Do you know where the term “hypnosis” comes from?
It was the Scottish surgeon James Braid who brought the word into general circulation back in the 1840s.
But initially he called it neurohypnology.
That’s because Braid understood the connection between hypnosis and the brain.
He knew that it worked with the nervous system and that it had the power to change the way the human brain processes information.
Since then, researchers have been able to dig a little deeper.
They’ve been able to prove the link between hypnosis and neuroscience.
The term neuroscience refers to the study of the nervous system.
That includes the brain, the brain stem and all of the nerves running throughout the body.
According to David Spiegel, MD, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, hypnosis offers an incredibly powerful way to alter “the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.”
This statement has been proven in studies that show how certain areas of the brain are altered during hypnosis.
To understand how that happens, it’s important to examine the role of neuroscience in hypnosis and the way it works with the various parts of the nervous system.
Functions Of The Left And Right Brain
As you know, the brain consists of two halves or hemispheres, commonly referred to as the right side and the left side.
They’re connected, naturally, and they work together to give you the full life experience you’re used to.
On top of that, each of these hemispheres has its own important role to play where hypnosis is concerned.
The Left Brain
This is the side of the brain that is responsible for language and speech and for numbers and counting. The left brain is the side that recognizes patterns and that prefers to work in steps.
That is significant in terms of hypnosis, because hypnosis takes the form of a ritual. There are certain steps that people expect to happen during a hypnosis session, such as an induction and a deepener.
If you leave out or skip any of those steps, it’s the equivalent of excluding the left side of the brain. That will make it more difficult for you to work with your client since you aren’t meeting all of their expectations.
People often ascribe definitive functions to the two hemispheres as if they were independent of each other. However, they are not.
It’s not possible to switch off the left side of the brain so that you could feel happier and more creative all the time, for example. Part of the left brain’s function is to balance your moods so that you don’t fall victim to such things as depression.
The left brain regulates your approach emotions such as anger, happiness and surprise. It is also responsible for providing you with motivation.
Your left hemisphere enjoys repetition, doing the same task over and over again. By contrast, the right side of your brain enjoys more novelty and is happy to experience something one time only.
The left brain controls the right side of the body and the right brain controls the left. They each specialize in certain areas, like speech and language for the left hemisphere, but they are both co-creators. Both sides of the brain are valuable contributors to the experience of hypnosis as a whole.
The Right Brain
This is the side of the brain that controls your body’s muscle movement. It’s the right hemisphere that alerts you to danger and that is particularly useful for recognizing body language, which is quite important where hypnosis is concerned.
While the left brain takes care of smaller movements like playing the piano, the right brain looks after larger movements made while doing Pilates or while dancing, for instance.
Another way of distinguishing the two is this: the left brain processes the text, while the right brain processes the context.
The Eyes & Hypnosis
They say the eyes are the windows to your soul. Whether or not that’s true will likely be debated for years to come.
What is true, however, is that about one quarter of your really crucial cranial nerves are used for vision and for eye movement. Like your tongue, your eyes are actually extensions of your brain that you use to see and taste the environment and to provide your brain with vital feedback.
Eyes are terribly important when it comes to hypnosis. Many inductions involve an eye fixation such as getting someone to follow a finger with their eyes or stare at a specific spot on a wall.
You can usually tell if someone is hypnotized by looking into their eyes. Pupil size and eye flutter are good indicators of the depth of a person’s hypnotic trance.
Your brain uses your eyes to scan for threats. So if you can get someone to close their eyes for a lengthy period of time, it’s a big deal. It means a few things are happening:
- They trust you
- You’ve established a good amount of rapport
- It’s likely they’ll be able to enter a decent hypnotic trance
As a rule, eyes use up a lot of energy. That means you can make use of the visual system to fatigue the nervous system, which will help the subject enter trance more quickly.
When you look into someone’s eyes you are actually seeing their brain in action. That’s why it’s possible to understand a person’s state of mind through their eyes. You’ll notice that:
- When they’re nervous and erratic their eyes bounce about
- When they’re calm and at peace their eyes stay more focused
This helps to explain the link between what you might ask someone to do with their eyes in hypnosis and how they actually experience hypnosis.
The Tongue & Vagus Nerve
The Vagus nerve is a cranial nerve, part of the brain stem that runs from the brain through your nervous system down to your gut.
It’s the main part of your parasympathetic nervous system that controls digestion, heart rate and the immune system. These are involuntary functions that you have no control over.
When the Vagus nerve is activated or stimulated, it makes you calmer, more social and more proactive. It helps keep your body relaxed in stressful situations.
