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Insomnia is an eerie experience. As night falls, all the other apartments are dark, but in yours, a light burns and you are wide awake.
All my life, I had slept instantly. Sleeplessness was new. It started with COVID-19. I had reason to worry. I’m a heart transplant recipient prone to infections. I’m also single with no family close by. When the virus was spreading like bushfire, nonstop chatter kicked off in my head: I’ll never survive if I’m infected. Then my sister contracted the virus. She was in critical condition and I was on edge for three days and three nights. By the time she turned the corner, I had lost my sleep altogether.
My cardiologist prescribed an anti-anxiety drug for a month. “You must sleep. Your heart needs rest,” he said. After 30 nights of good sleep, I stopped taking the medicine and lay down expecting a miracle. But sleep did not come.
I consulted a tele-therapist. “The pandemic has affected everyone,” he said, and prescribed a tranquilizer for another 20 nights. When I discontinued that medicine, sleep anxiety ballooned inside me once again. I began to feel strange in the head.
I had been trained in self-hypnotic meditation 26 years ago, and have used it when seeking answers to my problems—often with surprising results. Frustrated with my condition, I decided to see if it would help me identify the root of the problem.
What is self-hypnotic meditation?
Sigmund Freud, the “father of modern psychology,” reasoned that emotional and psychological problems such as pain, depression, and anxiety often lay buried in the conflict between the conscious and unconscious mind. He used psychoanalysis to bring what exists at the unconscious or subconscious level up to consciousness.
In India, yogis were used to penetrating the unconscious mind long before Freud. They knew it was the repository of all our life events, memories, and emotions. My meditation teacher, Mohan Pawar, had trained me to meditate in 1996. He taught me how to hypnotize myself and recall the hurtful moments, responses, and frustrations in my life.
Many people think of hypnosis as some sort of magic trick or side show. But the National Cancer Institute defines hypnosis as “a trance-like state in which a person becomes more aware and focused on particular thoughts, feelings, images, sensations, or behaviors.” Hypnosis is a commonly used technique for pain relief, stress reduction, and anxiety. You will see it offered to help people quit smoking or lose weight. It can also help patients access repressed memories and traumas.
A person under hypnosis may feel calm and relaxed. They may respond to suggestion more easily. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis because ultimately it is you who controls the process. No one can hypnotize you against your wishes, and you can come out of it at will.
“When you concentrate, you focus on your breath and relax your mind. If, in that state, you surrender yourself to the subconscious, and ask questions, it gives you the answers,” my teacher said.
How I used self-hypnotic meditation for insomnia
I lay down in Savasana (Corpse Pose), closed my eyes, and focused on my breath. Soon, I began to loosen and relax. As I meditated deeper and deeper, I experienced intense concentration for a while before entering a trance-like state. My mind had moved to a subtler plane where I was no longer aware of my physical body.
In that state, I addressed my mind softly: “You hold all my memories secure with you. Please take me to the cause of my insomnia.” For a while, there was complete silence; I don’t know for how long, because time flies for me during meditation. As if searching on the internet, I could see my mind surfing, probing. I waited respectfully.
The answer, when it came, knocked me down. I explicitly heard my mind tell me: “You’ve kept yourself safe from the infection. So stop imagining and feeling anxious you’ll catch Covid-19.” As I heard those magic words, instant relief flooded me.
I had suffered for 11 years. First with cancer, followed by chemotherapy-induced heart failure. The transplant had given me respite from that harrowing existence. I dreaded falling ill again. At the conscious level, I could not recall when the niggling thought had sneaked itself into my subconscious and triggered insomnia, but my unconscious, in meditation, had ingeniously retrieved it. When I came out of my hypnotic state, I was at peace. I have slept well since.
Viney Kerpal is a writer and former professor based in Pune, India.
The science behind hypnosis
According to the Sleep Foundation, hypnosis is a shift in consciousness wherein people are no longer aware of what’s going on around them and seem to be in a kind of trance. You may appear to be asleep, but you are focused in a way that seems “zoned out.” Under hypnosis, your brain function shifts so that you become more receptive to suggestion, but you’re still able to control your decisions.
While more studies are needed, research supports hypnosis as a promising treatment for sleeplessness. You might think that it’s the hypnosis itself that puts you to sleep. It’s not. Instead, the process helps change thoughts or habits that interfere with your rest; it can also help you maintain better sleep habits. It can be combined with cognitive behavioral therapy or other treatments. The goal is to help you sleep better after hypnotherapy, not during a session.
To begin a typical session, the hypnotherapist explains the processes. Then you’ll be asked to visualize images or think relaxing thoughts as the hypnotherapist guides you on how to enhance your attention and deepen your focus. Once you are in the trance state, they can make suggestions to help address your insomnia. You may be encouraged to let go of anxiety about sleep or to adjust your sleep schedule. When it’s time for your session to end, you are guided back to full wakefulness.
It’s possible for you to learn the technique, so you don’t have to rely on someone else to hypnotize you. Self-hypnosis with a video or audio recording may help insomnia. A recent study that focused on menopausal women found that self hypnosis helped them sleep more soundly.
Self-guided meditation and hypnosis are generally safe, but if you have experienced trauma, these techniques should be done with a trained hypnotherapist or only if you’ve mastered the technique with a qualified trainer. –-YJ Editors