Hypnotic pain relief – an explanation

Where will you be during the heat death of the universe?
I’ve talked about 10 approaches of hypnotic pain relief (https://theunitedstrengths.com/blog/f/approaches-of-hypnotic-pain-relief), but how does hypnosis work?
First, you need to understand the neuroscience of pain. Pain starts as a signal that is carried by your nerves and there are several ‘gates’ that can block the signal from getting to the brain. If the signal doesn’t get to your brain, you don’t feel pain. If the gates are ‘open’, then they let the signal through to move towards the brain.
Gate 1
It all starts when a danger signal is produced. This is then picked up by the nerves in that area. If you touch a hot stove, then a danger signal at your finger tips is produced which the local nerves in finger tips pick up. The first gate is this local nerve picking the signal up. An example of it being blocked would be putting local anesthesia over your arm before getting a shot. The chemical anesthesia blocks the nerve from picking up the signal, so even though there is a stimulus (the shot), it never gets to the brain so you don’t feel pain.
Gate 2
The local nerve that picked the signal up then connects to the spinal cord. Here the nerves of the body end and the transition from this nerve to the nerve of the spinal cord forms ‘Gate 2’. An example of blocking this gate is what most people would think of as a nerve block, when they inject anesthesia into your spinal cord. This is very general, but the body is able to be very specific with what nerves it ‘blocks’. By the way, the chemical anesthesia used in the body is called endogenous opioids (commonly called endorphins). This endogenous (meaning created by the body) opioids can be released at Gate 1 and at Gate 2 to relieve pain.
Gates 3 and 4
The nerves of the spinal cord then go up your spine all the way to the base of the brain, the brain stem. Here the brain stem and a structure called the thalamus act as a funnel and front desk to the brain. Signals that aren’t important (think about all the hundreds and even thousands of sensations your body is getting every second from your skin, muscles, ears, eyes, nose, and more) are blocked from distracting our attention. Signals that are important make it through the funnel and go to the front desk. The thalamus is the front desk – signals from all over the body come here and the thalamus tells them where to go in the brain to report their findings. In this example, the danger signal will make it through the funnel because danger is almost always considered very important. It will then go to the thalamus/front desk who will tell it to go to the finger sensation part of the brain.
Only when a danger signal has reached the sensation part of the brain, do we become consciously aware of it – an experience that we call pain. If, at any point, that danger signal is blocked, then it won’t reach the sensation area of the brain and it won’t be experienced as pain.
Chronic pain
When you’ve had pain longer than 6 months, changes are made at every level of the nervous system that generally make you more sensitive to signals in that area of your body. These changes are top-down, meaning the brain tells the rest of the nervous system to adjust the sensitivity. Thus, for relief from chronic pain, addressing the brain has the biggest bang for your buck.
Hypnosis for pain relief
Hypnotic approaches for pain relief mostly fall into 3 categories: desensitization, altering salience, and shifting experience.
Since the nervous system becomes sensitive to danger signals, using hypnosis to desensitize the nervous system works very well and at each of the gates. There are 3 levels of this:
  1. Normalizing sensitivity: when the body is hypersensitive, sometimes just getting it back to normal sensitivity is all that’s needed.
  2. Desensitize to pain (analgesia): this goes beyond reducing hypersensitivity to normal sensitivity. It takes it a step further by actually desensitizing your body to pain signals in general. This is most useful for chronic pain relief.
  3. Desensitize completely (anesthesia): this is complete desensitization. The area is desensitized to all sensation, not just pain. This really is useful just for pain relief that only is needed for a short duration. An example would be inducing numbness in the arm for a shot. Some people have a natural ability for hypnotic anesthesia and can even undergo surgery without any medication and feel no pain.
Altering salience
Salience is how important a signal is. If you twisted your ankle crossing the street, your ankle would hurt. But if a car was coming at you and you twisted your ankle, it wouldn’t hurt at all and you would run out of the way. It wouldn’t hurt in the moment because the pain was much less important than the car and feeling pain would possibly be a life threatening distraction. Later, once you were safe, the ankle would hurt because it was now the priority.
Hypnosis can alter salience in several ways. One way is dissociation where you feel separate from your body and thus the signals from your body are unrelated to you. Another way is being so absorbed in something else (high salience), you don’t notice the pain. This is like forgetting your headache when you’re wrapped up in a thrilling movie. Often in hypnosis, so many suggestions are given for comfort and relaxation that that experience overrules anything else. Hypnosis often involves interesting imagery like relaxing on the beach which you can be so immersed in that you don’t notice anything else.
While this approach probably seems less helpful than the other 2, it’s actually probably the most common form of pain relief in the medical community in general. There’s a phenomenon called the ‘x-ray effect’. When someone badly twists their ankle and they fear they might have broken it, they have a lot of pain. But, when the x-ray comes back and shows that it isn’t fractured, they immediately feel better and quickly recover. This is an example of how decreasing salience can significantly help pain and recovery. Setting someone’s mind at ease can be very powerful. It’s important with hypnotic pain relief that the client is reassured that pain they need to feel, they will. And pain that isn’t so important, they don’t need to feel. This respects their body’s need to protect them through pain, but only to the extent that is appropriate and helpful.
Shifting experience
This is when the intensity of the pain is not addressed, but rather how the pain is experienced. As such, suggestions for shifting experience only really take place at the highest level of pain processing, which is in the brain itself. This method can be just as powerful, and even more powerful in some cases, than the other 2 categories. Often when a person is convinced they must have pain (usually those with a terminal illness), suggestions to decrease the pain are ineffective. However, powerful relief can be accomplished by shifting the pain experience to something much more manageable.
Time distortion can be used where pain that normally lasts hours can be shifted to just last minutes or seconds. Usually this is paired with amnesia so as soon as the person starts feeling pain, they immediately go into trance, have the shortened pain, and then come out of trance with no memory of the pain and continue whatever they were doing. This not only reduces the pain experience but also the fear of pain which can be just as debilitating.
Pain itself can also be shifted. One shift is substitution for a different feeling. This happens by chaining the pain from one thing to the next. If someone has a burning pain, the focus can be shifted to burning. Then it can be shifted to the sensation of heat. Then to warmth. Then to the warm, tired feeling of relaxation. Another shift is displacement. This is moving the pain from one area to another. Again, some people truly cannot conceive of not having pain, but the pain they have is very debilitating. This is often trunk or leg pain which limits moving around. The pain can be displaced into the arm or even a finger. Thus they still have the pain they feel they must have, but it is in an area that doesn’t limit them as much.
Hypnosis for pain relief is very real. The mechanisms are carried out through alternations in the regulation of the nervous system. This goes from the level of the brain, down the spinal cord, and all the way to the level of the local nerves. If purely physical interventions (surgery, injections, medication, massage, etc.) haven’t helped you, then consider harnessing the power of your nervous system to get you the relief you need.

