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If you were to ask a dozen "experts" to give a definition of hypnosis, they would give you a dozen different answers. No matter what anyone says, there is no such thing as an accepted definition of hypnosis. No one knows exactly what it is. Some people have defined it as "guided meditation," "deep relaxation," a state of increased suggestibility, and other more or less satisfying descriptions. All of these definitions are partly correct, but they are also partly incomplete.
We can say that hypnosis, whatever it is, has been shown to help many people with behavior modification such as aiding memory (especially in cases where memory was lost because of trauma), overcoming obesity (especially when caused by poor eating habits), smoking cessation and stress reduction.
Hypnosis has been used at least since the time of ancient Egypt. There are records of the priests using the process on initiates in the Egyptian Mystery Schools. Hypnosis became popular when it was found to produce the same results as Mesmerism, even though the techniques and working theories are different.
For centuries, hypnosis has been used by charlatans and conjurors to produce seemingly astounding miracles. Hypnosis was, and still is, feared by many. In fact, the famous occult society, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, had new initiates vow: "I will not suffer myself to be hypnotized, or mesmerized, nor will I place myself in such a passive state that any . . . being may cause me to lose control of my thoughts, words or actions." And yet, few people have anything to really fear from hypnosis. This is because most people who think that they are hypnotized are not really in a true hypnotic state! Perhaps you have seen a stage show where a hypnotist get members of the audience to do foolish things while "under" hypnosis. The plain fact is that 80 to 90 percent of those participating in such shows are not even in a light state of hypnosis! The hypnotist in these shows, who must be both a good performer and a good judge of character, can see and take advantage of people who would like to relax, "let their hair down," and have a good time, but are normally too inhibited to do so. Being "under" hypnosis is a good excuse for these people to act uninhibitedly. Then, when told of their foolishness, they can say, "I was under hypnosis and not responsible for my actions."In some hypnosis shows, a few of the subjects are "stooges," actors or actresses who are paid to give performances of what a person would be like when under a fictionalized state of hypnosis. Years ago, there were special stooges known as "horses." A horse was a person capable of not experiencing pain. Thus, needles could be passed through their bodies while they were "under" and they would show no sign of pain. Some horses could control their blood flow and resist blistering from extreme heat. It is a shame that these people were not truly studied by medical scientists. Other examples of miracles by hypnosis in these shows are produced by conjurors’ tricks and unusual demonstrations of physics principles.
Some of the true volunteers in these shows actually do go into a light state of hypnosis. It is the same state that you can easily achieve by following the techniques given in books on hypnosis or self-hypnosis. The light stages of self-hypnosis (technically called "auto-hypnosis") are easy to learn and enter. In a light stage of hypnosis you are deeply relaxed, and a small "doorway" is opened to your subconscious. By telling yourself what to do (a suggestion), you can affect your ideas and habits. This level of hypnosis is quite safe. The truth is, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. You have to either consciously or unconsciously allow yourself to be hypnotized. A good method for this is by way of audio tapes.
The state of hypnosis we have been discussing so far is very pleasant and restful. For most people it is totally safe and harmless. Most amateur hypnotists (i.e. friends who say that they can help you to stop smoking or lose weight by hypnotizing you) are not capable of taking you beyond this state. The worst thing that could happen to you in this state is that you would fall asleep and awaken later feeling very refreshed.
For medical uses of hypnosis, the patient is usually taken to a much deeper level, sometimes even to what is called the comatose or somnambulistic state. In this state the subject appears to be sound asleep, yet can hear and respond to questions and suggestions. It is in this state that anesthesia for surgery can take place. It is also in this state that you can actually be "programmed" to do something against your will, contrary to popular notions. You might not take off your clothes at a hypnotist’s suggestion, but in a deep state of hypnosis you might be convinced to tear off your clothes if given the suggestion that they were on fire!
When hypnosis was first being scientifically experimented with, it was in many instances used to increase ESP abilities. There is little scientific research available as to what can happen when the mind is so open, as in a deep state of hypnosis, except for scientifically invalid "anecdotal" reports. Out of body experiences as well as unexpectedly deep telepathic connections between people have been reported, some with frightening results. So it is always a good idea to work with a professional who can bring you out of a deep hypnotic state quickly.
In summary, auto-hypnosis is safe, and is a good way for developing yourself both psychically and physically. While hypnosis tapes are good tools, learning auto-hypnosis can be better as you can use it at any time and under any conditions. If you are going to be put into a deep state of hypnosis you should entrust yourself to a licensed, professional hypnotist, or at least someone in whom you have the utmost trust and confidence.