A question I’m often asked in my practice is whether hypnosis and meditation are similar, and what are the differences between them?
Meditation has become increasingly popular in recent years, with Mindfulness leading the way as it’s become widely respected as a tool for life. It’s used for building coping strategies dealing with stress, anxiety, depression or other uncomfortable emotions. It’s used for becoming more self-aware and learning to be more present in the moment. Mindfulness has brought meditation out of the ‘alternative’ or ‘new-age’ circles into the mainstream and even into business and education. This is because more are now realising that mind-wellbeing affects every area of our lives including our health, relationships, and even academic as well as business performance.
For some reason though, hypnosis is still considered by many to be either some kind of myth, a form of entertainment or a sinister tool for controlling people and their minds. All this bad rap is a result of how it’s been portrayed by the media. But in fact, the hypnotic trance and the meditative state are very much the same – the difference being that hypnosis uses this state to get more directed and specific positive change or outcome. Hypnosis is about empowering you; to become more – not less, familiar with and in control of your own mind and its workings. It can boost your learning and change your perception and habitual ways of thinking. As a result it transforms the way you experience life while enjoying more peace and clarity of mind. In my own practice I almost always teach clients the basics of self-hypnosis. In fact, more and more people have recently been approaching me for the purposes of learning this as a personal-development tool rather than for dealing with any specific ‘issues’.
How are meditation and hypnosis similar?
So first, let’s compare hypnosis with the meditative state which are very similar, before looking at how hypnosis can accelerate learning in-line with Mindfulness practice. In meditation, you might start out and/or maintain the state by focusing your attention. Focusing observation on the breath (Mindfulness), a part of the body, a sound (a mantra or repetitive sound or beat), a symbolic image, a feeling or sensation or some kind of universal idea. In hypnosis, in order to enter what we call a hypnotic ‘trance’, you’d also use some kind of specific focus which can be visual (e.g. a spot on the wall or guided imagery), a sound (therapist’s voice, particular music and even noise; roadworks happening just outside the window – true story!) or a feeling (body sensations or movements). The point in both these practices is that the mind needs a very narrow point of concentration. This is in order to gently and gradually move from the conscious mind being the dominant observer and commentator to the subconscious mind taking over. Once the subconscious ‘rises’ to the surface, it becomes accessible and open to communication.
This state is usually described as one of profound relaxation. By ‘relaxation’ I’m not talking about chilling in a hammock or having a Sunday lie-in and late brunch, but on a much deeper level. As the conscious mind and its chatter are quietened down, you can experience a real sense of peace, simply being present and aware. Attention is gradually withdrawn even more from the external and directed inwardly. Your brain activity slows down, almost to the point of sleep but not quite. We experience this state every day naturally and fleetingly when we wake up out of deep sleep or when drifting off into it… This dreamlike state is what’s scientifically named the theta brain state; brain waves ranging between 4-8 HZ – which means they are veeery slooow.
In this state, you can experience high receptivity, vivid imagery, inspiration, more creativity, stronger intuition, stimulation of extrasensory and perception skills and recall of memories. You might also experience sensations of distance and even removal from your perception of the limitations of external reality, as well as of time.
Physically you might feel like you’re floating or that your mind is expanding beyond the boundaries of your body. You might feel much lighter and even weightless. Some don’t feel bodily sensations altogether (this is why hypnosis can be used for pain relief and even as an alternative to anaesthetics). Alternatively you might feel much heavier, almost unable to move – but in a relaxed and comfortable way. You know you could move if you really wanted to, you just really can’t be bothered.
This state is ideal for learning and ‘re-programming’ your mind (physiologically re-wiring and changing habitual neural pathways in your brain). This is because your mind is highly receptive to information and insight which are normally beyond our conscious awareness.
How are meditation and hypnosis different?
One main difference and advantage of entering a trance by using hypnosis rather than meditation is that you typically go into it more quickly, easily and deeply. This is whether within a single session as well as in learning it as a habit and skill. For many, mastering meditation could even take years of practice. Most people I’ve worked with who practice meditation have been surprised by how much deeper, faster and more effortless their experience is when using hypnosis. This is simply because it’s more specifically and intentionally directed.
Another difference is that in meditation, you usually have no particular aim other than to observe the mind or train it to stick to your focus of choice. This in itself is helpful for long-term change as you gradually gain more peace of mind, self-awareness, stability of focus. It also improves your skills of being more present in the moment rather than stuck in thoughts of past or future. Ultimately and over time these benefits result in more joy and contentment.
