Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hypnosis and the Eight Limbs of Yoga by John Mongiovi, CH


Hypnosis and the Eight Steps of Yoga
by John Mongiovi, CH

As a hypnotist, I often teach workshops on self-hypnosis and sacred chant at Yoga Centers, and some of my students have asked if there are similarities and relationships between hypnosis and Yoga. Usually, someone in the group points out that hypnosis is similar to “yoga nidra,” the deep, trance-like state that yogis experience during meditation. In both yoga nidra and hypnosis, the body is intensely relaxed and the mind highly focused. The comparison doesn’t end there; in Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis Dr. William Kroger points out that there are great similarities between hypnosis and the eight steps of yoga that are set forth in the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.[1] I’d like to explore the relationship between yoga and hypnosis in this brief summary. My interpretations vary slightly from Dr. Kroger’s, but all credit goes to the master for making the initial comparison:

Yoga Step 1: Yama is restraint, self-control, and discipline. 
Yoga Step 2: Niyama is faithfully observing strict rules.

These first two steps of yoga are analogous to the motivation and discipline needed to approach hypnosis. Most methods of mental healing reply upon a positive expectation that any person can achieve the outcome when certain steps are followed.

Yoga Step 3: Asana is placing the body in the correct posture and sitting still.
Yoga Step 4: Prānāyāma is controlling your breathing. 

In hypnosis, posture and breathing facilitate deep relaxation. Posture and breathing exercises also serve to misdirect the attention. When a person’s attention is diverted by focusing automatic motor movements (like breathing or muscular twitches) and automatic sensations (like tingling or floating) the conscious mind is kept busy and out of the way, allowing beneficial suggestions and imagery to be imprinted upon the subconscious mind.

Yoga Step 5: Pratyahara is withdrawing your thoughts from the outer world.

Pratyahara resembles the “depersonalization” that takes place in hypnosis. Depersonalization is what’s happening when you feel like you are outside of yourself, watching yourself act, with no control over your actions. It happens to some extent when we are daydreaming and suddenly feel as if we couldn’t move even if we tried.  In some situations depersonalization brings a sudden expansion of mental perspective (“Eureka! I never seen it that way before!”), or emotional perspective (“Suddenly I just feel great, and I can’t explain it!”), which seems to fix the problem automatically and permanently. Depersonalization can be positive and spiritual. Kroger points out that the goal of nirvana, the state of complete liberation, is strikingly similar to the depersonalization and other dissociated states that characterize hypnosis. Depersonalization can also be negative, and can be the result of trauma or prolonged stress. To some extent, a person who has automatic bad habits or compulsive thoughts or worries experiences a degree of depersonalization by not having conscious control of their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. In such cases, the goal of hypnosis is to bring the person back to their own identity in a balanced and positive way. So hypnosis is a powerful tool to achieve depersonalization when needed, or stop it when undesirable. Hypnosis influences this aspect of the mind so effectively that many well-known phenomena of stage hypnosis rely on it. For example, it is the epitome of depersonalization and disassociation when subject is made to forget his own identity and assume he is another person, or is made to lose control or feeling in part of the body.

Kroger writes that the first five steps of yoga (yama, niyama, asana, prānāyāma, and pratyahara) involve the creation of a favorable mental attitude of expectancy, which is necessary to approach and induce hypnosis. The last three steps (dhāranā, dhyāna, and samādhi) are then analogous to the responses that occur during hypnosis.

Yoga Step 6: Dhāranā is concentrating the mind on the body. For example, in yoga, a person might focus concentration on particular chakras or parts of the body. 

Concentration on posture, and breathing initially assist in relaxation and divert the attention of the conscious mind, in both yoga and hypnosis. Again, both in dhāranā and in hypnosis, further attention on the sensations of the body (or any other point of fixation) keeps the conscious mind busy so that positive suggestions can influence the subconscious mind.

Yoga Step 7: Dhyāna is holding steady focus on a single object or idea.

Repetition is one of the most elementary principles of hypnosis. Suggestions and imagery are brought to the mind again and again. Repetition works because the mind chooses its subjects of thought automatically. Redundancy (repetition) gives the mind more bits of positive information from which to choose. When this positive information outnumbers negative information (like worries and negative self-talk, for example), it becomes more likely that the positive thought or emotion will become chosen automatically and unconsciously. 

Yoga Step 8: Samādhi is feeling oneness with the object of meditation.

In hypnosis, as in the final step of yoga, we seek to be one with the goal. This is the key to how hypnosis helps people with problems they have had for years. Many people approach their problems by struggling against them. For example, the smoker feels engaged in a mortal battle (literally) with cigarettes, or the overeater has a love-hate relationship with sweets (they love the sweets, and hate themselves for giving in). Hypnosis breaks that cycle, not by empowering the person to struggle harder against the problem, but by leading them to experience thoughts and feelings that will accompany the goal when it is achieved. When the subject is aligned with states of thinking and feeling that support the desired behaviors, they are one with the goal, and corresponds to Samādhi.

We may observe in the eight steps of yoga and in hypnosis that true healing and balance are achieved not by addressing symptoms, but by aligning the mind with a higher state of consciousness. Yoga is more than stretches or exercise; it is a path by which an individual may achieve overall physical healing and balance. There are different types of yoga, but they all achieve their effects by helping the person to achieve union with a higher state of consciousness. Likewise, the real magic of hypnosis takes place when the mind is lifted from its previous state to a higher plane of thought. When the problem is seen from a new perspective, a paradigm shift from the previous state to a new state is achieved.

This is only a summary comparison of two very complicated subjects, but I hope that it can in some way benefit those who are involved in the practices of yoga and hypnosis. When we see the parallels between ancient systems of healing such as these, it reminds us that we are one human family, all with the same goal of human health and happiness. If we follow these universal prescriptions for balance and healing, we are bound to think, feel, and be better!

March 13, 2014


[1] There are different types of yoga: karma yoga (the path of action); jnana yoga (the path of knowledge); bhakti (the path of devotion); and rāja yoga (the path of meditation). The Yoga Sutras form the basis of rāja yoga.

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