In the previous chapter we looked at ways in which activity in various parts of the brain could be switched on which were sometimes obvious and at other times rather unfamiliar.
In this chapter we will be exploring this area of how to switch off a system. In particular we will look at reducing the activity of the muscular system and its related nervous system.
There is one very important fact about muscle tissue that is worth bearing in mind in this context. It has no direct Off switch! ANY electrical message, whether delivered via the nerves or via wires switches a muscle On: it makes it contract. There is no electrical signal that can direct a muscle to expand. That is the reason why throughout the body muscles occur in pairs. You have one muscle to curl a finger and another to straighten it. You have one muscle to bend the knee and another to straighten it. When you are walking your body runs through a sequence of first tensing one muscle of a pair and then the other. The one that is NOT being tensed gets stretched by the action of the other. Then the action is reversed.
Incidentally much chronic or long lasting muscular pain is a result of a pair of muscles being SIMULTANEOUSLY active or tense. They are each pulling against the other, but nothing is moving. This can often be seen in "stressed" people, in which there are two mental systems also fighting against each other.
If you have clearly in mind this basic physiological fact that ALL electrical activity reaching the muscles cause them to contract then it will make clearer the basic notion that you cannot ORDER a system to switch off, but that if you stop it being activated then it will slowly subside into a resting or nearly inactive condition.
The first exercise in this chapter is something that might be familiar to you. It is a relaxation technique that is sometimes called "progressive relaxation". Something similar can be met in ante-natal clinics; stress-relief courses and so on. But it is also a common starting point for many hypnotists. The simple idea is that you pay attention to a particular muscle or muscle group and think "relax", NOT in a spirit of "For heaven sake, RELAX! I tell you. RELAX!!" but rather of, "I am asking nothing of you now and so you can stop doing anything, you can go to sleep." Alternatively you can use the word "sleep" rather than "relax". It is not that YOU are going to sleep but that a group of muscles are going to sleep.
(A very common misconception about hypnosis is that it feels like going totally asleep. Some people are disappointed if they do not feel that they have lost consciousness.)
You can proceed like this. Sit or lie comfortably. Let your mind rest on your right hand. Think "sleep" or "rest" or "relax" or some other word that you find particularly appropriate. Then repeat it with pauses, just as we have done for other things in Chapter 1. If you are working on yourself you will of course be continuously aware of progress. If you are working on another it is helpful to ask every so often, "How is it going?" so that you know what progress is being made.
Continue for a few minutes. At the end of that time you should find that your hand does indeed feel very relaxed, and far more relaxed than when you started. Again it is essential for students and useful for others to try the same thing with friends, both with them saying their chosen word and with you doing it for them.
And you should find the pattern of responses that should have arisen so often that I will call it the Standard Finding: there IS a response; it takes time and it varies from person to person. There is no magic in this. It is simple and natural.
Note that although we have focused attention on the hand, what has primarily stopped happening is the activity in the nerves leading towards the muscles of the hand. And this has resulted in a drop in the activity of the muscles themselves because they have stopped receiving "contract" messages.
Once you have demonstrated for yourself the ability to switch off all right-hand related activity you can proceed to some other group of muscles such as the left hand and repeat the process, with yourself and with others. And you will not be surprised by the Standard Finding: that these muscles too will slowly get less and less tense, less and less active. You may also notice the now familiar variations between people. In some, for example, the process is accompanied by a series of small twitches. In others there may be feelings of heaviness or lightness or warmth or cold or tingling and so on which accompany the process.
Beyond that you can continue to pay attention successively to all other major muscle groups, relaxing each in turn in the same way. As far as I know there is no magic about what order you do this in. Some people like to start with the feet, then calves, then thighs, then lower body, then back, then chest, then shoulders, then upper arms, then lower arms, then hands, then neck, then face and then scalp. Others will reverse it. But I have often jumped about with just the same effect. When working with others I will ask how things are progressing and if any particular group of muscles feels tense. That group will then get more attention, coming back to it repeatedly in between relaxing other, easier groups.
Neither does there seem to be some magical pattern of words which are automatically better than any other for a given person. But if you have experienced hypnotherapy or progressive relaxation you will generally have found that far more complex patterns of words are used than I have presented above. We might find something like, "And as you relax, every nerve, every muscle, every organ is entering a state of bliss, of total peace." Or they might be like: "You are sinking deeper and deeper, deeper and deeper into a state of total relaxation, total peace. And as you relax you will feel SO secure, SO safe, SO contented, that you will feel able to relax deeper and deeper." What is the function of such sentences?
I would like you to observe that what is really happening here is that words are being used to arouse certain feelings: feelings of peace, safely, contentment and so on. This is a perfectly good procedure. We have seen in Chapter 1 that words can activate feelings. IF the feelings activated have the effect of reducing activity in the nerves leading to the muscles then this will naturally speed the relaxation up.