Hypnosis is different in that you don’t just passively observe, but instead you actively use tools for creating even more powerful (and again, faster!) change. You can do this more easily because this is a state when the mind is most receptive to learning. You do this by using particular techniques, imagery and specific patterns of language. Depending on your personal goals, you can create more specific transformation in perception and experience. So, what you learn through the meditative state alone for personal-development can be learned and more importantly, integrated into your daily life much more quickly and strongly. This is by using hypnotic suggestion and questioning. This is next-level meditation!
That said, years ago during my hypnotherapy training, there was a question I was constantly asking. Why was there no addressing of or using the trance state in itself – rather than always looking at different techniques to do this or that? It seemed to me to be too systematic or technical: ‘if one comes to you with this issue – this is how you treat it; if one comes with that issue, this is what you do’ approach. But what about entering a hypnotic state without giving any specific suggestions or directions at all? This is called neutral-hypnosis, a trance state where there’s no trying to control. Your subconscious imagery and thoughts are free to flow wherever they go. In neutral-hypnosis the trance state is unstructured and un-directed.
This neutral-hypnotic state in itself creates dissociation; a distance between you and your thoughts. You can quickly become aware you’re not the mind but the observer witness – which is also one of the aims of meditative practice. At the time, I was very interested in what this on its own had to offer without going into particular methods to resolve any specific issues… This was way before Mindfulness became so popular. I was even asked to stop wasting valuable class time with my questions (damn it, missed my opportunity to take the world by storm with this ‘new’ approach!)… But more on the relationship between this hypnotic state and principles of Mindfulness later.
Hypnosis vs self-hypnosis
If you experience hypnosis by going to a professional hypnotherapist rather than by doing self-hypnosis, of course there is another difference here. You still sense the presence and have awareness of the other person. In therapy, this communication between you is intertwined with the experience of the trance. A ‘bridge’ is there between the external and your internal world. So in your subjective experience, you may not be entirely ‘free’.
But even though working with a professional might be directed or seem limiting in a way, the role of the hypnotherapist is to provide more choice and freedom. By careful guidance they lead you to better understanding and awareness of your own experience. This encourages and empowers you to be more in charge of your own mind and subconscious. Contrary to what the media has got you to believe, you are never under the control of the therapist. They might be showing you the way – but you must walk it on your own. In fact, some say all hypnosis is essentially self-hypnosis. This is because you need to allow the process to happen in order for it to be successful. You always have the power to resist if you chose to. A door may be opened before you, but you’re the one stepping through it.
Self-hypnosis on the other hand, can bring more freedom as there’s no relating to anyone else. Usually, this will be more of a neutral-hypnosis state. It will be using only few self-instructions that are specific for inviting or reinforcing the state itself or particular change. In order to get the most out of self-hypnosis, you might want to first learn the basics from a professional. Most people find this much more effective and easier than reading about it in a book or guide. Just like with meditation, it requires regular practice. But, as I’ve already pointed out, you’re likely to see quicker and more long-lasting effects.
How are Mindfulness meditation principles boosted by hypnosis?
Now, let’s look at the hypnotic trance state and at principles of Mindfulness meditation and how they can relate to each other and work even better when combined.
You are not your thoughts
First, all meditative practices direct you to the experience that you are not your thoughts. Accessing the subconscious mind through hypnosis naturally calms the conscious, critical mind and the ongoing dialogue in your head. Many describe this as a sense of ‘space’ or quiet within them, where thoughts come up, move and shift. But, as opposed to Mindfulness, there is no trying to refocus on your breath (or anything else you might’ve used in order to ‘train’ or quiet the mind. Instead, the mind is free to roam, while you’re able to use the ‘space’ itself containing the thoughts as your continual point of focus.
Becoming more aware of this experience, you realise more easily it’s simply the mind’s nature to come up with endless thoughts and ideas, and that none of it is a ‘part’ of you. They simply arise and dissolve (when not obstructed). You realise this is all mind-chatter, not your chatter. By practicing this, your thoughts don’t tend to stick around. As a result, you learn that there’s actually no need to ‘try and still the mind’, but instead you can just allow it to do what it does – as you become less reactive to it. This way, your mind becomes naturally quieter and stiller.
With practice, you can then learn how you’ve always got a choice – and how to better take on the useful stuff and disregard what’s not. You gradually learn the principle of non-judgement. This is because in this state you simply welcome whatever comes up with less intrusions of the conscious, critical mind.
