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How Hypnosis Works


The Unconscious Mind

An iceberg can serve as a useful metaphor to understand the unconscious mind and how it can work more cooperatively with the conscious mind. As the iceberg floats in the water, the huge mass of it remains below the surface. Only a small percentage of the whole structure is visible above the surface. In this way, the iceberg is like the mind. The conscious mind is what we notice above the surface while the unconscious mind, the largest and most powerful part, remains unseen below the surface.

The concept of a bifurcated mind, part conscious and part unconscious has been present in culture for thousands of years. Many subcultures have formed to explain the power of the mind that does not seem to be derived from our conscious thinking. That most of us can relate to the conscious/subconscious concept is in it self somewhat amazing. But to say that science has found the mind a difficult problem to explain would probably be considered an understatement.

In our metaphor the small amount of iceberg above the surface represents the conscious mind; the huge mass below the surface, the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind holds all awareness that is not presently in the conscious mind. All memories, feelings and thoughts that are out of conscious awareness are by definition "unconscious". It is also called the subconscious and is known as the dreaming mind or deep mind. Knowledgeable and powerful in a different way than the conscious mind, the unconscious mind handles the responsibility of keeping the body running well. It has memory of every event we've ever experienced; it is the source and storehouse of our emotions; and it is often considered our connection with spirit and with each other.

No model of how the mind works disputes the tremendous power which is in constant action below the tip of the iceberg. The conscious mind is constantly supported by unconscious resources. Just think of all the things you know. If you drive, you use over 30 specific skills ­ without being aware of them. These are skills, not facts; they are processes, requiring intelligence, decision-making and training. Besides these learned resources which operate below the surface there are critical natural resources. The unconscious mind regulates all the systems of the body and keeps them in harmony with each other. It controls heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, the whole endocrine system, and the nervous system, just to name a few. This normally automatic work turns out to be wonderfully adjustable by intention. We say this loud and clear, before going on because the relaxed trance state makes all this hidden strength easily available for directive and supportive use.

With relaxation and trance, we move the tip of the iceberg aside so that we can access and communicate directly with aspects of the deep mind that are not ordinarily in consciousness. During the experience, the conscious mind remains awake and observant, but resting.

The conscious mind, like the part of the iceberg above the surface, is a small portion of the whole being. The conscious mind is what we ordinarily think of when we say "my mind". It's associated with thinking, analyzing and making judgments and decisions. Then too, it is looking and listening and feeling. The conscious mind is actively sorting and filtering its perceptions because only so much information can reside in consciousness at once.

Only seven bits of information, plus or minus two can be held consciously at one time. Everything else we are thinking, feeling or perceiving now along with all our memories remain unconscious until they're called into consciousness or until they rise spontaneously. By invoking a relaxed state we can help the conscious mind get out of the way and allow us to access powerful unconscious resources to foster in ourselves relaxation, relief from pain and anxiety and control of physiological processes like blood pressure and heart rate.


Imagination

The imagination is the medium of communication between the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind. As indicated in the illustration of the iceberg, the imagination is at the surface of the water. It functions like a semipermeable membrane where some, but not all of the content of the unconscious mind can come into consciousness.

Communication through the imagination is two-way. The conscious mind can also use the medium of the imagination to communicate with the unconscious mind. The conscious mind sends suggestions about what it wants through the imagination to the unconscious. It imagines things, and the subconscious intelligences work to make them happen. This process is utilized for many divergent endeavors. The suggestions can be words, feelings or images. Athletes commonly use images to mentally rehearse how they want to perform by picturing themselves successfully completing their competition. A tennis player may see a tennis ball striking the racket at just the right spot, at just the perfect moment in their swing. Studies show that this form of imaging improves performance. It teaches, making changes in the brain which are lasting and exhibited during actual competitions. Imaging appears to create new neuro-pathways which actually help to support or even create the intended outcome. Other studies show that during the imaging practice, physiological changes take place throughout the body. This is kind of neat. It means that just doing some delightful imagining can actually result in learning which can then be experienced physiologically.

Another example of the use of imaging is affirmations. Positive verbal suggestions (affirmations) can be delivered by the conscious mind's mental voice such as, "I feel strong." "I am healing quickly." "I feel good." In hypnosis we assist the creation of this form of image for use by the unconscious intelligences. With the client in a relaxed state, the practitioner can be the conscious mind's representative and deliver suggestions directly to the unconscious mind. Rapport obtains permission and hypnotic techniques deliver the goods. Then the body and whole mind respond.

