A common misconception people have about hypnosis is that it only works when seated and relaxed in a chair. According to a study conducted in the 1970s by Ernest Hilgard and Éva Bányai (1), hypnosis can be done on active and alert people while their eyes are open. These psychologists put subjects into a hypnotic state while they were on exercise bikes and while they were relaxed in a chair and compared the results (see photo to the right (2)). The hypnotists read the same hypnotic induction script for both the active and relaxed sessions, except the words “relaxation and drowsiness” were switched with “activity and alertness.” Hilgard and Bányai found that through the active-alert hypnotic induction procedure, “it is possible to induce a state in which all the important characteristics of hypnosis occur, except the resemblance of sleep" (3). In a separate study by Bányai, it was even found that imaginary movements can be just as powerful as real movements in the active-alert hypnosis approach. The participant can be in any bodily position and the hypnotist can suggest they imagine they are sitting on a bicycle and pedaling rhythmically, and it will have the same results (4). The more a person goes into a hypnotic state, the easier it will be for them to reach that level of hypnosis and go even deeper the next time (5). In my hypnosis practice, daily habits and activities are a great tool for self-hypnosis because of their repeated performance, gradually increasing the depth of the hypnotic state reached and increasing the potential for successful self-suggestion.
(1) Éva Bányai and Ernest R. Hilgard. “A Comparison of Active-Alert Hypnotic Induction with Traditional Relaxation Induction,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 85 (2) (1976): 218–24, accessed January 6, 2020, doi:10.1037/0021-843X.85.2.218.
(2) Bányai’s and Hilgard’s study aimed to expand the body of evidence on “the possibility of inducing hypnotic-like altered states of consciousness by maneuvers designed to increase tension, alertness, and physical activity rather than by relaxation and sleepiness” (Ibid., 218).
(3) Ibid., 223.
(4) Éva Bányai, “Active-Alert Hypnosis: History, Research, and Applications,” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, no. 2 (2018): 88, accessed January 8, 2020, doi:10.1080/00029157.2018.1496318.
(5) Marlene Hunter, Creative Scripts for Hypnotherapy (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1994), 5.
Subject under traditional relaxational hypnosis (left). Subject under active-alert hypnosis (right).