Approaches of hypnotic pain relief

Keys – always in the last place you look.

There are 10 broad approaches I can think of that are useful for hypnotic pain relief. Each of the things listed will just be a general approach. For any given approach, there are many techniques to accomplish the desired effect.

This list is meant to pique interest in hypnosis as a clinical tool as well as illustrate that their are many ways to accomplish your goals. If one approach doesn’t work for you, there are several other avenues a clinician can go down with you. People tend to naturally respond to certain hypnotic phenomenon better than other ones. Someone may not respond to dissociation suggestions but can achieve anesthesia easily. In the end, the same result is accomplished – pain relief.

Below I’ve listed the 10 broad approaches as well as some general information on them and common usages.

  1. Analgesia. This is the classic and most straightforward approach. Analgesia is changing your body’s sensory processing so that you don’t feel the sensation of pain. However, you are still able to feel other sensations such as pressure and temperature.
  2. Anesthesia. This is taking analgesia a step further. The body’s sensory processing is altered so that you don’t feel anything at all. In other words, it’s inducing numbness. This is the effect most commonly used for preparing people for surgery. The difference between hypnotic analgesia and anesthesia is mostly just a matter of scale. Here are 4 common ways of producing this effect. Direct suggestion – once trance is induced, you can directly suggest that their hand/body part will go numb. Chemical anesthesia – you can have them visualize receiving a chemical anesthesia such as gas or a numbing cream. Cold anesthesia – you can have them visualize dipping their hand/body into an ice cold river/body of water and feeling it go numb from the cold. Nerve conduction anesthesia – you can have them visualize a circuit metaphor where the circuits are their nerves and they can control the switches to the nerves. By ‘turning off’ the switch to the back (for example), the nerve would no longer carry the signal from that area, resulting in numbness.
  3. Sensory shift. This is similar to analgesia/anesthesia, but instead of taking away a sensation, it relies on just altering the sensation. A specific example is in hypnobirthing classes (hypnosis to help with childbirth) the suggestion is often given that contractions will be perceived as ‘baby hugs’ and every contraction brings you closer and closer to getting to see your baby for the first time. This alteration helps change contractions towards being a positive sensation. A more general usage of this approach is to help someone change the focus of the pain sensation. Most people can describe their pain in a particular way using pain descriptors – burning pain, squeezing pain. With a sensory shift, you suggest they notice the pain by focusing on the descriptor, but then you add an adjective. So if the descriptor is burning, you could draw their attention to notice that it’s a quick burning. If they don’t agree with that adjective (quick in this case), you can just keep trying other ones until they agree. You then shift their attention towards focusing on the adjective (the quickness). Ultimately this changes their pain experience (which is almost always helpful) and often changes it to something much less distressing, here going from a burning pain to a ‘quick’ feeling.
  4. Alter sensitivity. If you twisted your ankle, it would hurt. If you twisted it while a car was coming at you, it wouldn’t. This is because, at that moment, the signals coming from the ankle would be relatively unimportant compared to the car. The brain would filter out these ankle sensations to prevent them from grabbing your attention. Imagine if it didn’t – your attention would be focused on the ankle and you’d likely get run over. The brain can learn to filter some sensations out by altering the nerves’ sensitivity to that information. Often the nerves of a certain region have become hypersensitive. Hypnosis can be used to return that area back to a normal level. Technically, this is probably a very similar, if not identical, application as analgesia or even anesthesia, if all sensation is filtered out. I make it a separate approach for 2 reasons. First, this is used to return hypersensitive regions to normal sensitivity, while analgesia/anesthesia both remove sensation. Second, altering sensitivity can actually be used in the opposite direction. Some people expect sensitivity with an experience, so the idea of numbness is inconceivable. An example is going to the dentist or getting an operation. For some people, it’s too much to believe that they can just have that done without any pain and so they can’t accomplish hypnotic anesthesia. In these cases, you can suggest hypersensitivity of a different region and tell them they will need to protect that area. Dr. Erickson did this with someone who was getting dental work done. He induced hypersensitivity of one of the man’s hands and the man was so focused on protecting his hand from being touched that he developed a spontaneous anesthesia of the mouth (which he previously hadn’t been able to do).
  5. Dissociation. This is the feeling of being out of your body. You can be dissociated from your entire body – feeling like you’re in two places at once or you are outside of your body. You can also be dissociated from a part of your body – like you can see your arm, but it doesn’t feel like it’s part of you. This is a very useful approach, especially for anyone who participates in guided visualizations very well. When you get involved in a visualization, say a relaxing trip to the beach, you are automatically dissociated because you can feel yourself at the beach but you’re also aware that you’re in the room in trance. Many hypnosis techniques that are used suggest some form of dissociation, often floating out of your body. This adds the comfortable feeling of floating as well as dissociation.
