Think of hypnosis and you’ll probably picture someone being lulled to sleep with a swinging pocket watch or being made to do something against their will. But according to Jab MacCardy, Principal Hypnotherapist at The Hypnosis Clinic, that’s not how it is.

“In reality, people undergoing hypnosis are always in control and aware of what’s going on around them. They’re simply in a deep state of relaxation,” he says.

Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness

Hypnosis isn’t mind control, especially since it requires a person to work with a hypnotist to achieve a goal. It does, however, involve altering the mind on some level.

“Hypnosis is the journey of tapping into the parts of your brain that are responsible for your automatic responses. Just like meditation and mind-altering drugs, it’s a way to induce altered states of consciousness,” explains Jab.

An altered state of consciousness (ASC) is any condition that is different from a normal waking state, and dreams, hallucinations and even epileptic seizures are some examples. The science behind hypnosis is the same behind any type of ASC.

And if you’re wondering, there’s a difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy.

“Hypnosis treats the symptoms of unwanted behaviour. It can be used to modify unwanted behaviour patterns such as smoking, alcohol dependence or phobias. On the other hand, hypnotherapy examines the actual causes of the behaviour pattern and rectifies the imbalance. It’s a form of clinical psychotherapy and can be used to treat patients with psychosomatic conditions [illnesses caused by mental factors].”

It’s about speaking to the subconscious

But just how do hypnotherapists induce an ASC in patients? Forget the pocket watch—they use something called progressive language.

“Language is our first line of defence when it comes to change. Progressive language is used in hypnosis to maximise the outcome,” says Jab.

“For example, instead of saying, ‘You are feeling calm, and when you open your eyes, you’ll feel even calmer’, I say, ‘From this day forward, and throughout your entire life, you’ll feel progressively calmer, especially in situations where your patience is tested.’”

He points out that the key is to remove negative words as they have the ability to elicit negative feelings, and emphasises how an outlook can make a much bigger impact than we think.

“Our own voice is more authoritative than any boss, doctor or family member. We develop our beliefs based on what we want to believe.”

Your body reacts accordingly under hypnosis

A hypnotherapist can tell when ASC has been induced, so there’s no way you can fake hypnosis.

“During a consultation, I monitor, measure and record my patient’s mannerisms, respiratory rate and heart rate to establish a baseline,” says Jab.

“The average adult’s baseline heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute, and the respiratory rate is 12 to 20 breaths per minute. In deep hypnosis, the baselines completely change. The heart rate can go down to 30 to 40 beats per minute, and the respiratory rate, nine to 12 breaths per minute.”

He adds that if an individual isn’t in hypnosis, their baselines would reflect no changes. In essence, they’re just sitting there with their eyes closed, not feeling relaxed. Plus, he also monitors something called the ideomotor response–responses from the subconscious mind–to tell if someone is in hypnosis. These responses usually appear in the form of body twitches, raising of limbs and even clenching of fists.

There are several benefits to the practice

While many of Jab’s patients see him for relationship-related issues, he also works with patients to help them get over phobias, resolve anxiety issues and quit smoking, among other things. And according to him, hypnosis can even help give you better skin.

“In hypnosis, when we visualise a desired result of how our skin could be, we become motivated by the desired outcome. As such, we become driven to make the necessary changes to our habits, diets and grooming routines–factors that all affect the quality of our skin.”

He also believes that everyone is “hypnotisable”, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to enter an ASC if you wish to give hypnosis a go.

“If you’ve ever entered a state of sleep, you can be hypnotised. I can’t stress this enough–hypnosis is a natural state in which the subject is completely relaxed,” he says.

“It only won’t work with people who don’t wish to be hypnotised. You cannot change someone against their will or make them do things they don’t want to do. The key difference is intention or consent.”