How Does Hypnosis Work? A Scientific Understanding

Does Hypnosis work?
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Ancient sages used hypnosis as a vehicle to commune with the divine…Hypnosis unveils doors to our mysterious, subconscious mind… Within hypnosis, one can rewire their brain and take hold of their entire destiny…

Now, you might be thinking, “Oh, hypnosis. Sounds like a load of new-age, hippie malarky.”

Well, wait just a minute.  

Though there is something undeniably mystical about the hypnotic state, there’s nothing new-agey about hypnosis. Actually, the concept of hypnosis is based on the simple laws of neuroscience.

In fact, over the years, science has been working to answer the all-too-common question, “does hypnosis work?” As it turns out, hypnosis does work. And science can now even answer the question of “how does hypnosis work?”

In this article, we will go over the two main fields of science answering these questions and the best of their findings.

How Does Hypnosis Work?

how does hypnotherapy work?

Inventions of the 20th century sparked new scientific understanding of hypnotic states.

Neuroscientists were able to use Electroencephalography (EEG) to study how the brain operated differently in altered states, while psychologists like Freud and Jung were using hypnotic states to define models of consciousness.

Today, the sciences are much farther along in their understanding.

Now, neuroscientists use advanced brain imaging techniques to gain more insight on the subtler aspects of brain function in hypnosis, while psychologists have evolved the applications of hypnosis into effective medicinal treatments.

Hypnosis is a state of consciousness that affects two different parts of what we normally think of as the same unit:

  1. The mind
  2. The brain

What’s the difference?

The mind is the “software” of your being. It exists in an intangible dimension as the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. It is the programming that creates our thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and perception.

The brain is the “hardware” of your being. It is mostly a network of neurons, which are used to store and transmit information. It must measured in physical terms with neuroimaging and EEG.

The mind and brain, being two different entities, are studied in two different fields of science — psychology and neuroscience — to answer the question of “how does hypnosis work?

A Psychological Understanding: Measuring The Mind

Hypnosis is a door to the subconscious mind.

How does hypnosis work?

While finer details of hypnosis are still being discovered, consistent observations have led to 3 defining psychological markers of hypnotic states.

1. The mind directly affects the physical body

Aside from liberating people from the clutches of depression, anxiety, trauma, and fear, hypnotherapy is also used to alleviate physical pain and has even been used as an anesthetic in surgery.

Top hypnotherapist, Marisa Peer (author of Mindvalley’s game-changing Uncompromised Life program), often demonstrates this fact by having her patients image they are biting into a lemon. Immediately, they feel their mouths salivate in response to this mental image.

If you have an aversion to lemons, you can test this by noticing how your nether regions react next time you have an influx of sexual thoughts.

2. The subconscious mind can be accessed

Our conscious mind is the source of our waking thought. It filters and processes all the sensory information to explain reality in logical terms. Our conscious mind thinks in a language of thoughts.

Our subconscious mind is a database of stored information. This stored information shapes our emotions, behaviors, and thought patterns. Our subconscious mind thinks in a language of emotion.

Under hypnosis, the mind is relaxed into a state where reality is perceived through this subconscious language of emotion. It’s as if the conscious and subconscious minds seemingly vibrate as one.

The filters of conscious thought are silenced, which increases suggestibility (the ability to feel without thought).

3. Imagination and visualization are heightened

The hypnotic state is defined by vivid imagination and heightened emotion — it allows the subject to be in a world independent of their physical surroundings.

The transformative power of hypnotherapy takes place because our brains can’t tell the difference between something that is strongly imagined and something that is actually happening.

A Neurological Understanding: Measuring The Brain

When you use transformational hypnotherapy with the right understanding, you are literally rewiring your brain. Even science has proven this fact.

— Marisa Peer

Scientific observations of the brain in hypnotic states support these 3 psychological markers. To answer the question of “how does hypnosis work?” neuroscientists measure the physical changes in the brain.

Analyzing brainwaves (via EEG) and brain activity and structure (via fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging) has deepened our physical understanding of hypnosis in 3 major ways.  

1. Hypnosis produces theta waves

Our brains create and use electricity to transmit information. This electrical activity can be detected in the form of waves (brainwaves).

The frequency of your brainwaves directly relates to your state of consciousness.

what is hypnosis?

Higher frequency brainwaves (gamma and beta waves) are “tuned” to the conscious, waking mind.

Our brainwaves lower as we relax. The lowest frequency (delta) is tuned to the unconscious mind and is only exists in deep sleep.

The hypnotic state, being a state of subconscious awareness between waking and sleeping, then, is produced in the midrange frequencies of alpha and theta.

In fact, the hypnotic state has tends to shift brainwaves lower — toward the lowest theta frequency. Theta waves are also produced by the brain while falling asleep and in deep meditation and psychedelic states.

2. The imagination and visualization centers of the brain are turned on

Hypnosis changes the location of electrical activity in the brain, which is measured using fMRI and EEG technology.

The right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex (associated with creativity and imagination) is “turned on,” while electrical activity in the left hemisphere (associated with conscious logical reasoning) is quieted.

There is also increased electrical activity in the frontal lobe, the area responsible for alertness.

3. The brain can be healed and rewired

Intentional theta wave inducing techniques, like hypnotherapy, leaves lasting effect on the brain.

When we learn to control our brainwaves, we are exerting control over our brain’s reaction to external stimuli. With reinforcement, our mindful responses become habit and ultimately, the brain is rewired to function differently.

fMRI scans show that people who practice hypnosis and meditation create new neurons (called gray matter) in the brain. These neurons are used for learning, signaling information throughout the brain, and keeping the brain young.

Are you ready to transform self-doubt into self-confidence? Try Marisa Peer's FREE Transformational Hypnotherapy session and free yourself from limiting beliefs that are holding you back.

Have you ever used hypnosis for self healing? How was your experience? Share with us in the comment below!

Natasha Wanderly

Natasha is a happy no-mad with a love for living lucidly, dancing with fire, and talking to strangers. From living with Shamans in the Amazon to studying hieroglyphs in Egypt, she is always on some type of adventure. Every day, she wakes up with two goals: 1.) Be here 2.) Be love.

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