  6. Association. While this sounds like the opposite of dissociation, it is actually closely related because you cannot have one without the other. Association is becoming completely immersed in a separate experience. You can become so immersed that you don’t notice what’s happening to your body. An everyday example is being so absorbed in a movie you forget the headache you had. In hypnosis, this can be doing a guided visualization and they become so immersed that they feel like they are actually there. This would be the association effect, while the dissociation effect is feeling like they are there but also feeling like they are in the room with you. If someone associates into a pleasant visualization, like relaxing on the beach, then they won’t have pain. You can also give suggestions to associate into a feeling, like the feeling of comfort or relaxation.
  7. Time distortion. How fast or slow time feels is subjective. If you’re having a great time, 2 hours can feel like 10 minutes. Sometimes you might feel like you just went to sleep, only for your alarm to wake you up 6 hours later. This effect can be recreated with hypnosis. It is used for people who have waves of pain (often due to a severe illness like cancer or a neurological disease). The unpredictability of the waves of pain makes it very hard to use medication and often medication won’t help that much without very high doses. Hypnosis is used in these cases to distort the person’s sense of time so that the hour of pain they actually have only feels like a few seconds/minutes of pain. Some people are also strong responders to hypnotic amnesia which can be paired with time distortion so that they don’t remember their wave of pain. This can considerably reduce their suffering. From the outside it would appear that their pain begins and they go into trance for the duration of the wave. From their perspective, they just briefly zone out (go into trance) and then go on with their day like nothing happened (even though in real time an hour might have passed).
  8. Ideomotor effects. This is the name for hypnotic suggestions that affect the muscles. A general application of this is deep relaxation. Many hypnotic inductions and routines contain suggestions for relaxation. Deep relaxation can help pain in a general way, but you can also associate into the relaxed state so that you only notice the relaxation and not the pain. In deep hypnosis, some call this the Esdaile state – a state of hypnosis that people have been able to perform surgery in without chemical anesthesia. A more specific application is called catalepsy which refers to being unable to consciously move. An example would be suggesting that someone’s arm can’t move, even if they try to lift it. If a person responds to these types of motor suggestions, you can suggest they ‘lose’ their arm, meaning they can’t feel it or even be aware of it. This often is accompanied by spontaneous anesthesia since they have ‘lost’ all awareness or connection to that body part.
  9. Behavior modification. Hypnosis is probably most often used to make changes to behavior automatic and pain management is a great place for this. There are certain behaviors that can be helpful (like exercise) and some that can be harmful (like lifting with your back). Hypnosis can help people change their behaviors much more easily and this can help significantly reduce pain, or even eliminate it completely depending on the cause.
  10. Healing. Probably pretty much any hypnotist you talk to has had both professional and personal experiences with using hypnosis for healing. The most scientific explanation I can give you is that hypnosis has been demonstrated to affect blood flow to certain areas and this may help the healing process. In any case, it’s never harmful to give suggestions for healing. While healing isn’t directly a pain control technique, it is indirectly (in that, once an  a healed area won’t hurt in the future). Also, adding suggestions of healing tends to have a natural pain control effect even without suggestions for pain control because of the natural association between healing and pain going away.

EBS – Enraged bowel syndrome

Clean up on Aisle 2 in 3… 2… and… 1!

If hot lava is flowing out of you and someone asked you at that moment “how are your bowels?”, you are limited to saying they’re irritable. You have ‘irritable’ bowel syndrome. There is no stronger language. Even if your bowels are notably more than irritated even, dare I say, enraged. There is no need to water down IBS.

Now, I’ve spoken to some bowels before and sometimes they do snap at you. They are definitely irate. But most people don’t know that hypnotists are bowel whisperers. In a review of the research of hypnosis for IBS (“The Efficacy of Hypnotherapy in the Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis“), hypnosis was demonstrated to be effective at both improving abdominal pain and GI symptoms.

An acquaintance once called me due to gastric distress and pain. I guided her through a hypnosis routine commonly used for IBS (which I’ll detail below), giving suggestions for comfort and relaxation. Afterwards, she was able to tell me that she was feeling significantly better. Before, she was having such bad pain that medication wasn’t touching it and sleep was an impossibility. After, she was much more comfortable and she told me the next day that she was able to go to sleep and wake up feeling even better.

So why is hypnosis good for IBS? IBS is a disruption of your body’s normal digestive system. You have 2 systems in your body: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is your ‘rest and digest’ system. When it’s dominant, your body is calm and is focusing on normal things like smooth digestion. The sympathetic nervous system is your ‘fight or flight’ system. When it’s dominant, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, blood flow is increased to the muscles, and digestion is disrupted (no need to waste energy smoothly digesting food when you have to run away quickly). This system is dominant whenever you’re stressed because your body thinks it’s in danger and triggers all these reactions to get ready to fight or flight (run away). Hypnosis is used to help people’s parasympathetic nervous system take the reins more, thus allowing smooth digestion to happen by their body’s natural mechanisms.

