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  • Writer's pictureChloe Lee

Hypnos, Hypnosis, and Hypnotherapy


By Chloe Lee, CMS-CHt, FIBH


Ancient Healing Trance to Modern Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis was first used in ancient Greece by a priest named Asclepius who used it to treat patients suffering from physical ailments and mental disorders. The priest would put his patients into trance using incense smoke and other methods, performing healing ceremonies in a special space called a "sleep temple." These “sleep temple” treatments could be considered a form of therapeutic hypnosis, although they differ greatly from the advanced collaborative methods used by the top hypnotherapists today.


What Asclepius was creating in his sessions was a healing state (parasympathetic state) where the client's body could completely relax and follow its natural healing intelligence to regenerate. To compare ancient trance work to Integral Hypnotherapy, we could say that the during an Integral Hypnotherapy session, the ancient art of healing trance is combined with subconscious reprogramming and guided imagery to create an entire mind-body transformation.


Hypnos to Hypnosis

In Greek mythology the god of sleep and dreams is named Hypnos. Hypnos was depicted as a young man with wings and a horned cap, presiding over daydreams, nightmares, and the world of sleep. He is the inspiration for the term “hypnosis,” which was coined by Dr. James Braid in the 1800’s. Dr. Braid originally called his medical work with hypnotic (mesmeric) states "neural sleep." His method for inducing trance, or “neural sleep,” was to have patients stare at the steady flame of a lantern until they completely relaxed. This technique for inducing hypnosis is called fixation and works just as well today as it did back then.


At the time "neural sleep" seemed to be the best way to describe what he observed of his patients as they became completely physically and emotionally at ease after staring at the flame. The term "neural sleep" was not well-accepted by his patients, colleagues or the public, so Dr. Braid adopted the term "hypnosis" to describe the sleepy shift in consciousness.


Hypnosis is a Natural Brain State

Modern imaging supports Dr. Braid's observation, showing that the brain wave states that make up hypnosis are identical to the brain wave states involved in drifting off to sleep: Alpha, Beta, and Theta.


As you lay in bed, your brain goes from alpha waves (present during relaxation and daydreaming), down through beta waves (present during active thinking, problem solving and decision making) to theta waves (which occur during deep relaxation). As you go into deeper levels of sleep your brain wave frequency reduces further still - down into Delta wave territory - at which point you enter REM sleep. The brain cycles through these states all night long.


During hypnosis the brain cycles through just Alpha, Beta, and Theta states, creating total physical relaxation while selective thinking is maintained. Hypnosis is a state of heightened focus. When you're hypnotized, you are more alert than when you are asleep and more relaxed than you are in everyday consciousness. Many people who are learning self-hypnosis report that they feel like they are "just resting" or "thinking about something very deeply." If we consider hypnosis as a type of sleep state (which it is), then we can see why it would be easy for us humans to learn self-hypnosis because it's a familiar relaxed feeling!



No Phones in Bed!

Hypnosis is a natural state where you are conscious, but your focus is on your inner world instead of your surroundings. The similarities between sleep and hypnosis make it easy to relax into the familiar feeling of drifting deeper, while the special Alpha, Beta, Theta cycle of hypnosis creates the perfect brain conditions for positive change in the subconscious. Building on the perennial wisdom of the ancient Greeks, and the pioneering medical practitioners who used hypnosis to heal, we can maximize the natural regenerative state of the nervous system in hypnosis by practicing positive affirmations and visualizations (imagery) while in trance.


The combination of physical rest and mental focus that defines the hypnotic state comes naturally to all of us. In fact, anyone can optimize their positive change by repeating positive affirmations right before falling asleep and right after waking up. This knowledge that your subconscious is open to programming while drifting off to sleep and right after waking is also a great reason to avoid using your phone or engaging with other screens right before bed or first thing in the morning.


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