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Self-Hypnosis and Meditation

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Discover the similarities and differences between self-hypnosis and meditation. Explore their techniques, goals, and their holistic impact on our mind, body, and spirit.

Self-Hypnosis & Meditation: Differences and their similarities
Self-Hypnosis & Meditation: Differences and their similarities

Self-Hypnosis and meditation, both can induce altered states of consciousness which results in transformational and transcendental holistic impact to our mind, body, and spirit. This means both are holistic practices with similar holistic intentions, though they differ in their working ways, processes, goals, techniques, and effects. Most of the times, I used to get this question from the clients, “What is the difference between self-hypnosis and meditation?” "If there’s any similarities, how are they similar?" And, "In what aspects are they different?" Let’s have some clarity by exploring the similarities and differences between self-hypnosis and meditation.


First, let’s talk about what Self-Hypnosis and Meditation are:

Hypnosis is an intentionally acquired (except naturally occuring hypnosis) changed state of consciousness, with heightened state of suggestibility that allows you to accept acceptable positive suggestions. Hypnosis and self-hypnosis are used  interchangeably, as nowadays it is commonly accepted that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, though they are practiced in two different ways. When you follow the instructions of a hypnotist (live or recorded), and you will be hypnotized yourself – that’s self-hypnosis with the help of the Hypnotist. Another way is practiced on your own, also called autohypnosis, where you achieve hypnotic state through self-induction process. In this self-hypnosis, you play the dual role of suggester and suggestion receiver – by yourself to yourself.


In other side, meditation can be defined as a practice of clearing and focusing your consciousness which involves application of mental and physical techniques such as mindfulness, focusing or concentrating your mind on a particular word, sound, object, thought, or feeling, clearing your mind to become more aware of the present, and achieve clarity, inner peace, and serenity. From their definitions, we can see that they both induce altered states of consciousness that allow you to access deeper levels of awareness, which indicate both self-hypnosis and meditation are similar in terms of achieving awareness level of consciousness. Their main difference is their technique and process: there’s heightened state of suggestibility in self-hypnosis, whereas in meditation no such heightened state of suggestibility is required but might be acquired after doing some regular practices, or may occur as a byproduct - slipping into hypnosis.


As we discussed the two types of self-hypnosis practice – with hypnotist and without hypnotist, in that context meditation can also be of two types: guided meditation – practiced in the guidance of trainer/practitioner, spiritual teachers, gurus or leaders (live or recorded); and independently practiced meditation – practiced without presence of instructing figure (guiding person or device). That means self-hypnosis and meditation, both can be learned and initiated in similar way as they can both be practiced alone or with the guidance of a practitioner.


There are many different types of meditation; some of them includes, but not limited to mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, chakra meditation, movement or walking meditation, Vipassana, breathing or breath awareness meditation, Zen (Zazen) meditation, body scan meditation or progressive muscle relaxation, Yoga, mantra meditation, focused meditation, gratitude meditation, loving-kindness (Metta) meditation, compassion meditation, Christian meditation, sound (crystal singing bowl, sound bath, or music) meditation, candlelight meditation, Qigong meditation, and visualization meditation. These are some of the historically established and popularly practiced meditation types. There are countless hundreds of different types and techniques of meditation that have been in practice around the world for thousands of years.


By the way, let's see history of their origin. Though meditation was practice since thousands of years in the east (Hindu Vedas of India show earliest records of meditation date around 1500 BCE, but some archaeological discoveries show around 5,000 BCE), Monk Guigo II introduced it to the west in the 12th century AD for the first time. Whereas hypnosis was introduced for the first time in the 1840s by a Scottish surgeon James Braid (179501860). It looks like modern hypnosis have begun in the late 18th century with the work of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), an Austrian physician who believed in a phenomenon called "mesmerism" or "animal magnetism". Archaeologists have found evidence of ancient practice of hypnosis in a 3,500 year old Egyptian tomb (Dr. Sue Peacock, 2018). Ancient hypnosis trace back to over 5,000 years, since the Egypt's Old Kingdom era, which is followed by "temple sleep", "sleep temple", and oracles in ancient Egypt and Greece. Actually, hypnosis is derived from Greek word ‘hypnos’ which means sleep and refers to the god pictured. Wong Tai, the father of Chinese medicine, used it in 2600 BC in China. Looking back to their origin in history, we can say that meditation is older than hypnosis/self-hypnosis.


Meditation is practiced in numerous religious traditions; almost all religion involves meditation in their religious practices as prayers, worship, or devotion, or way or tool to understand divine and achieve enlightenment. As a result, many of these different meditation varieties are related to/originated for the purposes of religious and spiritual fulfillment and are also categorized as spiritual meditation. If you want to talk about meditation in detail, including its origin, types, and practices, it is a very vast subject and may take numerous books talking about it. So, we will try focusing only on its certain aspects in comparison to self-hypnosis.


Next main differences between hypnosis and meditation are their goal and focus. Meditation is a practice that involves training the mind to focus and become more aware of the present moment. The goal of meditation is to cultivate a sense of calmness and inner peace, insights or to develop a deeper understanding of oneself, achieving transcendence or enlightenment. Studies have shown that meditation can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep quality. We can say the overall goal of meditation can be to enhance your inner awareness, attention, compassion, sympathetic joy, kindness, unconditional love, holistic calmness, and spiritual fulfilment. In meditation, the practitioner focuses on its process, rather than achieving a specific goal.


