If you delve into the history of hypnotherapy then you’ll probably come across an Austrian fellow called Franz Mesmer, considered one of the ‘grandfathers’ of hypnotism. In fact for a while, hypnosis was actually called Mesmerism after this curious 18th Century physician. Mesmer may have been practising hypnosis but he didn’t really have the understanding of how it worked the way we understand it today. He believed that we had a sort of magnetic ‘fluid’ running through us, that he could influence through his powers, as well as iron rods and tables. He could control this fluid with his own mystical forces and put his subjects into a therapeutic trance, curing them of all sorts of ailments and conditions.
Of course it was probably more his focus of the subjects attention that was putting them into a trance than mysticism; but the idea of an energetic force of life flowing through us is not unique to Mesmer, and is, in fact something that features in many traditional healing and health systems. In Chinese medicine it is known as Qi, (Ki in Korean and Japanese), and translates as life energy, or vitality (also gas or air, and I’ll come back to that); and in Hindu/Yogi cultures it is known as Prana. For any Star Wars fans out there, you could liken it to the Jedi Force.
Now although there isn’t a specific translation of this force in Western medicine, it is still used as a good metaphor for the function of the nervous system, and working on the self at an energetic level. Although I do not see myself literally using mystic forces to change another’s ‘fluid’ when I am hypnotising them like Mesmer did, I do believe there is a change in that person’s energy levels during a hypnosis session. And that’s because of two very important changes taking place on a physical level: their breathing, and its effect on their nervous system.
When I do yoga and we talk about Prana, we use it to describe the breath of life. It’s rushing to a yoga class after a morning of dealing with clients and paperwork, sitting on the mat and for the first time really breathing well and noticing the breath. I feel my nervous system calm down as I breathe deep into my belly and then breathe out even deeper through my nose. Or perhaps feeling totally knackered and feeling the vibrant in breath reach all parts of my body and gently wake up. Breath can be used to calm you down, wake you up, cool you down or keep you warm. It can create a fire within you, or a calm serenity.
So when I work with clients I use a lot of breathing techniques to get them into the right ‘energy’ for whatever changes we want to make. Some of these come from my understanding of pranayama (yogic breathing exercises that yogis use to change prana), or from my understanding of working with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Our nervous system runs on two “circuits”, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. We only need use the sympathetic nervous system (flight or flight mode) when our lives are in danger. Unfortunately modern stresses and anxieties often mean we’re in this mode more often than we should, which puts a strain on our minds and bodies, lowers our immune system and essentially buggers up our “Qi”. When we are calm and relaxed, we work from our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode), which makes life a lot easier and keeps our minds and bodies working at their best, and our forces flowing well. Yoga, meditation or having a hypnotherapy session are effective ways of triggering the parasympathetic nervous system.
In sessions I have various techniques for getting someone into their parasympathetic nervous system, but the quickest and easiest is through breathing. Often if we are stressed, others will tell us to breathe. Our natural reaction to that is usually to breathe IN deeply. However this floods the brain with oxygen and keeps us in flight or fight mode. What we need to learn to do under times of stress is to breathe OUT. By extending the out-breath we signal that danger has past and it allows our parasympathetic nervous system to kick in.
Here is a breathing technique from yoga that I like to use: You can do it every day if you like, and the more you do it, the more quickly you will learn to calm your nervous system. Either standing with your feet flat on the floor, or sitting in a chair or crossed-legged, begin to breathe; as you breathe out let your hands float upward along the front of your body to the area above your head, and then as you breathe it, let your hands float downwards towards your pelvis. Imagine you are ‘conducting’ the qi or prana, or even just the breath, around your body. You can continue this movement while focusing on the breath, breathing out a little longer if you want to calm down, breathing in a little deeper if you need to feel more energy. Once you are used to this movement then feel free to add in a little tilt of the head upwards as you breathe out and down as you breathe in. You may like to add in a word to repeat to yourself on the inhale or the exhale. Good inhale words are: life, love, energy, gratitude, joy, thanks; good exhale words are: calm, peace, prana, release. Do this practice mindfully and notice how this way of breathing changes your whole sense of being. Cultivate gratitude for your breath and your life.
So whether you are looking to balance your qi, calm your prana or just chill out for a bit; learning to breathe well and often, with extended out-breaths is the way to do it. Breath is the force of life, and mastering a good breathing habit is the secret to a happy, calm and balanced life.
If you want to learn more breathing techniques then sign up for my FREE 12-day self-care course, which features breathing exercises, hypnosis tracks and meditations.