Progressive Relaxation Stage
The goals of this stage are to establish the steps in a session, do an induction that can be done while referring to notes, and have an experience what it’s like to hypnotize someone and be hypnotized. It’s deliberately slow and simple.
For this stage, we’ll follow the session structure exactly.
The induction is something you can print out and read through. Using a script is perfectly fine to start with, but as you get more experience you’ll start to internalize the mechanisms behind hypnosis, and you won’t need them eventually.
The important bit here is not the induction, but the process. This is a warmup session that focuses on getting familiar with session structure and provides a "toe in the water" experience.
If you want to dive in, you can do this stage once or even skip it completely and move ahead to Elman stage.
There are some things that you pick up as you get into a routine that you may not know to do immediately. Here’s a checklist.
Pick a place you feel comfortable staying for a good hour or so without being interrupted. The bedroom or couch is fine, but the subject should be propped up with pillows. Avoid lying fully prone unless you’re doing a massage.
Put the pets out of the room.
Turn your cellphone to vibrate.
Go to the bathroom and take care of business.
Close any windows and minimize background noise as much as you can. Consider a white noise generator if you can’t filter things out.
Reduce lighting to a comfortable level, but keep enough light to be able to see facial expressions.
If using a blanket, make sure the subject’s hands are still available (for arm drops)
For the subject, there are couple of extra things.
Change into comfy clothes.
Make sure you are warm and comfortable. Get a blanket if need be.
Avoid stimulants, notably coffee.
Sit in a chair or a couch that can support your back, and is facing the hypnotist.
Although alcohol can help with suggestibility, I recommend you start without it.
Establish what you’re going to do in this session. Make it clear you’ve heard and understood everything you discussed during negotiation.You should negotiate and get informed consent for everything you intend to do in this session before you start the induction.
In particular, you should go over the suggestions you are going to going to give them.
Why? Because someone who is hypnotized is suggestible by definition. Once you hypnotize someone, they cannot meaningfully consent. This may lead to giving them suggestions which they end up following, but have mixed feelings about. Going over suggestions beforehand minimizes the surprise and helps build trust.
Never renegotiate with someone mid-session. Yes, you see stage or street hypnotists drop suggestions in all over the place. You aren’t seeing what happens after the show. There can be potentially severe after effects, and it is not worth it. Say what you’re going to do, establish they understand what they’re agreeing to, and then do that and only that. You can negotiate things like implied consent and consensual non-consent with your partner when you have the experience and trust to do so safely, and have the skills to recover if things go wrong.
This goes for your partner as well. Your partner may have lowered inhibitions in hypnosis, but this does not mean consent. Defer any invitation you may receive. Ask them about it in debrief, get their consent and you can do it next time around.
It’s not uncommon for new subjects to have giggles or nervous laughter during the initial induction. Nervousness and discomfort are usually the underlying cause. Nervousness may come from the fact that it’s working; they are aware that their mental state is changing and they are vulnerable. Discomfort may come from the induction; the hypnotist may be awkward and they are picking up on that, the language used may seem cheesy, or they may not know how to react or keep up with a complicated induction.
Talk to your partner about taking an active role in the induction and engaging their imagination, and paraphrase the CSTP and active imagination model sections as necessary.
So an example for the first session would be as follows.
I’ll be giving you suggestions, and for every suggestion, I want you to follow it by engaging your imagination and making it real in your mind. When I give you a suggestion, follow the suggestion and think and feel it as automatic.
I’ll suggest positive feelings, check in with you and ask you how you feel, give you a suggestion to feel so relaxed that you can’t move your arm, and then I’ll wake you up and the session will be over.
We’ll have some quiet time until you’re ready to talk, and then we’ll discuss how it felt for you and how you liked it. If you’re uncomfortable at any point, please let me know and we can pause or end the session as is comfortable for you.
If you have giggles or moments of nervousness as you relax, that’s okay. We can take as much time as we need to be comfortable.
Is there anything you want to change or talk about?
The process of producing a hypnotic trance is called an induction. Inductions are a large part of the ritual of hypnotism, and as such there tends to be much concern on the exact language, tone and words used in the induction.
New hypnotists have a tendency to speak very fast and be very nervous, without pacing themselves, and to forget things in the moment. Also, new hypnotists don’t know what hypnotized people look like, and tend to get hung up on details.
I recommend that newbies begin with a progressive muscle relaxation, working from a script. Here’s why.
