Here’s a fun fact: you enter a state of hypnosis at least two times a day.
Hypnosis has a long and checkered past, especially in entertainment with the swinging pocket watches, clucking like a chicken, and other pop-culture clichés.
But the ever-lingering question is, “Is hypnosis real?“
Yes, it is. It’s used as a legitimate form of alternative therapy for a variety of health conditions, like pain, anxiety, depression, trauma, and eating disorders.
Let’s dive into finding out what hypnosis is, how you can experience it, and how it can benefit you.
What Is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis, hypnotic, hypnotize — there are so many terms of hypnotism. What’re the differences? Our good friends over at Merriam-Webster dictionary have answers to the question:
A trancelike state that resembles sleep, but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject
Tending to produce sleep: of or relating to hypnosis
1) To induce hypnosis in or 2) to dazzle or overcome by or as if by suggestion
The study or act of inducing hypnosis
But these hypnosis definitions fail to mention that we don’t need a hypnotist to enter a state of hypnosis — actually, we enter hypnosis all the time.
When Do We Experience Hypnosis?
Hypnosis is the trance-like state of heightened concentration between normal waking consciousness and sleep.
Simply put, we enter a state of hypnosis right before we wake up and slip into this hypnotic state every night as we fall asleep.
It’s like a dream, yet you feel a subtle awareness. And as you let go of your awareness, you are engulfed in the cycle of unconscious sleep.
You know, those pulsating shapes and colors that form behind your eyelids as you fade away from normal waking consciousness… The visual haze that slowly morphs into defined objects, people, and landscapes… The way your thoughts begin speaking a language of sounds, images, smells, emotions, and feelings…
Well, how about when you get completely “zoned out” while driving home from work that you don’t even remember details of the drive? Or when you space out completely, get lost in a daydream, and stare wide-eyed at nothing?
These are all states of hypnosis.
What makes hypnosis real is when our conscious and subconscious minds seemingly vibrate at once. We become so focused on our inner world that the outer world temporarily ceases to exist.
And we often don’t recognize it happens.
For this, we experience no control over how long we stay in hypnosis or how deep we go. And we rarely influence or direct the experience as it becomes more dream-like.
How Does Hypnosis Work?
Scientists use EEG (electroencephalography) to measure states of consciousness through brainwaves, which are categorized into 5 groups based on frequency (from highest to lowest):
- Gamma (above 40 Hz) — The Insight Wave
- Beta (14 – 40 Hz) — The Waking Consciousness and Reason Wave
- Alpha (7.5 – 14 Hz) — The Deep Relaxation Wave
- Theta (4 – 7.5 Hz) — The Meditation and Sleeping Wave
- Delta (.5 – 4 Hz) — The Deep Sleep Wave
Higher frequencies are associated with high-intensity alertness, while lower frequencies are associated with relaxation.
During normal waking consciousness, our brains are typically functioning in the beta frequency. As we enter deep sleep, our brainwaves lower all the way to delta (unconsciousness).
The hypnotic state exists between normal waking consciousness and sleeping.
The magic of hypnosis is that it lowers our brainwaves from the beta frequency to the midrange frequencies of alpha and theta — between the conscious and unconscious. Within these midrange brainwaves, the subconscious mind is expressed through emotion and vivid imagery.
How hypnosis can help heal
In this hypnotic state, the subconscious mind is open, focused, and highly suggestible.
EEG readings show that we can actually fall into a state of hypnosis (of varying intensity) several times throughout the day. Not just before falling into a deep sleep and before waking, but also while daydreaming, getting lost in a book, and even while doing something repetitive like driving home from work.
You know that feeling of being so into a book or movie that the rest of the world seems to disappear and you lose track of time? That is a state of hypnosis. Surely, you are familiar with this flow-type state in one way or another.
How Is Hypnosis Performed?
The act of inducing hypnosis — hypnotism — can be real. Hypnotizing someone is a real art form, but a person can only be hypnotized if they are open to being hypnotized.
This is good because we wouldn’t want to be hypnotized by random people on the street!
Amongst a crowd of people who are potentially just seeking the attention of the spotlight, how does the hypnotist pick out someone who really believes they can be hypnotized?
The hypnotist chooses certain people from the crowd by judging their suggestibility. This works because some people are naturally much more suggestible than others.
These highly suggestible people are known as somnambulists, or more commonly known as sleepwalkers. Studies show that they make up about 10% – 15% of the population.
Before the show, the hypnotist will find the somnambulists by interacting with a group of contestants. The hypnotist will ask questions and take note of each person’s answers and reactions. They look out for specific body language, vocal tones, eye movements, and more.
Do you ever see contestants discarded from the stage? That is because they aren’t passing the somnambulist test.
Who Invented Hypnosis?
Hypnosis can’t really be invented since it’s a state of mind that everyone encounters at least twice a day.
In fact, hypnosis has been an adorned mental state since ancient Egypt and Greece (and perhaps earlier). In Greek mythology, Hypnos is the God of Sleep (literally meaning “to sleep”). So, we could say that ancient Greece actually “invented” the term hypnosis.
But who turned this mysterious state into a worldwide practice of medicine?
The controversial evolution of hypnosis
Most accurately, we can look to a man by the name of Dr. Franz Mesmer. During the late 18th century, he made a discovery that would shape the field of psychiatry forevermore.
Dr. Mesmer noticed that some of his patients could be spontaneously healed, just by making changes in their state of consciousness.
He described this ability to change states of consciousness as a type of magnetism. It sounds strange to us now, but he actually called this discovery “Animal Magnetism.”
But it wasn’t quite a “discovery.” More accurately, it was more a rediscovery. A rediscovery of a powerful tool from ancient times: the controlled induction of trance-like states of consciousness for healing.
Although his work had extraordinary medical potential, his methods were fear, shut down, and “proven” false at the order of King Louis XVI. Animal Magnetism was stigmatized and banned from medical practices.
However, he had many strong devotees and his practices were still used in secret. Over time, they expanded and evolved, becoming known as mesmerism.
Perhaps the word mesmerize makes a bit more sense now?
Over the next century, mesmerism stood strong and evolved into the modern field of neuro-hypnosis (nerve sleep), or hypnosis for short.
Moreover, this exciting and personally healing concept of hypnosis has even evolved outside of professional medical settings.
What is hipnotízame?
Hipnotízame is an enclitic form of Spanish verb hipnotizar. So, what does that mean for us English speakers? Quite simply, “Hypnotize me.”
In further translation, this term refers to the idea that you can actually hypnotize yourself.
That’s right — no hypnotherapy appointments, no hypnotist, no bills; just you working intimately with your own mind. After all, no one knows you like you do.
The concept of self-hypnosis has become increasingly popular over the ages. You can learn even more about it in our guide to all things self-hypnosis.