Self-Hypnosis, also known as Autogenic Training, has been around for a long time. I first came across it back in the Eighties, in a book called Superlearning. This was at right at the beginning of my interest in meditation and practising the autogenic sequences from the book were the closest I came to achieving the deeper states of inner calm that are reportedly the most effective for healing chronic conditions.
Thus, when a bout of chronic fatigue left me with fibromyalgic pain that did not easily respond to the mindful movements that had helped me free myself of sciatica in the past, my investigations brought me full circle, and this time I made a connection I had somehow failed to make before. I remembered that Moshe Feldenkrais was also interested in self-hypnosis at a similar age, except–being the over-achiever he was–he translated a significant book on the subject into Hebrew, and boldly added his own thoughts in a 26 page commentary. The book was The Practice Of Autosuggestion by the Method of Émile Coué (1929), and Moshe’s original contribution has recently been published as Thinking and Doing, A monograph by Moshe Feldenkrais. He retained his enthusiasm for these concepts throughout his life, attempting to republish his translation in 1977, and using the techniques he still valued to speed his recovery after his stroke.
Coué is probably best known for the phrase…
“Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better”.
He was working as a hypnotherapist in the late 1800s in France: his breakthrough was the realisation that:
“…it was possible to substitute suggestion, which worked just as well without putting the patient to sleep, as done in hypnosis. However, he developed his “Coué Method” only after realizing that suggestion is effective only if it is self-suggestion and that it is not the doctor who heals the patient by hypnosis, but rather the patient who heals himself by autosuggestion”, and thus: “Suggestion and hypnosis are not processes of transferring a thought or a will from one person to another. Autosuggestion awakens within us an internal process whereby we influence ourselves”.
Thinking and Doing, Foreword, Bergman, 1930
Autosuggestion is a huge subject, with an enormous amount of both research and clinical experience to back it up, yet with a reputation unfairly tarnished by a medical research community so focussed on medication that it treats the Placebo Response as an inconvenience to be bypassed, rather than a process with enormous potential to save the world’s health services from collapsing under the strain of caring for an ever-increasing ageing population. In case you have been influenced to believe that the placebo response only works on conditions that are “all in the mind” let me share a short film about placebo knee surgery:
The form of autosuggestion I am sharing here is designed to entrain deep relaxation. It has a long history; famously it was used by NASA who have been training both their astronauts and the military in autogenic feedback training for the past 20 years, because of its proven psychological and physiological benefits, and specifically the benefits for ameliorating space sickness.
My Qi-Essensuality Consciousness classes combine Feldenkrais strategies for learning how to learn with many adaptable neurofeedback training processes; this is one of the simplest to share in a written format, so here is a little taster, to tempt you to come back for more…
Autogenic Sequence Part 1: Generating Heaviness
Begin with your dominant arm, and repeat to yourself, with your inner voice:
‘My [right/left] arm is becoming limp and heavy”. Repeat this 6 – 8 times, focussing all of your attention on achieving this limp and heavy sensation in your whole arm.
The idea is to be able to train yourself to sense your arm feeling limp and heavy at will, using your conscious awareness. This cannot be achieved through effort, only by developing and focussing your internal awareness and attention until you can sense the shift in awareness happening.
Of course as we are also Feldenfolk we know the arm does not begin at the shoulder joint, so include any other muscle chains and areas of your skeleton that you are able to sense as part of your arm, including your collar bone and shoulder blade, and muscles in your chest, back and neck–you could picture your arm as more like a featherless wing.
The rest of this first sequence goes like this:
“My arm is getting heavier and heavier” 6 – 8 times
“My arm is completely heavy” 6 – 8 times
“I feel supremely calm” – once, to complete the sequence
N.B. The original version of this autogenic process stayed on this verbal sequence only, for three days! I doubt that this is necessary. Our new understanding of how our neuroplastic brains work suggests alert, attentive, consistent practice is what is most effective when we are learning new skills, rather than a fixed length of practice time.
I suggest that you try this on waking, and just before sleeping – it is probably obvious that it might also help you get back to sleep if you awake during the night.
Helen Gibbons, an Australian expert on autogenic feedback training, has been teaching the process for years to organisations such as the New South Wales Police Force, and she is confident it can be learned in a day workshop. The other thing to note here is that you will usually start to feel improvement long before you have completed the whole sequence:
“there have been over 3000 clinical studies showing Autogenic Training’s potency in healing disease, treating psychological disorders, managing stress, promoting general well-being and enhancing performance, resilience, decision making, problem solving and creative thinking.”
Since I began teaching this I have discovered that a number of people dislike the phrase “supremely calm”, so please do adapt the language to your own preferences. I also found that, when practising energy work, switching from “limp and heavy” to “light and buoyant” was more helpful! I am confident that–as with all hypnotic processes–you can customise your language as you go along in order to refine your intention, and to get closer to your desired outcomes.
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