remember where you left your keys. Try to remember where you left your keys when you are surrounded by chaos. In these moments of relaxed clarity, you also become more creative. For instance, think of the times when you wake up in the morning after a good night's sleep and you have an incredible idea. Your mind actually becomes completely open to outside influences while you are sleeping and continues to be open during the first moment when you wake up.
And these are the moments when a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a school counselor, a sports coach or even a hypnotist can give you suggestions so that you can become a better you.
Yoga instructors get you into this state of relaxation by having you focus only on your breathing and poses. The instructor may even give you words of kindness, telling you that you are becoming a more loving, giving and nurturing person. And the result is you leaving there feeling like a better person. He didn't hypnotize you, he simply said the right words at the right time when you were truly relaxed and open to his words.
Meditators get into this state of relaxation by focusing only on one object in the room, on one sound or on one particular thought. Then they give themselves the right words that can make them a better person.
Professional sports players have this state of focus, but they call it being "in the zone." Their coach was the guide that got them to put themselves in that zone. He chose the right moment to say the right words which got them to focus on the job at hand, and most importantly, to not be distracted by the cheerleaders dancing and the crowd screaming and jumping up and down so that they can optimize their talents. Does that make the coach a svengali? Did he control their minds? Is his process against anyone's religion? Are his players weak minded?
And regardless of what the coach tells his players, it's ultimately up to each player to accept what the coach tells them or to ignore him and to also focus on the crowd. If the players accept what the coach is telling them, then they'll do better at the game.
A hypnotist, just like a psychiatrist and a psychologist, guides you into that zone, that state of focus, at which point he then gives you suggestions as to how you should act or feel, but just like the sports players, it is ultimately up to you if you really want to be better.