Doing breathing exercises is one excellent way to stimulate the Vagus nerve, which helps counteract the fight or flight response. That ties in with many hypnotic inductions where the subject is encouraged to focus on their breathing, helping to stimulate the Vagus nerve so they can de-stress more rapidly.
You can stimulate the Vagus nerve via your tongue by doing things such as gargling, humming or singing. The tongue is also linked directly to a part of the brain that helps to manage pain.
The tongue feeds into the brain stem (aka the pons medulla) neurologically and controls functions such as heart rate and respiration. That makes it an equally important tool during hypnosis.
The Inner Ear & Hypnosis
The inner ear is important for balance. It is also connected to the pons medulla and tells you which way is up, where you’re going and at what speed.
People who have been in car crashes or other accidents involving quick forward jerking motion will be resistant to any form of induction that replicates a car crash. This is because their inner ear will have processed and remembered the experience of the crash and will be eager to avoid the kind of stress that results from it.
The eyes, ears and tongue have direct links to your brain. When one of these areas is damaged, you can often make use of another area to compensate.
For instance, it’s possible to use your tongue to help establish balance if you’ve suffered damage to your inner ear. You can interchange the parts and even learn to function without one if the situation requires it.
As well as physical balance, the inner ear also regulates emotional balance. It feeds into the insular lobe which is important for your sense of self.
The Role Of The Parietal Lobe & Temporal Lobe
The parietal lobe is the part of your brain that processes incoming sensory information, which includes things such as:
- Hot and cold
It is responsible for your sense of spatial awareness, which is crucial for inductions and ideomotor responses. It also makes it possible for you to rotate shapes in your head and to process information from your senses.
Studies of the brain scans of subjects in trance show increased activity in the parietal lobe. During a trance, some lobes go quiet while others perk up, meaning your brain can overcome things like OCD or depression by working on the areas (or lobes) responsible.
The temporal lobe gets its name from the temples on either side of your head. It is responsible for processing sounds, audio, smells and long-term memory experiences.
This part of your brain interprets the things you see and helps with language recognition. When you want to elicit visual or auditory hallucinations in hypnosis, the temporal lobe is the area you need to target. Number amnesia is also possible via the temporal lobe as this is the area of your brain that processes numbers.
The temporal lobe controls your upper eye field, which is why many hypnotic inductions involve looking up. Remember that the critical factor isn’t associated with one part of the brain but with multiple parts, which can vary from person to person.
The Role Of Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are molecules that carry messages or transmit signals from one nerve cell to another.
These signals can be inhibitory (preventing you from doing a certain action) or excitory (encouraging you to do a certain action). It takes lots of small signals for something interesting to happen, such as for you to feel an emotion or to create a picture of something in your mind.
One of these neurotransmitters is dopamine, active whenever you feel pleasure, satisfaction or motivation. When you achieve something and you get a good feeling about it, that’s because of a surge of dopamine in your brain.
Dopamine makes it easier for you to focus on what you’re doing so you’re less likely to get distracted. It also helps you:
- Engage with an activity
- Look for meaning in the world around you
- Explore things and be more adventurous
Dopamine is also known as the reward chemical. Whenever you feel the urge to take a risk or to try something new, you’re getting a burst of dopamine. It increases your attention span and helps with pattern recognition, two functions that are really important for learning.
Researchers have proven that there’s a link between neuroscience and hypnosis.
In fact, hypnosis is a powerful tool for changing the way your mind works.
Both the left and right sides of the brain have significant roles to play when it comes to hypnosis.
Your brain’s left hemisphere is especially good at recognizing patterns and working in steps, while your brain’s right hemisphere is particularly effective at identifying and understanding body language.
Hypnotists focus a lot on their subjects’ eyes, because they know that the eyes are directly connecting to the brain. Looking into a person’s eyes makes it possible to tell how deeply they are in a trance, for instance.
The Vagus nerve runs from the brain down into the gut. Once activated, it helps you stay calm and stress free.
One way to activate it is by focused breathing, which is why so many inductions begin by asking subjects to concentrate on their breathing.
As well as helping with balance, your inner ear is also capable of remembering experiences and of helping you avoid ones that are not beneficial.
While the parietal lobe helps you interpret sensory information such as taste and touch, the temporal lobe deals with language recognition and long-term memory.
Your entire nervous system functions thanks to neurotransmitters that send signals from one nerve cell to another, telling you what to do or what not to do. One such neurotransmitter is dopamine, the reward chemical, responsible for those good feelings you get when you’ve achieved something significant.
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