This question sometimes comes up at seminars and is one that interests me having trained as a hypnotherapist before I came to meditation. Since I was a boy I was fascinated by the way that hypnosis provides direct access to the subconscious mind. And so, some years ago while living in London, I learned a few of the techniques in the hypnotherapy/NLP toolbox. I never intended to make this my career, but what I learned has been useful in my personal and professional life.
The reason that people think there may be a connection between hypnosis and meditation is usually the idea of being in a deeply relaxed state. My view used to be that the two practices were quite different. For example:
- When you meditate, you must exercise some level of forcible attention to keep focused on the object of meditation. When you are being hypnotised, no forcible attention is required. In fact, if you slip into a dreamy state or even fall asleep, this may help, rather than hinder, whatever you are aiming to get out of the session.
- When you meditate, you are in full control of the session – at least, you’re aiming to be! When you are being hypnotised, you voluntarily hand control over to the hypnotist. (That said, it’s important to note that people can’t be persuaded to do something they wouldn’t do while fully conscious, particularly if it doesn’t accord with their ethical framework).
- There are certain biological markers which are typical of a meditative state – slower breathing, slower heart rate, lowered blood pressure, specific brain activity, and so on. But there are no ‘typical’ markers associated with being hypnotised. True, most hypnotherapy happens after inducing a relaxed state in a person, which could be similar to those of a meditator. But you could also suggest to a subject that he has just finished running a marathon, and his physical state would soon become very different from what you find in most meditation studios!
These are just a few of the more obvious differences. So when I read the observation of a revered meditation yogi along the lines that all meditation is a form of self-hypnosis, that idea made me think again. As I did I considered the following similarities:
- In both cases, each session usually begins with some form of induced relaxation. This typically involves the use of words or images or even the posture itself which we come to associate with a relaxed state (in NLP parlance, an ‘anchor’ to a particular mental state).
- Guided visualisations are common to both, in particular the reference to archetypal symbols and colours. These are known to have a profound impact on subconscious mind, in hypnotherapy terminology, or the subtle consciousness as yogis may describe it.
- Repetition often plays a key role, whether in the form of mantra recitation while meditating or working through a particular sequence of events in hypnotherapy.
Hypnosis and meditation are generally used for quite different purposes. Hypnotherapy is especially powerful at ridding us of phobias, helping us make or break habits, and stopping the subconscious mind from sabotaging what we (consciously) wish to achieve. Meditation can be used for anything from stress management, to part of holistic health treatment, pain management – and ultimately, to access states of consciousness which go beyond conception.
Is meditation the same as hypnosis? My answer these days is more along the lines: it depends!
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