This is accomplished with hypnosis routines that are very relaxing. They involve enjoyable imagery and suggestions for comfort. The body responds by relaxing, which is done by the parasympathetic nervous system.  This skill can then be used by the person during episodes of stomach distress, but also as a way of lowering stress in general. The more you use it, the more it helps. Probably the most common type of visualization is to add a metaphor of smoothness and flow, to help the body ‘smooth’ digestion and let it flow normally. Any scene that involves a flowing river accomplishes this effectively. With my acquaintance, I guided her through a relaxing hike in the mountains where she could enjoy a calmly flowing river. Just like how this smooth, flowing river could be in her head, the smooth flow of the river could be in her body.

If IBS (or even EBS) is disrupting the flow of your life, then give hypnosis a try. While it’s generally easiest to work with a hypnotist in person, you can also do it at home by practicing relaxation, meditation, or listening to relaxation recordings. Practice once a day when you’re feeling relatively good (and not having strong symptoms at the moment) to develop this skill. You can also do it extra times during the day when you do have GI distress for relief.

Pre-meditated meditation

“Peace. Peace. Pees. I have to pee so bad now. No! Focus. Peace. Mmm, peas.”

If you’ve ever had trouble learning how to meditate, it’s probably because you tried to do it while you were already stressed out. The thought process is that meditation is good for stress relief, but that’s really only true if you already know how to meditate. Otherwise, it probably just seems frustrating and ineffective.

Fortunately, your body has a natural way of making this process easy. Every 90-120 minutes your brain activity alternates between high and low phases, like a wave. This is called the basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC). Most people have heard of this during sleep – you go up and down, alternating between deep sleep and light sleep. But this cycle continues during the day. For 15-20 minutes every 2 hours or so, you’ll hit the peak of alertness. This is when you’re super productive and engaged. About an hour or so after that, you’ll hit the low phase for 15-20 minutes. This is when your brain feels foggy, you might feel fatigued or tired, and you read the same sentence 17 times and have no idea what it said. Most people try to ’wake themselves up’ during this ‘slump’ by moving around, drinking coffee or some other stimulant.

This rest phase of the BRAC is actually your body’s natural way of trying to de-stress though! By skipping this phase, most people will become more and more tired throughout the day, which is why people often experience the effects of stress at the end of the day.

If you learn to be sensitive to when your body is telling you to rest, then not only will you be able to function much better during the day, you’ll also sleep better at night. This rest phase of the BRAC is the ideal time to practice meditation as well! Because your brain is already zoning out, you don’t have to worry about quieting your racing thoughts like you would when trying to meditate while being stressed out. All you have to do is notice when your body is telling you to settle down. Once you notice this, you can set a timer for 15-20 minutes (or not) and just let yourself zone out. Many people like to close their eyes and they may even nap, but that‘s not necessary if you don’t want to. It’s important that you don’t do anything during this time. Even if you consider watching YouTube a relaxing activity, it is still stimulating your brain. Now is a time to just zone out and let your thoughts wander. Many people also try to ‘calm’ their thoughts or ’empty their mind’. This is also unnecessary and, in fact, you should allow your thoughts to go wherever they want.

After the 15-20 minutes, you can rouse yourself back to being alert and continue on with the rest of the day until you feel it’s time for another break. While this cycle does happen many times throughout the day, it’s not necessary to take a deliberate rest break every time. Generally 1-3/day is enough to significantly improve your stress, energy, productivity, and sleep.

Pyramid scheme – rob your clients of their pain!

You too can learn to make complex rock sculptures after a single 6-hour seminar!

Hypnosis is based on eliciting different ideodynamic phenomenon, such as the ideomotor response of muscular relaxation or the ideosensory response of feeling like you’re floating. Everything is on a scale though. For relaxation, it can range from light relaxation in the face muscles, to full body relaxation so deep the person can’t even move (similar to sleep paralysis). For sensation, this could range from a mild feeling of lightness in the hand to complete anesthesia (the Esdaile state or hypnotic coma used for hypnosis-assisted surgeries).

In order to elicit these more powerful responses, most people bring in the concept of ‘depth’. There are many depth scales for hypnosis, but the general idea is that the ‘deeper’ a person is in trance, the more they can achieve some of these advanced effects. While putting numbers to hypnotic depth seems to make it more objective, the idea of depth is really just a concept. Some people may be very ‘deep’ in trance and able to accomplish some advanced ideomotor effects but unable to elicit relatively simple ideosensory effects. These pretty much just makes seeking a certain ‘depth’ before trying to elicit a response, a crapshoot.

The more clinically useful approach is to do ‘chaining’ or ‘pyramiding’. This is where you start by eliciting simple responses and then build on top of those to get to more advanced responses. You can also think of it as linking a series of suggestions together. If you wanted to help someone produce hypnotic analgesia (pain control) in their leg, you wouldn’t start by saying, “close your eyes. Good, now notice your leg going numb!” You could try to do this, but if it failed, your client probably wouldn’t trust you or your ability that much afterwards. Instead, you could start by leading them through a general relaxation sequence. As they become noticeably relaxed, draw their attention to this new sensation of relaxation.

“The more relaxed you become, the lighter your body feels. Every breathe relaxes you even more, filling your body with that lightness. Almost like you’re breathing in helium and you can float even further into relaxation. Or like you’re breathing in a pleasant, odorless anesthesia. Drifting further into comfort, feeling your body go pleasantly numb. The more your breathe this in, the more you can feel it fill your body up with that relaxing numbness.”

