...a state of deep relaxation, focused awareness and suggestibility.
According to influential hypnotist Dave Elman, hypnosis is defined as "a state of mind in which the critical faculty is bypassed and selective thinking is established."
So what does this mean to you and me? The way I like to explain it is to think of the mind as having several layers, one above the other. The layer above is the conscious mind. It's highly logical, and it gathers and analyzes information. The conscious mind is where our willpower resides. Unfortunately, changing habits by pure willpower alone is often very difficult (for more about willpower, see my Hypno-FAQ).
The layer below is the subconscious mind--a very interesting place indeed, at its most prominent when you are dreaming at night. The subconscious is much less logical, which is one reason dreams don't seem to make sense sometimes. The subconscious sorts and stores vast amounts of information, forming our long-term memory and performs
behind-the-scenes work like memory recall and problem-solving. The subconscious is also thought to contain what brain scientists refer to as the reality generator, which creates the reality we perceive and feel around us.
Beneath the subconscious is the unconscious, which regulates our immune system and automatic body functions like heartbeat, breathing and blinking.
Dividing the conscious and subconscious is a boundary called the critical factor, and this boundary serves as sort of a guardian or gatekeeper and prevents many thoughts and ideas (even ones that might be beneficial to you) from seeping into the subconscious mind, which is very suggestible. The critical factor and the conscious mind work in tandem to critically evaluate thoughts and experiences from your daily life and make short-term decisions.
Hypnotism distracts the conscious mind and bypasses the critical factor, allowing suggestions to go directly into the subconscious, which is very receptive.
Then, when the person hypnotized (the hypnotee, if you will) emerges from the hypnotic state (hereafter called trance), the suggestions manifest themselves in his or her conscious behavior. This is the "selective thinking" Elman referred to.
I really like the definition hypnotist Anthony Jacquin coined: "Hypnosis is the art of presenting ideas directly to the receptive subconscious mind."
In summary, this is a simplified explanation of a pretty complicated process, but hopefully you have a better idea of how it works. Want to learn more?
That's cool! Just click on the Hypno-FAQ button above!