What comes up includes the more uncomfortable stuff you’ve been trying to avoid or push away from yourself; unresolved issues and/or unpleasant thoughts and feelings. But in the state of trance you’re so deeply relaxed and there is the sense of distance or dissociation from whatever it is you’re observing. So as a result it becomes easier to do. After some time (with patience! We’ll get to that) you’ll find that you’ve moved beyond the blocks and discomfort and onto much better feelings as you continue experiencing the next principles…
Trance states are characterised by more vivid and clear imagery. Adding this to having less mental critical self-talk, you’re naturally less judgemental. Have you ever tried to criticise something or someone by thinking in pictures only, without words (I challenge you, try now!)…? This also helps to see that all experiences are just stories and that there is no inherent good or bad. That there is no meaning at all to things other than what you attach to them.
Through your own non-judgement towards yourself, you then begin to adopt this same attitude towards other people, things and events. This brings as a result acceptance – another Mindfulness principle. Accepting of the external and of yourself just as you are is essential before any real positive change can happen. Otherwise you’d be suppressing and pushing away stuff instead of dealing with them to become truly free of them.
Hypnotic trance can help you become much more self-aware in other ways too. This because you’re more able to explore parts of your mind that have been inactive. You can become more conscious of long-forgotten memories, particularly those that offer you benefit (such as that time you did feel confident and succeed which you completely forgot about). You become aware of endless resources that are available to you. You also recognise the limitations and beliefs standing in your way – most of which self-imposed.
Letting go and non-attachment
In trance, you must also be willing to be completely honest with yourself. This is because your subconscious might reveal to you information you won’t like, but which is actually very useful. You’ll have to face and accept this information if you truly want to make any progress. The good news is, that your mind only brings up what you’re ready and able to deal with. This is because it’s a tool that ultimately wants to serve and protect you. And it’s because of your acceptance, and that you become naturally more dissociated from thoughts or emotions when in trance, letting go and non-attachment are so much easier.
Non-striving and patience
Non-striving is also a characteristic of the neutral-hypnosis trance. As opposed to directed hypnosis, no techniques are used to get anywhere in particular or to resolve a specific issue. Instead, trance is brought on for the sole purpose of being in trance and allowing any experience to happen. This leads to patience, as you’re in each moment just aware of the experience, not rushing to achieve or change anything. Usually, with regular practice, things progress on their own as you begin to find that the trance state in itself is the stillness which allows for anything else to arise. It’s the white screen on which everything, all your stories, are projected. In a sense, you realise this is your core which is always at peace. So this is different to directed hypnosis where you give very specific targets along with time frames of when you’d like to see them achieved.
In trance, you become dissociated from your thoughts and stories your mind constantly re-creates. As a result you become more quickly aware of the fact that your beliefs are also made-up; untrue and limiting. Beliefs are created and maintained subconsciously, and so in order to change them, we need to access them on this deeper level. When in trance you can more easily break the ‘auto-pilot’ mode you’re in most of the time. This is because now you’re the one in control – in the driver’s seat.When there’s communication with the subconscious, it’s much easier to change or just drop unhelpful beliefs, pre-conceived ideas or habitual reactions. It’s easier to face each moment with what Mindfulness meditation refers to as ‘beginners mind’.
Some say going into hypnotic states is in fact ‘coming out of a trance’ rather than going into one. This is because we become de-conditioned of all the automatic thoughts we’ve adopted or have been programmed with over our lifetimes.
Let’s sum it up
So…hypnosis allows you to access the power of your mind by learning how to interact with your own subconscious. It gives you tools to communicate with your subconscious, in its own language. Over time you can become more aware of all that it’s got to offer you, and you develop a trust in it, in yourself, your intuition and your own knowing and experience. All this while enjoying more clarity, peace of mind, improved and stronger focus and more joy in the present moment.
Great, where do I start?
If you’d like to learn self-hypnosis, I’d recommend at least initially, going to a professional rather than reading about it or watching a video. They’ll be able to teach you the basics and offer a high quality direct experience. This will help you to understand the process better, use more efficient tools and answer any questions you might have.
Of course, do make sure the hypnotherapist is properly trained. You’ll also want to feel relaxed and comfortable with them, so don’t be shy to contact them and ask them questions before you book your session. A good practitioner understands the importance of your trust and feeling safe so they’ll be happy to answer and help. Otherwise, there are many books out there to help you out – with a bit of research you can find the one you feel is right for you.
If you’re interested in how I can help you with learning self-hypnosis, feel free to contact me for a session or for more information! Alternatively, keep in eye out for my workshops by signing up to my newsletter or joining me on FB. Online tutorials will also be coming soon so be sure to stay updated!
And remember, shifts take time, but time will pass anyway! So why not use it, making them one step at a time…