Notice in that sample routine, relaxation (a simple response that you’ve already helped them accomplish) is linked to the ideosensory response of lightness. Then breathing is linked to relaxation and lightness. The metaphor of breathing helium is introduced to further link breathing with a feeling of lightness. Then this is moved to breathing another gas – anesthesia. Breathing, relaxation, lightness, and anesthesia are all linked together –  with the corresponding ideosensory response of numbness. In this way, you’ve built each response on top of the other ones to reach the desired effect (numbness).

I’ll give another example of chaining ideomotor responses. Generally, you begin by focusing on the small muscle groups – the eyes and fingers. For the eyes, the most common effect is catalepsy or lack of movement. This would be getting someone to relax their eyelids so much that they don’t work, even when they try to open them. For anyone curious on more about this, look up the Elman induction which is very fast and the most common one taught to those in the medical field because of it’s speed.

“Relax your eyelids all the way to the point where they won’t work. When you’re sure they’re relaxed that far, go ahead and try to open them – just like you would try to open a
locked door, just to make sure it stayed shut. Good, now you can stop trying and send that relaxation down through your body, like a wave of relaxation. Feel that flow all the way through your body, from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes. Notice that as that wave flows through your body, it can sweep up any pain or discomfort and carry it along. All of that pain and discomfort will pool somewhere in your body, I don’t know if it’ll be in your left hand or your right foot or somewhere else. And as it pools there, immersed in all of that relaxation, you can allow it to drain away now. Notice it draining away, completely out of your body, leaving behind only that relaxation and comfort that’s flowing all throughout your body.”

Here, the ideomotor effect of eyelid catalepsy was first elicited. Then full body relaxation was built on top of that. This relaxation was chained to feeling discomfort. As the relaxation changed (by going through the body), the location of the discomfort changed. Finally, the discomfort itself was changed using a suggestion for analgesia and then a refocusing on comfort and relaxation.

Go number too

Skinny dipping status: currently not advised. Keep checking for updates!

That’s number like to be more numb. Originally this post had the subtitle “relieve that pain in your ass” but I thought that would be too confusing.

Today, we continue our talk on eliciting ideosensory phenomenon for addressing pain and discomfort. Last post I talked about using the sensation of warmth to bring comfort and relaxation. Now I’ll talk about using cold for numbness and relief.

Who doesn’t know the relief a timely cold shower can provide? Using cold imagery and sensory details can help elicit relief through numbness. Building on last post’s routine (bathing in warm water) – you actually can do the exact same routine just using cold water. It could be mountain stream or winter lake. In the warm water routine, you have them place the pains in their body into a block of ice and then, generally, melt the ice (and pain with it). In the winter routine, you have them place their pains in a block of ice and then freeze the block even colder until it expands to the point that it shatters and disappears.

As awesome as shattering your pain is, I tend to use a much simpler, but more natural (in my mind) method. I guide them through a winter place visualization where they come upon a stream. The kind of stream made by the ice that melts on top of mountains and flows down into a valley. Then I inform them that they have a water bottle in their hand. In a moment, they will bend over and plunge their hand into the crystal clear water to fill the bottle. As they fill the bottle, they will feel the sensation of the ice cold water flowing over their hand for a few seconds and then their hand will go completely, and comfortably, numb. It’s important to fully explain what will happen to prime their nonconscious to create the sensation of numbness. Then, I tell them to go ahead and bend over, plunge their hand in the water, fill the bottle, and feel their hand go comfortably numb.

From here, you can do 2 things. You could then tell them they could use that hand to touch anywhere on their body to transfer that sensation, replacing any pain or discomfort with the comfortable numbness. Or you could tell them that in a second, they can take a sip of that pure mountain water from the bottle. They’ll feel it, ice cold and refreshing, flow through their body – going anywhere in their body that could benefit from that calming sense of comfort and numbness.

Like any guided visualization, you could then chain more things on to accomplish either greater or different effects. A common one with this would be to keep walking, leaving the river behind, and move towards a winter cabin. There you could do any number of additional things in this winter cabin, like have them get in a warm bath or hot tub to increase their relaxation and comfort. Another interesting winter routine is to walk to the top of the mountain where they can form a snowball in their hands. From there they can think about a goal they have in their life and “place” that in the snowball. Then they can roll that snowball down the mountain and watch it grow larger and larger, until it’s so big that it breaks through any obstacles that stand in its way.

Healing water for pain and discomfort

Bubbles in bottom left – there is definitely something about to get her.

My first real exposure to ideosensory phenomenon was in childhood at a sleepover. I learned that you could take the hand of someone who is in a very relaxed state and gently place it in warm water. You would then be able to actually see them relieve themselves with no further guidance from you.

As amazing as that was, it’s also fairly limiting because 1) you need a warm glass of water nearby 2) the person has to already be in a relaxed state and 3) it’s pretty selective which muscle group you relax and response you elicit. Fortunately, now I know hypnosis which addresses all three of these obstacles.

Hypnosis for pain frequently follows a similar format, regardless of the technique or routine used. A pre-talk –> relaxation routine –> focus on the pain –> change the pain –> focus on comfort. Below I’ve outlined a sample method for the first 3 steps, to set-up whatever technique you might use.

