Hypnotherapy, Yoga Nidra & Meditation - What’s the difference?
An idea that takes root in the subconscious mind has no capacity for reasoning and MUST be discharged in motor action – whether a good or a bad idea. Essentially every word uttered to a subject in a hypnotic state such as those experienced in some meditative, or relaxation yoga practices (e.g. Yoga Nidra) may result in uptake of post hypnotic suggestion and thus influence that individual’s actions. It’s therefore of utmost importance that everything said or thought during mediation, hypnosis or a yogic practice should be positive and beneficial.
To highlight the importance of the correct use of wordings in suggestion I’ll use an example not only from clinical hypnosis but self imposed diets restrictions we’ve mostly all tried at some point. If you relax/hypnotise (same thing) somebody and tell them “Don’t eat cake”, the subconscious mind will invert the suggestion and that person will want to eat more cake than before – seemingly unable to get the thought of cake from their mind!
Instead however, if you use the suggestion “You will be amazed at how unbelievably easy it is for you to choose the foods that will help you become and remain slim and healthy” the subconscious will result in obeying the suggestion and change a previous desire for junk food to one for healthier choices. It’s important to think about what you DO want NOT what you don’t.
"Think about what you DO want and NOT what you don’t"
So what exactly is hypnosis?
First of all it’s important to highlight that there is no such thing as a “special” state of hypnosis. It’s a very ordinary phenomenon that we pass in and out of several times every day. That blurry place between sleep and awake and any time in fact you are engrossed in an activity such as work, a hobby, long distance driving, yoga, meditation and relaxation practices – where external stimuli are mostly blocked out. A hypnotic “state” is just a feeling of being relaxed coupled with a heightened state of awareness brought about by suggestion or auto-suggestion. In fact it’s often said there is no such thing as hypnosis – only suggestion.
So what’s the difference between hypnosis and meditation?
One definition of meditation is the absence of thought and to just be. If a person is mulling over a problem during meditation, they are actually thinking and therefore no longer meditating in its truest sense.
Clinical suggestion therapy (hypnotherapy) on the other hand, is to direct specific thoughts to affect a desired outcome, i.e. stop smoking, lose weight, manage pain, or stress etc. In hypnosis, just as in guided meditation the hypnotherapist may guide your imagination down a path, but instead of just suggesting a stroll through beautiful scenery the hypnotist skilfully uses suggestion to achieve predetermined goals – reduce exam test nerves, stop nail biting, develop confidence etc.
Guided meditation, can also suggest you see, hear and experience with as many senses as possible. Some people may smell the flowers, feel the breeze, and hear sounds in an internal picture whilst also deepening relaxation and lowering anxiety levels. There is little difference in concept from the hypnotherapist script except the actual suggestions themselves and resultant behavioural change.
It’s what you do, or think about when you are in a state of relaxation that differentiates between meditation, hypnotherapy, Yoga Nidra, or simple day dreaming etc. All are permissive processes. No one can force you into hypnosis. Otherwise hypnotists would already rule the world by simply obtaining your bank details, or have you run around like a chicken for their entertainment! Similarly in guided meditation, no one can make you go down the path and smell the flowers if you don't want to.
Suggestions given in a hypnotic state that are against your personal code of conduct, morality etc will not be taken on board by the subconscious and thus will not be acted out. It’s an all too common misconception that hypnotists can “control” your mind. Both hypnosis and meditation can be used for the better good of the individual. You may simply need to decide which word sits more comfortably with you. If meditation is a more palatable title for you, then by all means meditate! However, if you need more guidance, or the mere mention of the word ‘meditation’ brings up thoughts of rigid discipline that sends you tense, then by all means go find a well qualified hypnotherapist.
One important thing to learn.
When meditating or practising self hypnosis it's essential to ensure you use only positive suggestion. Even the most dedicated of yogi’s wanting to practice their Sadhana (dedicated spiritual exertions towards achieving enlightenment) will not be able to escape Emile Coue’s “Law of reversed effort” where the force of the Imagination is in direct ratio to the square of the Will. Essentially where there is conflict between the imagination and the will, the imagination wins hands down every time. So the more you sit and think “I am going to blank my mind, think of nothing and meditate” the more thoughts will flood in by the truck load. A lot has to be said for surrendering to the observing Ego state and detaching from the thoughts themselves via the reliable vehicle of self or induced hypnosis. Entering that natural state of hypnosis by-passes the critical factor of the conscious mind, thus effecting negation of our daily distracting thought stream. This is the very basis of mindfulness meditation, chanting and other “one pointed focus” practices.
This law of reversed effort is also the explanation behind the phenomena of subjects in hypnosis/relaxation experiencing suggested physiological effects such as heavy or light limbs, heavy eyelids etc. Most Yoga Nidra practices (usually after deepening, internalising and body scan) utilise the reverse law with suggestions of developing first one sensation such as heat and then the opposite ice cold, pain/pleasure, heaviness/lightness etc. Yoga Nidra and other ancient practices have been using the natural state of hypnosis therapeutically for thousands of years.
Hypnosis in itself is not a particularly useful thing. It’s only when it’s coupled with positive suggestion that it becomes useful and therefore therapeutic. In Yoga Nidra this suggestion is your Sankalpa or a short positive affirmation or statement of intent. If you can’t think of one yourself then you can’t really go wrong with our man Emile Coue’s classic cover all for everyone…
”Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better and better”.
About the Author
Alice Pinion BSc (Hon’s) AdvDHyp, is an experienced therapist holding clinic in Maldon, Essex and working with clients worldwide online. www.alicepinion.co.uk
Alice is a published author,
qualified Sivananda Yoga Teacher and qualified Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist.