You have your asana practice, meditation, and pranayama to help you handle stress and feel grounded, and now you have hypnosis, too. While your ideas of hypnosis may consist of dramatic stage hypnotists and CDs that enable you to quit smoking, new innovative hypnosis treatments look very different: imagine instead being on your living room floor with an app, a meditation pillow, and a soothing aromatherapeutic candle. Hypnosis has gone DIY.
A new study conducted by researchers at Baylor University found that this combination of mindfulness and hypnotherapy may successfully reduce stress and anxiety. The treatment, known as “mindful hypnotherapy,” integrates hypnosis with mindful therapy practices, such as repeating mantras, acknowledging personal values, and tracking your senses.
According to Gary Elkins, PhD, director of the Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory at Baylor University, participants were introduced to the concept of hypnosis and received suggestions for deepening relaxation, focusing attention and imagining nature-based imagery throughout the session. Elkins said practitioners of hypnosis begin by focusing their attention outward on an external source (such as an object) and then shifting that attention inward. By shifting this attention inwards, practitioners have a greater capacity to experience different feelings, images of sensations, he said.
Conducted over an eight-week period, the study randomly assigned 42 college students with self-reported stress to two different groups. One group attended weekly hour-long sessions consisting of hypnotic inductions and mindfulness practices. The individuals in this group also received 25-minute self-hypnosis audio recordings, which they were encouraged to listen to at least once a day. Transcriptions of these recordings are in Elkins’ book, Mindful Hypnotherapy: The Basics for Clinical Practice. The second group did not participate in any interventions.
Those who participated in the interventions rated their satisfaction with the treatment as 8.9 on a scale of 10 and reported a substantial reduction in stress and anxiety and increase in mindfulness. Those in the control group reported no significant difference in their stress levels at the conclusion of the study.
“The success is likely due to the increased receptivity to positive ideas in a hypnosis state, increased mindfulness, and emotional relaxation,” Elkins said. “The integration of hypnosis and mindfulness may allow individuals to achieve reductions in stress and anxiety in less time and to a greater degree than either method alone.”
According to the American Psychological Association, more than 200 studies cited mindfulness interventions as effective therapy treatments for stress, anxiety and depression. Researchers point to mindfulness as an effective tool to improve the body’s response to stress, as it can alter the brain’s stress pathways.
Past research has identified both hypnosis and mindfulness as powerful stress reduction tools. An 2019 article published in Palliat Care categorized hypnosis as a meditative state that can enable practitioners to feel calm and relaxed. And other studies have shown that hypnosis inductions can alleviate both emotional and physical pain.
Those interested in practicing mindful hypnotherapy at home can download free self-hypnosis audio recordings to integrate into their mindfulness practices. Additionally, some U.S. cities have in-person mindful hypnotherapy coaches who can help guide you through an intervention.
How to Practice Mindful Hypnotherapy
Mark Stephens, a hypnotherapist, meditation expert and founder of the MindFree app said the combination of mindfulness and hypnotherapy can allow practitioners to come to a deeper state of relaxation than typical hypnotherapy practices. Conversely, hypnotherapy advances mindfulness practices to new levels by enabling the practitioners to fixate on an obstacle they want to overcome and the specific result they would like to achieve, Stephens said.
For those interested in engaging in mindful hypnotherapy at home, Stephens recommends the following practice:
Step 1 - Find a quiet place where you can sit back or lie down and won’t be disturbed for 10 to 15 minutes.
Step 2 - Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you without labeling them. Notice your thoughts and how you are feeling without attaching a story to or judging them.
Step 3 - Feel your breath flow in and out of your body. Don’t force your breaths – just watch, feel or listen to your breath fall naturally in and out of your body in its own rhythm. Focus your awareness on your breathing.
Step 4 - Add an affirmation. As you inhale quietly repeat in your mind the word “peace” and as you exhale think the thought “release”. Feel peace flowing in with each breath and as you exhale allow your body to relax and release any tension. Allow the thoughts of peace and release to continue for several breaths.
Step 5 - Once you feel yourself sinking into a deep relaxation use the power of your imagination to see and feel yourself overcoming challenges, mentally rehearsing the achievement of goals and making positive changes in your life. You may find it helps to visualize yourself in a beautiful natural setting such as a beach, rainforest or mountaintop as you feel stress and anxiety floating out of your body.
Powerful affirmations become stronger still when you’re in the state of hypnosis; consider including affirmations such as “I feel at peace I am at peace,” “my body is healing,” “I am strong,” “I am in control,” “if it is to be it is up to me,” “I am open and honest,” “I deserve to be happy," “I am worthy,” “I am grateful," “I am good enough," “I am a survivor."
Step 6 - When you have completed your mindful self-hypnosis session, bring your awareness back into the space you’re in with several deep breaths or by slowly counting from one to five as you feel the energy re-enter your body.