When you hear the word “hypnosis,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it an image of being on stage before thousands doing the chicken dance in your underwear? Is it an image of an old man with white hair dangling a pocket watch in front of you and droning, “you are getting sleepy, very, very sleepy…”
While clichés of hypnosis may make it seem like a silly party trick, it is actually a valid form of stress management practiced by licensed individuals who work hard to protect the field. In fact, hypnosis is well known for helping people quit smoking and lose weight. And it has a history in sports performance! It’s well documented that Mike Tyson used hypnosis before many of his fights.
Sure, party hypnotists still exist and continue to entertain on cruise ships and college campuses, but did you know that hypnosis can also be a tool to improve your running?
My interest was recently piqued when I tried a hypnosis technique at a work event. The technique involved making a small ball on a chain move in certain directions on a piece of paper. It essentially looked as if my mind and not my hand made it move. Not only was I astounded, I was also quickly sold on at least seeing what this was all about.
What it Is
Hypnosis is a process where one induces a trance-like state with the help of a hypnotist and then experiences heightened focus and concentration. Once in the trance-like state, the hypnotist feeds the participant both images and affirmations to help create a state of relaxation, thus making the patient more open to suggestions, like breaking free of a habit or flying on a plane.
What it Isn’t
I was drawn to the hypnotist’s table at the health fair out of curiosity but I had my doubts. I assumed it was either junk science or if it really did work, then it was something I wanted no part of, since I hate being out of control. However, one of the first things I learned is that in a properly facilitated hypnosis session you do not ever lose complete control over your behavior, nor do you forget what happens in the session. You should be able to recall every part.
How it Works
During the hypnosis session, the hypnotherapist starts out by asking questions about your goals. For my experience, I chose to experiment with hypnosis as a way of helping me focus on my upcoming marathon. (My process goal is to be able to stay focused during the race when discomfort set in and my specific goals are to run a Boston qualifying time as well as finish in the top 3.) The hypnotist gathers as much information as possible and then moves on to the next phase, which my hypnotist referred to as the trial phase.
In the trial phase, the hypnotist uses some basic focusing techniques to begin to prepare you for the trance state. For my session, the two techniques used were similar to those from the health fair. For example, he had me close my eyes and use my hands and legs to demonstrate holding balloons in one hand and a 20lb weight in the other. If one can easily fulfill the demonstration, the hypnotist moves on to the trance phase.
The trance phase sounds somewhat scary but again, you are never entering into complete unconsciousness. The goal in this phase is to get you in a relaxed state of mind so that when the hypnotist helps you visualize vivid, meaningful images of you achieving your goals, your subconscious is absorbing the information for you to recall at a later date, such as race day.
During my session, I was quite relaxed and able to let go for the most part. The hypnotist I saw stated that it usually takes three times for one to become comfortable with entering a hypnotic state. However, what was nice about my session was that he wasn’t forcing additional sessions on me. We had done a total of 7 trance states and his observations were that I seemed to easily be able to relax. Without an open mind, hypnosis is likely to not be effective.
I found my experience with a hypnosis session to be both interesting and comforting. Having another person help me create positive mental images surely helped, and so did practicing letting go. One thing that has stayed with me is when my hypnotist said, “the mind controls the body; you control your mind.” This statement has already come in handy during some of my workouts when my mind wants to check out. Another helpful sentiment he shared was that hypnosis is all about focusing on the positives of any situation. For instance, instead of saying “I didn’t make my goal for a race,” one can say, “I learned something new that will help me for the future.”
My hypnotist was funny, kind-hearted and easy to talk to. Even though he didn’t know a lot about running, he wanted to learn more so he could help with creating the images and affirmations. I had to laugh at one point when he mistakenly said, “You WILL win the Boston Marathon” and then quickly took back his words and said, “You WILL qualify for the Boston Marathon.” Eh, I guess you never know. I think I’ll keep the first affirmation tucked away neatly in my sub conscious just for fun.
If you are interested in trying out hypnosis for yourself, be sure to go through a therapist who is certified, since they are bound to both ethical and professional standards of practice. The National Guild of Hypnotists can help you find a certified therapist in your area on their site. Also, hypnosis may be counterproductive for those with severe mental illness or those who have previously experienced trauma, as certain techniques run the risk of creating false memories or re-triggering difficult and scary memories.
In all, hypnosis is meant to be an effective method for coping with stress and anxiety. And if everyone’s posts about the taper crazies are any indication, when it comes to running and racing, we could use all the help we can get. If your anxiety is getting the better of you, hypnosis is another tool you may consider adding to your box.