  1. Talk to the person you’re working with to explain what you’ll be doing and what outcome you’ll both be collaborating towards. This is a crucial step because it plants the seed in their mind about what their nonconscious will be working on.
  2. Guide the person into a state of relaxation. This step isn’t strictly necessary (and often, people in severe pain have a lot of difficulty doing so), but it’s generally helpful.
  3. Focus the person’s attention on their pain experience. This tends to be very easy because pain is pretty attention grabbing. However, the key word here is experience. Don’t just have them focus on the pain – focus on what the pain is to them. They might say something like “it’s a stabbing pain”. Get more details on this. “Where is it stabbing?” “And it’s stabbing like what?” If you know clean language techniques, that tends to be very helpful (but not necessary).
  4. Build on the seed you planted earlier by finding out from them what needs to happen to their pain experience. If they say it’s a “stabbing sensation like a needle in their low back”, then you can ask, “what needs to happen to this needle in their low back?” Many people will give a very simple answer like “it needs to go away” or “I don’t know.” For the first answer, it’s important to build on that by asking things like “and before it goes away, what needs to happen?” You’re really just trying to help them to elaborate on the transformation process. For follow up responses and the original “I don’t know” response, it’s helpful to tell them that this is all hypothetical. You could say, “hypothetically what might happen?” or “if something could happen, what might that be?” or “pretend/imagine it’s possible. What would need to happen?”

At this point, you will have done the pre-talk, relaxation routine, and focused them on their pain experience as well as found out what ‘needs’ to happen for their pain experience to improve. The technique or drill you use here is now entirely dependent on what they said. Generally, you would lead them through a guided visualization routine that allows them to experience the solution they talked about. Here, it’s very useful to be familiar with a wide variety of general routines so that you can draw upon one and modify it slightly to make it specific for them. To that end, below is a sample routine using warm water (if they are afraid of being in a body of water, you could change it to a warm bath – or just do something else unrelated to water).

  • Have them imagine they’re in a peaceful forest. Set this scene up and give plenty of suggestions for calm, peacefulness, comfort, and relaxation.
  • Guide them to a warm body of water – a lake, a river, a hot springs, a bathtub, anything. They can get in and relax.
  • Have them imagine they now have a block of ice in their hand. They can go through their body and put any pains they have into the block of ice.
  • Once all of it is in the ice, they can get rid of the block of ice. The ice gradually melts and those pains melt away with it, never to return. People can get rid of it anyway they want – release it into the hot water to melt it, throw it away, blow it up, it doesn’t matter how.
  • Return their focus to relaxing in the warm water.

This routine can be varied in any number of ways and is pretty easy to customize for each individual. One variation that might be useful is to imagine a waterfall on the other side. Once the ice has been gotten rid of, they can then sit under the waterfall and let it wash away any other stress or tension they have (with the tub, it would be turning the shower on). Another variation is to add a dam. At the end, they can open the dam and let the water flow away, taking with it all other tension or stress they have (with the tub, this is just pulling the plug). Or you can add invigorating elements in. They can go to a rock and bask in the sun, soaking up all the renewing energy. They can dive down to the bottom (where breathing is no problem because this is their place after all) and explore all the exciting things down below. The more routines you know, the more ideas you can chain together for a unique and customized experience.

Today I focused on warm water because it capitalizes on the natural ideosensory response of relaxation. Who doesn’t enjoy a hot bath or shower? Next post, I’ll outline a guided visualization routine using cold water. Cold water capitalizes on the natural ideosensory response of numbness which is a very useful sensation for addressing pain.

Lemon party – ideosensory phenomenon for discomfort

It’s the crumpled up paper towels that make this picture so confusing. Just what is happening here?

Imagine that you’ve got a ripe lemon in front of you on the kitchen counter. As you cut into it, you can feel how juicy and fresh it is. The aroma of the lemon is in the air, that fresh and sweet smell. You cut a wedge off of half the lemon and pick it up, getting ready to bite into the lemon. You know it’s going to have that sour bite to it that makes your whole body contract. Go ahead and take a bite now, tasting the flavor as you sink your teeth in.

When you were reading that, were you able to almost taste the lemon? Did your mouth fill with saliva as you thought about biting into it? Did you even shudder a bit as you imagined the sour flavor? That’s the lemon drill. It capitalizes on ideosensory phenomenon – that is, eliciting a sensory experience (like taste or smell). Eliciting ideosensory phenomenon is a big part of the using hypnosis for two key sensations: comfort and relaxation. Bringing forth these resources are important for anyone who wants to use hypnosis for discomfort or pain. This could include a specific event like childbirth or a general event like pain modulation (whenever it should arise). If you read through any hypnosis script, you’ll likely notice a lot of language for increasing comfort and relaxation. Another “sensation” commonly elicited is numbness or the lack of sensation (including pain). More specifically, numbness is the lack of all sensation while analgesia is the lack of just pain. So if numbness were induced in your arm, you wouldn’t feel a pinprick (pain) and you wouldn’t feel a cotton ball touching your arm. If analgesia were induced in your arm, you wouldn’t feel the pin but you would feel the cotton ball.

Using either of these seemingly opposite methods (adding comfort or removing sensation) works based off a common concept in hypnosis which is the balance between positive and negative phenomenon. A positive adds something that isn’t there, like “seeing” a ball on your desk, that isn’t actually there. A negative takes away something that really is there, like looking right at your keys but not realizing they’re in front of you. While these seem like opposites, they actually both always happen simultaneously. For a positive phenomenon, take “seeing” a ball (that isn’t really there). On the positive side, your brain manufactures the image of the ball. On the negative side, you brain must ignore the desk behind the ball that the image of the “ball” is “blocking” (even though, in reality, that is what your eyes are sensing because there really is no ball). For a negative phenomenon, take not seeing your keys even though they’re right in front of you. On the negative side, your brain is ignoring perceiving the keys even though your eyes are sensing them. On the positive side, your brain is filling in that area with the rest of the desk (which you’re not actually seeing in a physical sense because the real keys are blocking your eyes from seeing the desk behind them) so that there is no random gaps or holes in your vision when you skip over seeing the keys. Hypnosis for pain and discomfort functions similarly. You can elicit a positive (feelings of comfort and relaxation) which will both 1) add positive sensations and 2) negate negative sensations (pain, discomfort, etc.). Or you can elicit a negative phenomenon (feelings of numbness or analgesia) which will both 1) negate negative sensations and 2) fill in ‘normal’ feelings or substitute feelings (like the ‘feeling’ of numbness). Numbness does have a feeling to it, think: local anesthesia, when you arm falls asleep, or when you have an ice pack on long enough.