But for students particularly it is very useful to be aware of what you are trying to do with a particular person. By all means use emotional, poetic language, but do so knowing that you are using it for a specific purpose.
Another kind of approach that you will find mixed in with some relaxation procedures is something like this. "Picture yourself lying on golden sands." Pause. "The sun is shining warmly and you feel totally relaxed." Pause. "You are on holiday and all tension is going from your body." and so on.
It should be fairly clear that what is happening here is an attempt to activate certain pictures in the mind: pictures of being on holiday, in this case. IF it is the case that those pictures are associated with being relaxed then this can be worth doing. We are then using pictures to inactivate the muscles, in a way similar (but opposite) to what has been done in Chapter 1.
However students, in particular, should note exactly what they are trying to do. In particular you should be asking yourself, "Do I KNOW that these pictures lead to relaxation?" This can actually be very important! There are some people who HATE lying on the beach in the sun. All the suggested picture will then do is to activate a great desire to move away and muscular tension will result because one part of the mind will be saying in effect "get up and out of here" and starts to contract the muscles that will get you up, while another is saying, "no, you are supposed to stay here" and will be starting to tense opposing muscles to keep you in place. Such opposing muscular tensions is a classic symptom of stress.
I will suppose that you have first tried the direct path from words to muscular system as described above. Ideally you should try the two other approaches on other days. If you run them one after another then you will start the second on a person who is already uncommonly relaxed from the first, and so you will not be comparing like with like.
You can then try to use words purely to arouse certain pictures which are associated with relaxation. The broad pattern is the same whether you are trying things on yourself or on others. First of all we need to know a situation that you or they find relaxing. This might be anything. Common scenes include the beach, a cozy fireside, a woodland dell, a garden, a childhood bedroom, sitting with a pet, lolling in a bath and lying in bed, but it could be anything.
Then you arouse these pictures in your mind or the other's mind, perhaps by gently repeating certain key words. But since we are interested in how much effect the pictures alone are having on the relaxation try to avoid words such as "relaxed", "calm", "sleep" and so on that might have a direct effect. Continue for about the same length of time that you used for the direct relaxation by means of simple words and directed attention. And again feel free if you are working with another to ask for progress reports so that you know what is going on. Finally at the end ask for some measure of how relaxed the person feels. Then see if any clear pattern emerges FOR A GIVEN INDIVIDUAL. You may discover that one of the two approaches tends to give the better result for one person and the other for another. For, as always, people vary, and we have no way of knowing without trying.
"You have told me that you find the idea of a fireside relaxing. So just close your eyes and start to picture it. See the flames. Is the fire wood or coal?"
"Wood" (This is only one possible answer, of course. If another is given then the details of what follows will also change.)
'See the wood crackling. See the glowing of the wood. And perhaps you can now also see the fireplace." (Pause.) "And any ornaments on it." (Pause.) "Tell me about what you see."
"It is an old-fashioned fireplace. There is a clock. And candlesticks. And some brass things. The mantle is wood."
"That sounds very nice. I wonder if there are candles in the candlesticks, and what is the lighting like in the room? Look around and see."
"There are some candles above the fire. Nothing else."
"And how are you sitting?"
"I am curled up in a chair in front of the fire."
"Look at the chair. Is it old or new?"
"It is old and very soft. There is a cat on it with me."
"That is fine. so just go on for as long as you like, just sitting curled up with the cat. Watching the the flames." (Pause.) "The fire." (Pause) "The clock" (Pause.) "The candles' flames." (Pause) "For as long as you like."
The client may continue to enjoy the scene for a long time -1 have known one to remain for up to an hour!
The purpose of the above is very clear. It is designed to arouse in the mind a very clear picture of being in a certain place. In the context of this chapter the place is chosen because it is supposed to be associated with relaxation for the given person. But in this case we have avoided any words which directly suggest emotions, or sensations, or muscular tone in an attempt to explore the effect of images alone, as far as that is possible. Only at the end you can ask, "And how relaxed are your muscles now?" to see the extent to which the images reduced muscular activity.
In the context of hypnosis the word SCRIPT (cf Glossary) is used for something like the above. However it is worth emphasising that in what I have presented the scene is PRECISELY TAILORED to the tastes of the client by means of the question and answer format. This tends to make it far more effective than if the client is merely placed in a setting that the hypnotist finds relaxing, for obvious reasons. As a simple example the hypnotist might like cats and introduce one into the script but the subject have a phobia about them. One might like small cosy rooms and another find them claustrophobic and so on.
On another day you might try an approach in which you attempt purely to activate appropriate emotions and see how effective they are in altering muscle tone.
