Hypnotherapy and Yoga

Dr Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, MB, BS, DPM, MANZCP (Syd.)

As I see it, hypnotherapy is a means by which one can become conscious of the unconscious functioning by reducing the activities of the conscious mind. Yogis call this state pratyahara while the physiologist calls it the hypnogogic state. Hypnosis depends on suggestibility while the yogic meditative process depends on the unconscious mind being accessible to the conscious awareness. Expansion of consciousness is more easily attained under these circumstances.

In hypnotherapy the hypnogogic state of mind is induced in order to produce the following three results:

  1. A State of Relaxation
  2. Increased suggestibility - suggestive hypnotherapy, which is also called symptom suppression hypnotherapy, is practiced at this stage by planting positive suggestions into the subconscious mind of the person. This is done to reverse the negative train of thoughts that the person may have.
  3. Hypnoanalysis - One reason why people exhibit emotional symptoms is because they have developed a vicious circle of thinking. For example, a person who is anxious gets into a vicious circle in a number of ways. First of all, anxiety produces a lot of physical symptoms, say heart palpitations. This leads to a fear of heart disease. Fear produces more anxiety and this in turn produces more palpitations. Anxiety can also produce fear of the environment so that a person develops selective perception. That is, one becomes increasingly aware of frightening things that occur in the environment. All this can depress an individual and lower his energy level. Because of insufficient energy, he can no longer cope with what is expected of him. This creates feelings of guilt for having failed; guilt produces more depression, and depression causes more anxiety. So this goes round in circles.

In my experience hypnotherapy can be quite useful in the vicious circle type of condition, but generally such people never come to a psychiatrist for treatment. A psychiatrist usually sees those people who have many unconscious or interpersonal conflicts. In the unconscious of us all there is a lot of rubbish that can bubble up into conscious awareness in the form of emotional symptoms. This is a Freudian concept, but yogis have been aware of it for thousands of years and refer to the contents of the unconscious mind as samskaras. It is my own experience that suggestive hypnotherapy does not have a lasting effect in the more serious cases of unconscious conflict. If a therapist is sufficiently positive and dynamic and has strong personal power, he can influence quite a severely disturbed person. But if there are a lot of unconscious conflicts, hypnotherapy sessions are never ending. Symptoms recur, and the problem of the patient becoming dependent on the therapist is always there.

Hypnoanalysis, on the other hand, is a similar technique to that used in meditation. A sufficiently receptive state of mind must fee induced so that unconscious conflicts come to the surface. If these are handled well, the emotion attached to the unconscious material is discharged and the energy thus released is made available for the development of the person. This is what Freud called catharsis that is, the emotional hold and energy contained within is discharged. So hypnoanalysis uses the same state of consciousness as suggestive hypnotherapy, but a different technique and content are adopted.

Another aspect of hypnosis is the induction method in which there are two variations, therapist-dominant and therapist-passive. The therapist-dominant technique is difficult to use on people who are of the independent and dominant type unless the therapist is very powerful. Therefore, such therapists generally specialize in people who tend to be passive and dependent, the result being that the patient becomes more passive and weak. Thus, I cannot see any place at all for this technique in the therapeutic situation. In the therapist-passive technique, the patient is taught self-hypnosis which can be the most effective and perhaps the easiest method to utilize. It also takes less energy on the part of the therapist. However, any body not trained adequately in psychiatry and clinical psychology should not attempt this because sometimes it becomes impossible to handle the unconscious conflicts that arise. This is especially true if the therapist has the same sort of conflicts within himself.

Yoga Therapy

All of us believe that we are individual units of consciousness when in actual fact we are part of the universal consciousness. Through yoga we can experience this higher reality. Now we are bound to this low level of consciousness by ignorance (avidya). We believe that we are little isolated islands of physical form and consciousness in the unfathomable whole. Most of us are limited to this state of individual consciousness because of conflicts and problems in our minds. Our consciousness is held down by negative emotions, ongoing feelings of insecurity, anxiety, tension, low self esteem, competitiveness and aggression towards others.

We remain at this low level of consciousness because of the same conflicts that are discussed in psycho-therapy. Therefore it is not surprising that many aware psychotherapists are looking to yoga and wondering at the techniques which yogis have employed to free themselves from this internal debris.

Yogic experience is that as impurities and complexes are eliminated, awareness increases and higher states of consciousness are realised. When this purification process is complete, one can merge with the highest consciousness which is our true nature. Although modern therapists have been trying to achieve a similar goal, they did not have this higher perspective in view as the yogis did. Yogic techniques such as asanas, pranayama, mudras, bandhas, shatkarmas, kundalini yoga, kriya yoga and meditation may have many beneficial effects on other areas, but mostly they were designed to increase the bubbling up of unconscious material to conscious awareness. Asanas, especially those which employ spinal twisting, backward or forward bending, work on the chakras which act as switches stimulating unconscious material to bubble up.

Yoga Nidra

An excellent technique used by yogis to gain awareness of the unconscious is yoga nidra which was developed from the tantras and adapted by my guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati to suit the needs of modern man. When I first came across this technique I was amazed at its similarity to hypnotherapy.

In yoga nidra one lies down flat on the back in shavasana. As soon as the body is comfortable we give it the order to remain perfectly still throughout the practice. This is followed by shifting the awareness throughout the environment to reduce the attention to outside sounds and bring about a state of pratyahara or sense withdrawal. This stage is not in hypnotherapy.

Next a resolution is made. In yoga nidra the practitioner makes his own resolve, however, in hypnotherapy the therapist puts the resolve into the mind of the patient. The resolve may be therapeutic or spiritual but it should be perfectly positive, clear and specific; if possible, it should also be visualized. Yoga nidra is practiced once or twice a day maintaining the same resolution over a long period of time until it becomes realized and an actual part of the practitioner's life.

In yoga nidra, after the resolve we use progressive concentration on different parts of the body. In hypnotherapy it is usual to talk of progressive muscle relaxation. I have found that concentration leads to deeper relaxation.

Body awareness in yoga nidra is followed by breathing awareness, for example, alternate nostril breathing. This brings about a balance of pranic energy, simultaneously balancing the emotions and thus discharging them. When the emotions are balanced, the yogic attitude of an uninvolved witness emerges spontaneously.

Alternate breathing is followed by chidakasha dharana or concentration on the mental screen in front of the closed eyes upon which our unconscious contents can be projected. Yogis say that when the unconscious tendencies arise and are viewed by an emotionally involved observer who identifies with them completely they will increase. However, if viewed by one who remains as a witness, an objective, unattached observer, they are eliminated. According to hypnotherapy this unconscious material must by analysed intellectually and not just observed. Gestalt therapists encourage the patient to act out his emotions and feelings as they arise in order to become more fully conscious of them. But better than this is alternate nostril breathing which balances the emotions and helps us to take a detached view.

Many abilities can be developed in the hypnogogic state which is reached in the final stages of hypnotherapy and yoga nidra. For example very intense visualization which could not be attained during normal consciousness. At the end of yoga nidra the resolve is made once again.

According to my experience as a practicing psychiatrist for many years, yoga nidra is an efficient, relaxed, self contained and natural approach to releasing unconscious complexes and blocks. I have found that yogic techniques in general and yoga nidra in particular help people to heal themselves, thus preventing recurrences and further problems from arising.

Copyright: No part of this article may be reprinted without the author's permission.