All of this helps explain the theory of how hypnotic ideosensory phenomenon work. Tune into next post on actually eliciting some useful ideosensory phenomenon!

Spotting a hooker and automatic movement

**The title of this post and this picture are NOT related. This is just a nice picture of relaxation…

I was standing in line at a restaurant once and the lady in front of me ordered a drink that came in a bottle with a lid you had to pop off. I knew the kid at the register wasn’t old enough to drink because he was failing horribly at using the mounted bottle opener.  We, the bored people of the line, were transfixed by the spectacle. All we could do was watch on as he struggled desperately. What advice can you even give?! He was doing the motion, he just wasn’t hooking the lid fully. You gotta hook the lid – every good, drinking adult knows that. Many of us in that line probably knew exactly what he was doing wrong within a fraction of a second – we could spot a hooker (or lack thereof) instantly. Eventually, our hero fully hooked the lid and the release was felt from miles away. I knew from then on, his body was ready to hook.

Most of the movements we do are automatic. We don’t have to think how to walk or how to lift a beer up to our mouths (unless those two are done in opposite order – then walking might go out the window). This saves us a good amount of effort, but can backfire when those automatic movements aren’t the best. If you move in a way that overloads a specific region of your body, if you automatically react in the wrong way, or when someone hands you a flyer and you reflexively grab it. A good coach can help you update your automatic responses like learning to walk symmetrically again or slapping a pamphlet away without thinking.

Tip: in order to learn a new way to respond, your body has to feel it first. Let’s start with one of the most useful physical responses people need to learn: relaxation. Set a timer for 10 minutes and get into a comfortable position. All of these will be done by first squeezing your muscles, then relaxing. Most people don’t know what it feels like to relax, so by first contracting your muscles, you get the opportunity to feel relaxation as you let go from squeezing. Start by squeezing your fists, then relax. Next contract your upper arm, from your shoulder to your elbow – then relax. Take these 10 minutes to go through your entire body and explore contracting muscles – and most importantly, what it feels like to relax them. To some people, relaxation can feel like your body is loose and heavy, like your arms and legs are limp, wet rags with no tension. Other people, feel light and almost like they could float, like their body is filled with air. However, you experience relaxation is unique to you – just observe what it feels like to you so you can feel it again later when you need. You may have time to go through your entire body 2 or even 3 times. Pay special attention to anywhere that feels tight or where you normally hold tension. Consider this drill your “reset button” for muscular tension. The amount of tension you’ll have in your muscles will vary day to day, and even hour to hour (often depending on stress). Most of the time, we’re not consciously tensing our muscles – it just automatically happens. So practice relaxing and getting your body in touch with having lower tension.


All the world is a stage = proof that Earth is flat

Something interesting about fear is that whatever you’re afraid of, probably isn’t actually happening. If you’re afraid of heights, then you’re not currently falling. Because if you were falling, you’d actually be afraid of landing. But if you’ve already hit the ground, then you’re not afraid of that – you’re afraid of further pain or injury. And so on and so on. This boils down to:

“I’m afraid of heights.”

“No, you’re afraid of falling, then hitting the ground, then dying or having horrible pain and injuries.”

Got ‘em! You sure showed them! Takeaway: you can’t “out-logic” emotion.

A fear of something (like heights) is basically when exposure to that scenario (and yes, just thinking about it can be an exposure) triggers your fight-or-flight reaction + negative expectation (something bad will happen). The brain then stores this reaction because it figures if you’re in fight-or-flight mode, it must be pretty important. To release a fear, you need to experience the scenario without the fight-or-flight reaction or negative expectations so it is stored in the brain without these associations.

The theater process: imagine you’re in a place that is very peaceful to you. This could be on the beach, in your childhood home, floating on a cloud – anywhere. Take a few moments to relax there, then imagine a projector screen in front of you. Now, float out of your body and back a few feet to where the projector is. From here, you can control the movie it will project while watching yourself, watch the movie. The movie that will be playing is you in the scenario you were afraid of. Start the movie at a point before the scenario happens and play it all the way to a point after it’s all over and you’re safe again (or not in immediate danger). Use the controls to now rewind to the beginning and then play the film again in fast forward. Repeat this, watching as many times as needed – rewinding and fast forwarding through it, until you have no emotional reaction to the film. No fight-or-flight response, it just feels like you’re watching a movie. At that point, float back into your body and stay in this relaxing place as long as you want.

Sleep like a dog

Hypnosis for dogs – results may vary

Here’s my night routine: check that everything’s locked then go to bed and blast my eyeballs with artificial light. After they’re good and burned out, I put it up and immediately go to sleep. Sound familiar? Probably all but the last part. What’s my secret? First, as far back as I can remember, I’ve been part-Asian. This is best done by careful selection of your parents. (Anyone who knows any Asian males will know their ability to fall asleep at any time.) Second, I’ve been practicing self-hypnosis for years. Does hypnosis put you to sleep? No (contrary to popular belief), but it does relieve stress. Let’s be honest, if you have trouble going to sleep, or if you wake up several times at night, unless you have to pee, it’s because your mind has chosen that time to wonder if you locked all the doors, why you’re horrible, and what you’d do if all your loved ones were in separate but simultaneous car accidents tomorrow.