The approach, at it simplest, is to sit or lie with eyes closed, and with an intention NOT to dwell on any pictures that come to mind. Instead you will be repeating to yourself "I feel wonderful." Pause. "I feel calm." Pause. "I feel happy." and repeat ad lib. The idea being to see if you can work solely on arousing the feelings and then see how effective they are for you in switching off muscle tone. And of course students should attempt the same on a number of other people. As a model to start with you might try something on these lines.
"Now just close your eyes and tell me how you feel - and by this I mean things like stressed or contented, anxious or calm and so on. This time we will not be bothering about physical sensations. Just focus on any feeling that would stop you from being relaxed. So how would you describe your present feelings in that light?"
"OK. Now we are just going to emphasise the opposites to those. What would you say the opposite to 'nervous' is? Calm? Contented? Anything else?"
"Calm would be fine."
"Right. We will just keep your mind on the simple idea of being calm then." (Pause.) "Calmer and calmer." (Pause.) "Calmer and calmer" (Pause.) "Don't hurry or worry. Just keep the idea of calmness pure and simple grow." (Pause.) "Calmer and calmer." (And continue on these lines for a few minutes or more.) "Now how do you feel?"
"But you could be calmer still?" "Yes, a bit, I think."
"We can come back to that then. But first are there any other feelings?"
"I am still worried."
"What would be the opposite to that?"
"Right. Then we will emphasise a feeling of confidence for a while. There is no need to force it, or even to believe it. As you will have seen with some of the earlier exercises, there need be no effort involved. Just focus on the thought of confidence." (Pause.) "Just feeling more and more confident." (Pause.) "A pure feeling of confidence just washing away the feeling of worry." (Pause.) "Confidence." (And again this can be continued for a few minutes, slowly, with no hurry.)
This type of process, which will be different for each person, can obviously be continued until we find that in response to questions about feelings the answer is in all ways conducive to relaxation.
Again you will then be able to form an idea of the extent, with a give person, this simple procedure leads first of all to feelings which could go with relaxation and secondly how well they act to trigger off relaxation.
As a result of the three different approaches you will then have an idea of the relative value and consequences of the three basic approaches: direct on the muscular system, via the imaginative system or via the emotional system.
If you are doing this work on yourself then you will thereby have developed some potentially very useful self-knowledge.
If you are a student of hypnotherapy you will have already have learned something of great importance:
some of the reasons WHY certain things appear in inductions, and therefore a far greater ability to create inductions for yourself which will be far more tailor-made to a given client.
The other valuable habit that should arise out of this groundwork is that of ASKING THE CLIENT WHAT THEY ARE THINKING/FEELING. This is something that we will return to many times. For reasons which probably stem from the old authoritarian - "you will do what I say" - ideas of hypnosis, older books tend to assume that the hypnotist is doing all the talking and the client should NOT be encouraged to say anything. There are times when, for particular reasons, this might be true, but for a far greater part of the time the value of knowing what is happening is enormously more important. In the above exercises, in which we are making no pretence that anyone is "hypnotised" and so can comment freely on what is happening, the habit of listening should be encouraged.
Once your mind starts to move in the Morganic way, of looking at the systems that you are deliberately activating to get the required response, you should feel motivated to explore other avenues. Here are some suggestions.
We have used the verbal system, but what about the musical subsystem of the auditory system of the brain? For many people the activation of this system by a particular kind of music leads to a relaxing effect. Note that the music might well not be a gentle flute. There are people who find a heavy drum-beat relaxing.
And what about the olfactory system - smell? For some people the activation of this system by certain smells can lead to relaxation: a fact used in aromatherapy.
And what about the sensory system? The touch of a human hand can in some people lead to relaxation. Aromatherapy again seems to make use of this connection, as do some other physical therapies. But why not generalise this? Just holding a hand might produce this effect. Are there some particular alternative touches - such as pet fur, or the touch of a furry toy - which would, in a particular person, lead to a relaxation of the muscular system?
And what about that somewhat higher system of mirth? I have sometimes had the most wonderful relaxing effect on people by activating a very strong sense of amusement leading to laughter.
And what about the sensation of rocking? Or of being in water? And ... see if anything else comes to mind.
"BUT" you might be saying, "I cannot provide all those things!" Do you expect me to provide a hundred kinds of music; to train in aromatherapy and fill my room with its scents, to have a rocking chair, furry toys and so on all to hand?"
And the answer is, "You can always conjure them up! IF they are significant triggers of relaxation in a person then there is a very good chance indeed that you can activate the appropriate system by the techniques we learned in Chapter 1. If someone responds to the touch of a pet, for example, then there is every chance that you can evoke the response via words or pictures, and you should have seen that rocking can be evoked with no expense other than a few minutes of time."
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