Whereas the goal of self-hypnosis is to make desired changes in our thoughts, feelings, or behaviors through suggestions, resulting health and wellness, achieved in hypnotic state, i.e., heightened state of suggestibility. This hypnotic state is induced by bypassing the critical factor of the conscious mind to access your subconscious mind, where everything including beliefs and habits are stored. During self-hypnosis, the individual is guided by a hypnotist or by self’s autosuggestion to enter a trance-like state, where you will be able to achieve a state of heightened suggestibility and you shall be more open to accept positive suggestions.


Hypnosis/Self-hypnosis can be used to address a wide range of issues, including anxiety, depression, addiction/bad habits, weight, smoking, chronic pain, and other personal and business/professional issues. In addition, self-hypnosis has been used to achieve a specific goal, improve memory, enhance creativity, change behaviors, and improve athletic performance. The main focus in self-hypnosis is on the result for which both the hypnotist and the client work together, though if you believe in the advanced hypnosis process you needn’t focus on the result. You achieve desired results as it happens like you do in meditation. In this process, time to achieve goals might differ as you might get results faster through self-hypnosis in comparison to meditation as meditation is slower process.


We can see some similarities in their goals as self-hypnosis and meditation both involve a level of concentration and focus, and can be used to promote relaxation, mental calmness and reduce stress. But there is a difference in techniques used in self-hypnosis and meditation. Typically, in self-hypnosis, suggestions and guided imagery are used to help you achieve your specific goals causing heightened state of suggestibility as they help you bypass the critical factor of your mind to access your subconscious. Because of this heightened level of suggestibility, you're more open to suggestions in self-hypnosis and may experience a sense of dissociation from your surroundings. Whereas in meditation, you will be focusing on 'mantra(s) provided by your practitioner, your breath, a sound, a specific sensation, or imagery, and observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. Commonly, in meditation, you will be in a state of mindfulness - fully present in the moment and aware of your thoughts and emotions, achieving a sense of clarity and focus, without getting completely dissociated from your surroundings.


Both self-hypnosis and meditation deal with changes in consciousness, so both involve changes in brain activity because according to neuroscience consciousness emerges from brain activity. Their differences are in the specific patterns of brain activity during their practices. It is often found that there's a decrease in brain activity in the prefrontal cortex during self-hypnosis. It is a decision-making, self-awareness, and reasoning part of the brain. This phenomena in prefrontal cortex helps you to dissociate from your surroundings and achieve heightened state of suggestibility. Simultaneously, there's an increase in brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula, which are involved in emotional processing and awareness of bodily sensations, respectively. This phenomena in the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula part of brain helps to reduce pain and anxiety.


In other hand while talking about brain activity, it is found that there are more widespread changes in brain activity because of meditation. In contrast to self-hypnosis, there is an increase in brain activity in the prefrontal cortex with the regular practice of meditation. The attainment of mindfulness and attentional control is believed to be because of this increase in prefrontal activity. Meditation also causes changes in activity in insula and amygdala, which are involved in awareness of bodily sensations and emotional processing, respectively. These changes in brain activity help in reduction of stress and improve emotional regulation because of regular meditation.


Thus, from the above differences in brain activity between hypnosis and meditation it is obvious that there will be some differences in their effects and goals. That's why hypnosis is typically used to achieve a specific outcome, such as reducing pain or anxiety, improve memory, enhance creativity, change behaviors, improve athletic performance, and more, whereas meditation is used to cultivate mindfulness, inner awareness, attention, compassion, sympathetic joy, kindness, unconditional love, holistic calmness, and spiritual fulfilment. Overall, both self-hypnosis and meditation have been shown to have significant holistic benefits with a wide range of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellness.


After all, we learned that self-hypnosis and meditation are two similar practices with differences in their techniques and goals. They both work on the states of consciousness and can be utilized to promote holistic health and wellness. Their difference is that hypnosis requires heightened state of suggestibility whereas meditation does not. In the tradition of meditation, those who practice meditation for the pure shake of meditation, won't go intentionally into heightened state of suggestibility. Most of the meditations are done to quiet their mind or for spiritual fulfilment, and this is all done by focusing your attention on specific thing, sound, mantra, your breath, a specific sensation, or imagery, and observing your thoughts and emotions. Some meditation practitioners might go into a heightened state of suggestibility after regular practice, maybe for years, or as a byproduct - a slipping hypnosis. We slipped into hypnosis all the time, but we don't notice because we don't know it's self-hypnosis and we don’t know how it's done intentionally. This suggests that your intention can make a difference whether it's self-hypnosis or meditation.

 



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References

Kotera, Y. Dr. (2018, January 3). The history of hypnosis. University of Derby. https://www.derby.ac.uk/blog/the-history-of-hypnosis/


McKenna, Paul. (1993). Extract from The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna. Publisher Faber, London.


Peacock, S. Dr. (2018, August 14). Hypnosis through History. Top Doctors, United Kingdom. https://www.topdoctors.co.uk/medical-articles/hypnosis-through-history


Ross, Ashley. (9 Mar. 2016). Meditation History: Religious Practice to Mainstream Trend. Time, Time. time.com/4246928/meditation-history-buddhism/.


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