The PMR is familiar. It is very close to well known yoga, guided meditation, and visualization exercises.
The PMR is safe. It does not rely on authority, physical contact, or deliberately confusing input.
The PMR is long, because it relies on repetition and monotony. This means that it’s good practice.
It is homogenous; the last five minutes of a PMR are the same as the first five minutes. It tracks the physical body exactly; you can look at the feet, go onto the legs, go through the chest… you will never get lost and you’ll be saying the same things throughout.
The PMR is very script friendly, since you can afford to look down over the course of the induction and don’t have to concentrate as much on your partner.
The PMR simply "feels good" for subjects, as it’s a very friendly and undemanding mental exercise.
Put it all together, and reading a PMR from a script is the least amount of mental work necessary for an induction. Even after you learn other inductions, the PMR is worthwhile, as the PMR is so comfortable and low stress that your partner may specifically request it if coming home after a stressful day, or unable to fall asleep.
Close your eyes. Take a moment to notice your body: your arms, your core, your back, your legs, and notice any places where you need to move or shift to be comfortable.
Take a deep breath in… and as you breathe out, feel a wave of relaxation go all the way through the body, all the way from the head down to the soles of your feet. Now take another breath in, and feel that wave again as you breathe out, all the way down to the soles of the feet.
Now imagine that relaxation on the soles of the feet, feeling good and warm on the skin, just like a really good foot massage. That warmth and that good feeling starts to sink in, warming and soothing the muscles, and moving up to the tops of the feet, completely enveloping the feet.
As that relaxation sinks in and suffuses the muscles, it surrounds any knots or tightness in the muscle, letting those muscle fibers feel good and warm. Feel the relaxation sink in and around and through those knots, letting those knots relax and open up. As those knots loosen and open up, they turn into loose snarls of muscle fibers, and the relaxation works through those snarls until every single muscle fiber can come loose. And as those muscle fibers come loose and let go, every single fiber can go loose and limp, every fiber absorbing relaxation, and relaxing completely like a handful of loose rubber bands. Every single muscle in the feet, relaxed completely.
That relaxation moves on up now to the calves and shins, warming and soothing the muscles, sinking in faster now. The relaxation suffuses the muscles, finds its way around any aches and pains, and in and around any knots. The relaxation loosens and opens those knots, moving in and through and letting those knots turn into snarls, and the snarls get smoothed out as each and every single fiber absorbs relaxation and goes loose and limp and heavy, letting go. Relaxation permeating every single muscle in the calves and shins, completely relaxed.
And now the relaxation moves through the knees, stronger and faster, up into the thighs. Feel that relaxation sink into the muscles, finding any knots and tension, turning knots into snarls, feeling the snarls be smoothed out, every single muscle fiber relaxing now, loose and limp and heavy. Legs completely relaxed.
And now the legs are completely relaxed, that relaxation moves up and into the hips and butt and lower back. Feeling knots loosen and open up as that relaxation sinks in and takes hold. Feeling those muscles relax as knots turn into snarls, and snarls are smoothed out, and fibers go loose and limp and heavy. Hips and Butt completely relaxed.
Stronger and deeper now, that relaxation move up into the core and back muscles. Feeling those muscles come loose as each and every single muscle fiber lets go, core completely relaxed. Relaxation moves into the chest now. Feeling more and more relaxation with every single heartbeat, and feeling more and more relaxation with every single breath. Chest completely relaxed.
Relaxation moves up into the shoulder muscles now and down through into the arms, all the way into the fingers. Feeling those knots turn into snarls. Feeling the snarls loosen. Feeling each and every single muscle fiber let go, loose and limp and heavy. Arms completely relaxed.
And now relaxation moves into the neck, neck completely relaxed. Up into the jaw, relaxing the jaw and cheeks, up through into the eyes. Eyelids heavy. Relaxing the eyebrows and up through into the scalp.
Body completely relaxed.
Deepeners deepen (or "enhance") your partner’s subjective experience of hypnosis, also known as trance.
Academic hypnosis papers are conflicted on whether depth of trance "means" anything, as depth of trance does not always correlate with suggestibility, and there is no external yardstick to measure trace. My thinking is that depth of trance is an interoceptive reflection, and so trance is similiar to emotional construction. Just as people have different behaviors and impulses related to their emotions, people will have different behaviors and impulses related to their experience of trance.
More importantly, in recreational hypnosis, experiences matter for their own sake. Deepeners provide an enjoyable experience of hypnosis for your partner. Deepeners can be especially helpful for newbie hypnotees because they can help focus and acclimatize the feeling of hypnosis.