For most people, the unconscious mind uses the imagination much more often than the conscious mind. New ideas, hunches, daydreams and intuitions come from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind through the imagination. An undeniable example of the power of the lower part of the iceberg is dreaming. Dream images, visions, sounds and feelings come largely from the unconscious. Those who are aware of their dreams know how rich and real they are. Even filtered, as they are when remembered later by the conscious mind, dreams are powerful. Many people have received workable new ideas and insights, relaxing daydreams, accurate hunches, and unexpected intuitive understandings by replaying their dreams in a waking state. These are everyday examples of what happens when unconscious intelligences and processes communicate through the imagination with the conscious mind. Unfortunately, the culture has discouraged us from giving this information credibility. "It's just your imagination" is a commonly heard dismissal of information coming from the deep mind.

To carry the iceberg metaphor forward, each person can be represented as an iceberg, with a part of ourselves deeply submerged. It's as if there's is a place in the depths where all of these icebergs come together and connect with each other. Psychology calls this the "Collective Unconscious". This is the area of mind discovered by Carl Jung where all humanity shares experience and from where we draw on the archetypal energies and symbols that are common to us all.

The unconscious connection "under the iceberg" between the practitioner and client is an important factor in the success of the hypnotic interaction. The practitioner learns to recognize their relative "connectedness" with the client and to modify their behaviors to increase the sense of connection. The practitioner also learns how to tune their intuition to this connection so they can learn more easily from the client and get intuitive guidance about how to proceed with the hypnotic interaction.

In the hypnotic state, it is also easy to access valuable information and deep parts of the self that can help promote relaxation, comfort and healing. This same state can make it easy to locate and heal ordinarily unconscious programming and parts of the self that have produced unwanted experiences or behaviors.

"Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, while all parted from it by the filmiest of screens there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different."

William James


Brain Waves

As the client relaxes in the hypnotic state, their brain waves decrease in frequency. The lower the frequency of brain waves, the deeper the state, and greater the access to the unconscious. In the hypnotic state it is natural for a person to move from a lighter state to a deeper state and back to again to a lighter state. In the hospital, for example, the Anodyne patient will change frequency of brain waves regularly throughout a procedure, and it's easy for the practitioner to help the patient move deeper or lighter as appropriate.

Brain waves are very low frequency waves measured in Hertz' (Hz), or number of cycles per second. There are four general categories or levels of brain waves.

BETA (13 and 30 Hz) waves are the highest frequency brain waves. This level of brain activity is considered "normal waking consciousness" and is characterized by rational activity including judgment, analysis, use of language and mathematics, etc.

In Beta, a person is actively thinking and there is usually an inner voice either asking questions or making statements. For example a client may hear their inner voice say: "What is going to happen next?" "Am I relaxed enough?" "I always have anxiety at times like this." "This hurts." "Am I doing this right?" Usually, the more anxiety or pain, the more Beta.

ALPHA (8 and 13 Hz) brain waves are generated when a person is relaxed. Also a normal waking state, Alpha is characterized by relaxation, openness and receptivity. In this state of consciousness a person is able to absorb new information, become more resourceful and at ease, and open to new possibilities.

In Alpha, the conscious mind is closer to the imagination and therefore closer to the unconscious mind. Typical activities where Alpha waves predominate include: listening to music, freeway driving, watching television, walking in nature, and resting with no agenda.

THETA (3 - 8 Hz) is ordinarily considered to be a sleep state characterized by rapid eye movements (REM) and dreaming. In the hypnotic state however, Theta is an awake state where the client can experience vivid inner imagery including sounds, touch and even olfactory perceptions.

In Theta, the client is aware of their surroundings, but not interested in them. Their attention is drawn inward to the dream-like activity in the imagination. In the awake Theta state the client is easily in touch with material that is ordinarily unconscious. The lower range of Theta is particularly rich in imagery. However, interactive experiences where the client is verbally communicating with the practitioner require some Beta activity. Therefore, brain waves predominately in the upper levels of Theta are usually ideal for interactive techniques, and most often include quite good imagery.

DELTA (.01 to 3 Hz) is the deep sleep state with no dream activity. Although a person in Delta is ordinarily asleep, it is also possible to be in an awake hypnotic state in Delta. When this happens, the client is unaware of their surroundings, including all body sensations. The client experiences no imagery, and the only sensation is a blissful feeling of peace and contentment.

In trance, the very low frequency of Delta waves is ideal for pain control. Most medical procedures do not allow sufficient time to induce this deep state, however many Anodyne patients can reach Delta during their procedure as they naturally fall asleep from the Theta or Alpha state.

As a person enters the trance state they leave Beta and the controlling aspects of the conscious mind and move into Alpha, Theta and sometimes even Delta frequencies, the realm of the unconscious mind.

Hypnosis and other techniques of inducing and utilizing trance states are very powerful tools for self-transformation. Process coaching is an easy and convenient way to learn to use these tools for yourself, to become your own therapist.


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