Differences between meditation and hypnosis

In my practice I frequently use relaxation techniques, mindfulness skills or hypnosis. A majority of people are familiar with meditation or relaxation. Unfortunately, there are misconceptions about hypnosis and how it works. A frequently asked question is: what is the difference between meditation and hypnosis?

Both have been around for some time. Meditation dates back 1000s of years. Hypnosis dates back to the late 1800’s. Hypnosis as defined by Milton Erickson is: a state of consciousness –not unconsciousness or sleep– a state of consciousness or awareness in which there is a marked receptiveness to ideas and understandings and an increased willingness to respond either positively or negatively to those ideas. [Collected Papers, vol. IV, 224]. Meditation can be defined as a practice of focusing your attention on a single point such as your breath or a word. It allows you to get rid of racing thoughts and negative self judgements and focus on the present moment.

What they have in common is enabling someone to achieve a deep state of relaxation, deeper, more regular breathing and an increase in your ability to focus or gain insight. In both, you are able to move from a waking state into a trance-like state. In this more relaxed state you can feel especially present and clear minded.

Meditation is more about being mindful. It is a passive practice that helps create a simple awareness of our body and environment in the moment. In the stillness of the breath we can learn non-judgmental acceptance of our feelings: anger, stress, pain and whatever keeps us ruminating about our past or the future. It can create a space that will allow you to let go of the racing thoughts, thus discovering ways to manage problems.

Hypnosis is goal-oriented. It also uses relaxation and the quieting of the mind. During hypnosis the conscious brain is silenced. You are able to focus all of your attention on a single behavior or habit. This concentrated attention enables you to tap into your unconscious mind. The narrow focusing of our minds allows us to use them in a more powerful way and be more receptive to hypnotic suggestions. It is in this hypnotic state that you can reprogram automatic responses and unhealthy behaviors in different, more positive ways. Addressing specific problems with hypnosis facilitates your ability to obtain specific, predetermined goals.

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