I also like to think of deepeners as a kind of reward system. The reward of deepening is usually implicit in many books, but the role of reward in hypnosis is key in keeping motivation high and providing incentives for suggestions. Deepening is not the only reward system you have available, but it is a great way to provide overall mood and context. Your partner may or may not like the idea of rewards or incentives, and so you should tailor your approach to what works for you.
This example carries on the metaphor of "knots and snarls" to relax the thoughts in the mind, sets up a super suggestion, and provides a strategy for dealing with stray thoughts.
And now, as the body is completely relaxed, that relaxation can move into the mind.
Feel that relaxation sink in and suffuse into the mind and into all the thoughts of the mind, warming and soothing each and every thought as it sinks down deeper. As that relaxation moves, it finds any places where thoughts are knotted tightly or have tension, maybe analyzing or planning or ruminating, and relaxation surrounds those knots of thought, loosening and opening those knots and turning them into snarls. And as those snarls are smoothed out and every single thought absorbs more and more relaxation, those thoughts can come loose from the mind and start drifting all the way down the bottom of the mind, letting go and feeling good.
And as the relaxation sinks in and down and through the mind, more and more thoughts are being filled with relaxation, coming loose now and feeling heavy. More and more thoughts relax out of the mind and sink all the way down to the bottom of the mind, like a handful of loose rubber bands, every single thought relaxed completely.
And thoughts can still happen and float up from the bottom of the mind, and as thoughts float up, more relaxation will sink into those thoughts and they can feel good and sink down even deeper and those thoughts become even more relaxed than before.
Now we have done the induction and it’s time to give suggestions.
A common suggestion after an induction is the "super suggestion" which emphasizes applying belief to suggestions: From now on everything I say will become your reality, fully and completely.
This is also a good time to reiterate safeties to let you know if a suggestion doesn’t feel right to your partner.
As you relax deeper into hypnosis, you can take some time to absorb and accept some things I’m going tell you. You’re completely free of any anxiety or stress here, in this perfect moment. The only thing that matters is listening to my voice and following my suggestions. If I give you any suggestions that do not feel right to follow, you will let me know immediately by making an unhappy sound and not following the suggestion, and I’ll work through it with you.
And now, the mind can be still and calm and quiet, and can focus easily and naturally on following and accepting each and every single suggestion, letting every suggestion sink in and become reality.
"Checking in" is a useful habit to get into when you’re not sure what’s happening. Hypnotized people are perfectly capable of speech. They may just be relaxed and have no interest in talking. There is a caveat, which is that some people are too quiet to be heard, but most people can nod or lift a finger even if they’re too relaxed to speak clearly.
It’s normal for there to be a notable psychomotor retardation, which is a lag between you asking a question, and their response, especially in deep trance. Give them a few seconds before repeating and checking if they’re responsive.
Whenever you have something to say in, or I ask you to check in, you’ll find it easy to speak, and easy to articulate what you would like to say. You’ll be able to respond and say what you need to say, and you’ll find that doing so relaxes you even deeper.
One of the simplest and most wholesome things you can do is to suggest good feelings as one of the first suggestions. This works as a reward, but it’s also effective because people naturally want to say yes to good feelings.
This is an intentionally generic script, and you can (and should) rework it to find what your partner would like to feel best.
You’ll notice that the deeper you go, the better you feel, and the better you feel, the deeper you go. It makes sense, after all. It’s completely natural that the more you enjoy being hypnotized, the more your body and mind want to be hypnotized.
We’re going to bring in more wonderful feelings as you sink deeper into trance. I’m going to count down from five to one, and we’re going to add a feeling with each number, each number feeling more and more wonderful as I count down.
Five, feeling a sense of ease. Four, adding a sense of relief to that ease. Three, adding peace to that relief and that ease. Two, feeling happiness added to that peace, relief, and ease. One, feeling contentment, happiness, peace, relief and ease, completely wonderful to be hypnotized.
Now that you’ve given a suggestion for good feelings, it’s time to sit back and take a breather.
Your partner will be experiencing trance for the first time, so give them the time to do that and see how it feels for them. Give them at least a minute or two of silence, and pay attention.
I’m going to be quiet now and give you some time now to notice and accept and feel how good it feels to be hypnotized in your body and mind, and let you enjoy this feeling so that you can remember and know this feeling all the way down and all the way through.
