Perhaps you are interested in using hypnosis to help you achieve the goals you have set for yourself, or perhaps you are just curious and interested to learn more. If you are thinking of trying some of the many hypnosis products that are out there but find yourself being skeptical, or even nervous, about what happens in hypnosis then read on.
Firstly What is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a state of mind we have all experienced before. It is a naturally occurring state between wakefulness and sleep. Scientists will tell you that your brainwave pattern will be in the Theta-band (as opposed to Beta, which is wide awake, and Delta which is asleep), but as far as you are concerned it is best described as being in a daydream, or ‘trance’ if you like. There are lots of examples of everyday trances – here are a few:
o When you day-dream you are in a light trance – you’ll remember that detached feeling you had at school when you gazed out of the window in a really boring Geography lesson.
o When your eyes are fixed on the flames in a log fire after a long day. You wont even feel like blinking.
o When you are ‘glazing over’ during a conversation with someone really boring and then having to appologise: “Sorry, I was miles away. What was that you were saying?” You are ‘there-but-not-there’.
In each of the above examples you will be momentarily focussed on one thing – it might be the shape of a cloud in the sky, the flickering flames, or the mole on the guy’s chin – for a few moments your mind filters everything else out, except this one thing, whatever it may be. This filtering phenomena is the key to understanding trance and we will learn more about it later.
Imagine you are at the movies. The film is fantastic, its exciting, exhilarating, emotional, terrifying… Why? It’s only a projection on a screen. The more focussed on the film you are, the more the fact that it is a projection on a cinema screen is kept at an unconscious level. Pretty soon you become so caught up in the story that you are ‘entranced’ by the film. All the emotional content of the film is going straight to your unconscious mind without being vetted by your conscious mind. You believe it, you laugh and you cry. Lots of things will be kept at the unconscious level. The smell of stale pop corn will still be there, but that filter mechanism will decide not to trouble your conscious mind with such a trivial bit of sensory information.
And it doesn’t stop there. For the duration of the film all those niggling worries about money, relationships or work will be kept at bay – and what a relief it is! Some people call it ‘escapism’ – I call it trance. If its a good enough film you will even filter out pain or discomfort – that’s analgesia. I expect in the really exciting bits of a film you have had your hand freeze half way between the bag and your mouth, this is ‘catalepsy’. These are both scientifically recognised states found in profound hypnosis – and here we are experiencing them in the cinema on a Saturday night!
Trance really is an everyday occurrence – and one we can use to great benefit.
So, you are in the cinema watching the film and you are totally absorbed. Your brain is still monitoring your surroundings, but it is not sending this information to your conscious mind. Your unconscious mind, however, is still acknowledging everything. If the smell of pop corn was to change to the smell of burning, your unconscious would sense the possible emergency and break you out of your trance. Your unconscious mind is your guardian angel – it keeps a constant vigil, day and night, protecting you from danger and keeping you safe. Many people can sleep through violent thunder storms because the unconscious mind knows that, although noisy, it is not a threat. Therefore it choses not to send the information to your conscious mind and wake you up!
It is this filtering process in the brain which is the key to understanding Hypnosis. Using the guidance of a skillful hypnotherapist, or the voice on a CD, you can deepen this daydream state.
So the next question is:
How is this trance state useful?
When you are in trance you can communicate with your unconscious mind. And why would I want to do that, I hear you ask. Well, firstly lets really define what the unconscious (or as some people would call it: ‘subconscious’) mind actually is:
You have probably heard statements like: we only use 5 percent of our brains. Well, if that were the case why is it the size that it is? Obviously the rest of the brain is still being used for something. It might be safer to say that our conscious mind only uses 5 % of our brain. Perhaps our unconscious mind uses the other 95%.
Now, think of all the things you never think about: Breathing, pulse rate, sweating, growing, healing, digesting, blinking, even waking up in the morning. The subconscious mind looks after all of this for you, and loads more. There are millions of things right now that you might not be conscious of until I mention them: like the feeling of the back of the chair on your shoulders, the sound of the fan in your computer, the memory of your first bicycle… As I mentioned them to you your brain’s filter diverted the information to your consciousness. Your brain monitors the sum total of everything that you are experiencing and only sends the important, relevant information to you, your conscious mind. The conscious mind can handle about seven bits of information at a time; the unconscious mind handles millions of bits of information every second. Here are some examples:
o Imagine you are in a crowded room where everyone is chatting away creating a hubbub of noise. If someone in the room starts taking about you and mentions your name, your filter will pick that out of the noise and alert you to it.
o You are scanning through a broadsheet newspaper and suddenly you just know that you saw the name ‘Britney’ somewhere on the page. “I saw it there somewhere… I just know I did…” You then have to spend ten minutes trying to find it. Your unconscious takes in the whole page using your peripheral vision and will filter out the relevant bits and send the information to your conscious mind. Your brain is, at this very moment taking in a staggering amount of information. If you were aware of all of it, with no filter in place, it would be like trying to listen to a thousand different radio stations at once! Thank goodness we only use 5% of our brains!
Your subconscious also stores your emotions. And I’m sure you already know how difficult it can be to over-ride emotions. The subconscious always wins. Walk across a plank spanning 2 tall buildings and your emotions will very quickly present themselves to you, even though your conscious mind knows you are perfectly capable of walking in a straight line. Similarly, if you have been nervous for an audition or performance before, you probably subconsciously believe that you will be again next time. This we can change using hypnosis. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to go into any performance situation feeling confident and in control? And so long as you prepare properly there is no reason why you shouldn’t. We just need to over-write some self-limiting beliefs with some empowering new ones. And this is when we do it – when we are in trance.