Tip 1: add a nightly 5-10 min de-stress routine – somewhere besides your bed. What you’ll do is close your eyes and think of a time/place where you feel safe and comfortable. Feel that in your body – this is your “base”. Now let any stressful thought come to you, but watch it happen from a distance. This could be watching it on a screen or from above. It could be from today, your past, or hypothetical. Take 30 seconds to watch that scene resolve in a good way. Instead of failing your presentation, watch a version where you do really well. Return to “base”. Then repeat the whole process with other stressful thoughts that come – watching each resolve in a good way. The same thought might come multiple times – just watch it resolve in a new way each time.

Tip 2: now go to bed and mentally say to yourself the time you want to wake up refreshed at. Then, do a relaxation routine. This is simple – just relax each segment of your body, one by one. Sequence doesn’t matter: you can scan up/down or jump around. It’s useful to do it 2-3x to really relax.

What is hypnosis? And confidence tip

Ghost watches – they’re a real thing

You know when you see a juicy sock and can’t help but bury your nose in it? Well that’s not hypnosis. Hypnosis is intentionally eliciting a nonconscious response. A nonconscious response is any experience you feel like you didn’t deliberately (consciously) put together. Someone holds out a flyer (that you definitely don’t want) and you automatically grab it. Can’t help yourself when you’re around sweets? Your friend talks about their childhood pet and you spontaneously remember yours? All of those are examples of nonconscious responses that were elicited from you. We’re constantly being bombarded with suggestions to do things, most of which are not in our best interests. We’ve got a BS filter which is why we don’t believe most of the ads we see. This same filter is active during hypnosis as well which is why a hypnotist can’t make you do anything you wouldn’t want to do. Enough education, let’s go to today’s tip.

Take a moment to remember a time you felt really confident. That time you just achieved something and were feeling proud. As you feel those good emotions, notice where in your body you feel them. In your stomach? Your solar plexus? Your chest? Your throat? Your head? Maybe even somewhere else, wherever you feel them is unique to you. Breathe slowly and deeply into that area, noticing what effect that may have. Throughout the day, as you experience memories and feelings of being confident, practice taking just a few moments to breathe into the area you’re feeling them in. Some people can learn to access helpful feelings whenever they need them just by remembering a time in their past they felt it and breathing into that. It’d be nice to have honed that skill, wouldn’t it?

Stress relief – ultradian rest breaks

Rigor mortis – if only she had taken a break, maybe she could have avoided this…

If you stress something, it means to emphasize that thing or draw attention to it. Most people don’t pay enough attention to themselves and their own well-being which is why, early on, I told people “Stress yourself!” “The more you stress yourself, the better you will feel.” “You cannot stress yourself too much.” “You really ought to brush your teeth twice a day.” Some of this was just general advice.

Everyone is looking for stress relief, but the best method is actually a natural mechanism. You may have heard of the circadian rhythm – a fluctuation in your body’s cycle that happens once every 24 hours. There is also an ultradian rhythm – a fluctuation in your body’s cycle that happens several times every 24 hours. Most people know it in sleep, where you wave up and down into higher and lower levels of sleep, every 90-120 minutes. The same thing happens all day. Every 2 hours, you will be at peak alertness for 15-20 minutes (that time when you are actually productive), and every 2 hours you will be in the low phase for 15-20 minutes (when you read the same paragraph 20 times and wonder if chairs resent us). This low phase is actually meant to be a time to rest and de-stress. Most of us, when we feel the signals our body is giving us to rest, decide to try to blow through it and do something like get a cup of coffee or try to ‘wake up.’ And so stress accumulates.

Stress relief tip: listen to your body. When you feel more tired or stressed, take 15-20 minutes to do nothing. It’s helpful to set a timer and then close your eyes, relax, and even just let your mind wander on its own. If you can’t take a break right then, you’ll have to find/make some time later.

Milo and the bull – hypnosis and weight loss

This is what a 46 inch waist looks like…

Milo, a weakling looking to get strong, exercised by lifting a baby calf onto his shoulders and carrying it up the mountain. Why did he do this? I personally like to believe someone told him to do calf raises and he was just a literal idiot. Anyway, everyday this idiot picked up the same cow and carried it up the mountain. Now if you’ve never had mountain grass before, it is just the best. And so the cow grew on Milo. Not personally, like the cow took a liking to Milo, the cow hated him. You know how if you feed a dog everyday, the dog will think you are God because you provide food. And if you feed a cat everyday, the cat will think it is God because you provide it food. Well you have someone carry you to paradise where you can eat as much as you want and then carry you back down and see if you don’t start referring to yourself as the Golden Moo-ddha. Eventually, the small calf becomes this fat pile of bull and Milo becomes very strong – you know, from carrying a full grown bull up and down a mountain everyday. The point of the story is that gradually adding weight to your exercises will add up and eventually you’ll be really strong. That is if you’re Milo… If you are a Milo, stay tuned for my posts on physical performance. On the other hoof, getting transported to an excess amount of food where you can graze as much as you want, avoiding all exercise afterwards by getting a ride home, and slowly gaining weight over the years may sound a little more familiar.

Most people already know how to be healthy – the hard part is actually doing it. Hypnosis and other coaching tools help people to generate motivation to start the change, make new behaviors easy, and discover a new you. You already enjoy some healthy foods, start by enjoying more of them. Think of this process as finding health in your life. Don’t worry about taking out unhealthy things for now. Many people may be surprised to find how enjoyable being healthy can be.

The United Strengths