When you’re ready for another suggestion, you can nod your head or make a sound to let me know.
Now your partner is hypnotized, take a good look. Even in trance, your partner is constantly communicating with you non-verbally. You should be looking at your partner all the way through a session.
Ensure that they are comfortable. If their head is lolling, that is uncomfortable after a period of time.
Pay attention to your partner’s face, the way they are breathing:
Are they breathing deeply?
Are they a little bit pale or a little bit red?
Are they breathing through their nose more?
Has the size of their lips changed slightly?
Have they completely stopped moving, not even the minor movements that happen in sleep?
Did they twitch or grimace in response to something you said, a suggestion or phrase?
When they’ve nodded their head, or if they’re starting to show signs of restlessness or discomfort, then you should move on.
The PMR encourages stasis and produces subjects who are not going to want to do very much. The natural convincer for PMR is a feeling of hypnotic lethargy, where they’re just too relaxed to move. We can leverage that feeling to suggest that the arm is so heavy that it can’t move.
You should do this with the non-dominant hand, and use dissociative language like "that arm" instead of "your arm." In this example, I’ll assume your partner is right handed.
Focus on the sensation in your right arm. Feel how heavy and relaxed that arm is. When I snap my fingers, I want you to lift that arm up just a little bit, and notice how heavy and relaxed it is, and as that arm drops, it feels even more heavy and relaxed.
Good. Now I’m going to snap my fingers again and you’re going to lift the arm again, but ths time the arm will feel heavier and harder to lift, relaxing deeper as it drops. <snap fingers>
Good. Every time I snap my fingers, that arm gets heavier and harder to lift, relaxing more. <snap fingers again>
Good. And again, even heavier than before. <snaps fingers>
Now the next time I snap my fingers, the arm will be so heavy that it just won’t lift at all. The harder you try to lift, the heavier that arm gets.
Finally, finish up with a suggestion to set them up for the next session. This will set up expectancies for the next session.
This is often used just prior to the "wake up" stage as suggestions that are always given just before being brought out of hypnosis.
Now that you’re relaxed and feeling wonderful, you can imagine and expect what it will be like the next time we do this. Hypnosis is a skill and you’ve added to your skills today; you’ve learned how to relax the body and the mind, feel wonderful, and make your arm so heavy that you can’t lift it.
Your body and mind will automatically respond faster as you absorb new skills on an unconscious level, and the next time we do this, you’ll be able to relax the body and mind even faster, feel even more wonderful, and can discover what else you can do.
Conclusion wraps up the session by waking your partner up, doing aftercare, and discussing the session in a debriefing.
If you have any suggestions you want cancelled, you do it here. This is commonly called a "wiper" or a "reset".
If you have any triggers or post hypnotic suggestions that you placed earlier in the session, you reinforce them here. "There is one exception, the suggestion I’ve given you to feel happy and calm will still affect you and you can just enjoy feeling wonderful for the rest of the evening. Nod your head when you understand."
Thank your partner when concluding a session and point out what they did well.
In a moment, I’m going to count from one to five, and you’ll be completely out of hypnosis and you’ll find the suggestions are cancelled and you can move about normally. When you’ll wake up, you’ll feel refreshed and rejuvinated, able to remember everything that happened during the session.
One - muscles becoming awake and aware… Two - feeling energy go through through your body… Three - taking deep breath of clean cool air… Four - head clearing, eyes starting to blink, stretching… Five - and awake.
The session is over. Stretch out and get a glass of water.
After a session, your partner may still be fairly suggestible, very relaxed, and will need time to collect their thoughts. Spending some quiet time focusing on your partner after a session is commonly referred to as aftercare.
You can ask them questions, but that can be a jarring transition from trance to alertness for some people. Just sitting there and being with them while they blink and check the time is fine.
Talk about it how it felt for you both, and the sensations experienced. What language worked? What didn’t work? Faster or slower? It’s normal and encouraging if something didn’t work because it’s an opportunity to learn and do things better. Your partner may have been bored or found themselves coming out of trance when you stopped talking. That is something you should know about, because keeping your partner involved means knowing how to pace the scene.
Make a note of the language that your partner uses here. The language you use in inductions and the phrases should match what your partner is saying and thinking. The more that your language matches your partner’s thoughts, the more effective your suggestions will be.
Recognize any complaints in the spirit of constructive criticism and leave any hurt feelings you may have until later. Make it clear you can take it impersonally. A good debriefing is a way for you to get better at being a hypnotist.