If the brain’s filter mechanism focuses on just one thing (could be your breathing, or a sensation, or a thought, all the other sensory information that is being monitored by your brain is not being forwarded to your consciousness – including the suggestions given to you in hypnosis. Your brain, amazing bit of kit that it is, still ‘hears’ the words – it just does not see the point of alerting your conscious mind to them. It hears the suggestions, thinks “Hmmm, I like the sound of that”, and accommodates it into your new beliefs and habits.
Now you would be forgiven for thinking that that you could go around hypnotizing people to give you all their money, or get them to tell their boss that he is an Orang-Utang, but fortunately the unconscious mind has another function: it is your very own guardian angel. It will under no circumstances accept any suggestions that are potentially harmful or against your code of ethics. It’s such a shame that Hollywood has misunderstood hypnosis and portrayed it so woefully in-accurately. You cant be brainwashed, you cant get stuck in trance forever and you will not quack like a duck unless that is something that you really want to do.
What happens in a hypnosis session:
o 1) The induction. This talks you down into a deeply relaxed state. When the body relaxes, so too does the mind. You experience a tranquil peacefulness – your mind balanced between being awake and asleep, but still 100% aware. You’ll perhaps know that your nose itches, but you cant be bothered to move your hand to scratch it. Just 2 or 3 minutes in this trance state can be as refreshing as a two hour nap!
o 2) Next the suggestions go in. “I feel confident”, “I exude a powerful stage presence” and so on and so forth. When using commercial hypnosis CDs and tapes, there are often multiple suggestions coming from both sides of the stereo image. The conscious mind will only be able to track one or two sentences at a time, leaving the third to slip through to the unconscious ‘under the radar’ so to speak. With some CDs ‘subliminal’ suggestions are recorded very faintly in the background – you cannot hear them ‘consciously’ but many believe that the unconscious mind will pick them up and act upon them. I personally believe that there has to be some evidence that these subliminal suggestions are actually there. You do not need to catch every syllable of a sentence to understand its meaning and if a CD has faint voices buried in the mix, I believe that the unconscious is acute enough to home in on these suggestions and act upon them.
o 3) Finally the Wake-up. Since you are not asleep ‘wake-up’ is completely the wrong term. I prefer ‘outro’ (the opposite of ‘intro’) myself. Here there are often extra suggestions to the effect that you’ll find it even easier to go into trance the next time, or that you’ll be able to go deeper. Then there will be some kind of command to return to the normal waking state. This is often a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. If you find you really drift off very deeply during the hypnosis session you might only hear the last couple of numbers. This is a good indication of a deep trance. If you were very tired when you started the session you might actually drift off to sleep. The suggestions wont be as effective, so try choosing a less comfortable chair and time your session when you have more energy. In fact, if you suffer from insomnia just leave the outro off the play list!
As well as suggestions, you can also use guided visualizations during trance. This is phenomenally effective. Sports men and women have been using this technique for years, but we can all do it. The Cosmetic Surgeon and Psychologist Maxwell Maltz was the first to understand that the brain cannot tell the difference between a real action and a vividly imagined action. Think about that for a moment. Your intellectual, rational conscious mind knows the difference, but your unconscious mind doesn’t. When you are not conscious, you’re asleep… and when you are asleep you vividly imagine things, don’t you? Yes you do, it’s called dreaming! And don’t dreams feel one hundred percent real at the time? I call it real-virtual-reality! It’s true: the brain cannot tell the difference between a real action and a vividly imagined action.
So, if we vividly imagine feeling alert, enthusiastic and confident as we play a few dozen times, then when we perform for real – the brain thinks, “OK, here we go again, I’ve experienced this before”, and you’ll find yourself feeling alert, enthusiastic and confident – just like you imagined. The only rules are that you have to make the visualisation as real as you possibly can, and as often as you possibly can.
Sadly we have all been the victim of negative visualisation! In a recording session 20 seconds before the end of the take, the musician might screw up because he had ‘seen him/herself’ screwing up. They get more and more tense as the take rolls on all the time thinking “I bet you I miss that twiddly bit in the coda”. Sure enough, they do. Negative visualisation is just as effective as positive visualisation. Using hypnosis we can turn that around.
But where did we learn to be so down on ourselves? Humans only have two innate fears: sudden loud noises and the fear of falling. All other fears are learnt, which implies that someone taught us or that we have taught ourselves. Perhaps your teacher at school was a bad communicator and you did not achieve very much – you might then be of the opinion that you were not very talented. Often when we were children our teachers only told us what to learn and not how to learn. With the right learning strategy we might have achieved much much more, instead we have mentally rubber-stamped ‘mathematics’, for instance, as being difficult. Stage-fright has to be learnt. As youngsters if we are not prepared for performing in front of an audience, we are like a rabbit in the headlights – petrified. A one-off negative emotion like this can be enough to trigger the same reaction every time you perform. The situation triggers the memory, and it does not seem to matter how deeply the memory might be buried in your unconscious, you might not remember the experience consciously at all, the reaction is the same – racing pulse, knotted stomach, sweaty hands – all classic fight or flight responses, all inappropriate, and all preventing us from playing at our best. Imagine having the stage presence of Mick Jagger or the confidence of Buddy Rich, the command of Yasha Heifitz or the focus of John Coltrane. Well why not? You just need to take a few steps toward re-programming your unconscious. It wont replace the need for practise, but often it is not our physical abilities that let us down, it is our mental state. We can all play like gods in our bedroom, but on stage in front of a couple of thousand people it is not so easy!
Hypnosis changes the irrational beliefs we have about ourselves and all of a sudden we break through the blockages that have been there for years. The key is in the imagination and the ability to enter that perfect mental state for learning – ie trance, be it light trance or deep.
For more details regarding Self Hypnosis for Musicians visit www.musicianshypnosis.com.
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