In this article we explore various ways in which muscular relaxation can be induced. The main systems used to do this include the verbal, visual, emotional, musical and humorous.
We end with a sample compound induction script.
In the previous article 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 article 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 the previous article.
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.
Explore these three avenues for yourself.
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.
Here is an example or two of such an approach.
“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 – I 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 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.”
That is the wonderful economy of hypnotic techniques. Students of healing in cash-poor economies note especially can note that they need no High Tech and expensive technology, and yet are wonderfully precise: we can pinpoint very particular parts of a person’s mind and body and affect them in a way that NO surgeon, NO drugs can begin to match. The techniques of hypnotherapy are powerful, precise, and capable of being developed far further than they have to date once their true nature is understood.
Here are some more sample scripts which focus on activating one particular subsystem of the brain with a view to using it as a means of relaxing everything else.
“I would like you to think about a piece of music that you have have found very peaceful and relaxing.”
“Perhaps The Magic Flute?” (If the answer is anything like “I can’t” or “I don’t have much time for music” then it is probably not worth bothering with this exercise. As I keep on emphasising, people’s minds are very different. Some are well-stocked with music and some are nearly empty. You work with what is there, and do NOT suppose that everyone is identical.)
“Fine. Now just spend a few minutes starting to call that music to mind. I do not want my voice to interfere with it, and so perhaps you could very gently move a finger in time with the music when you can hear it. Just tell me when you are starting to hear it.”
“It is starting now.”
“Fine. Just listen.” Pause. “Just listen.” Pause …. and repeat this phrase softly every ten seconds or so, but always keeping time with the music so as not to jar – you can tell the time from the finger movement, of course. After a few minutes you can interrupt and say,
“Very good. How clear was the music? And how do you feel? Has the music helped you to relax?”
“It was a bit faint to start with but got clearer. Yes, I DO feel more relaxed.”
On the other hand you might find in a particular person that one or other or both of the music and relaxation was weak.
Here is another script, working on the sense of humour.
“I would like you, with closed eyes, to start to remember amusing things. For example, do you have a favourite comedian? ”
“Yes. Charlie Chaplin.”
“You must have seen one of his old silent movies. I wonder if you can remember one or two scenes from his best films?”
In cases where this works you then simply wait until one or two scenes are recalled, usually with smiles or laughter. You need only give a little verbal encouragement. Then after a few minutes you can ask about relaxation.
“There is nothing like laughter to relieve tensions, is there? How relaxed do you feel now?”
You might try the two approaches above on a few people to gain some experience of how they work, and should find the usual Standard Finding. If you have the time and inclination you might then work out for yourself how you might try out other approaches outlined above: scents, sensations of rocking in a swing? or boat?, touch – of fur? water? hand? and so on.
At this stage you may be thinking that this is all far too complicated. Why is there not some one simple way of doing hypnosis? There are two ways of answering this. The first is to say that you CAN use one simple approach on everyone to relax them. Some hypnotists and hypnotherapists do just that. They have their fixed scripts and they fit people to their scripts. At times this works beautifully. But at other times it fails totally.
The second way of replying is that when you are faced with a particular person, you will not be using everything that you have learned, only a part, which simplifies things. Some quite simple questions will serve to give you a very good idea what approaches are likely to be most effective and you can then improvise a script based on what you have heard.
For example suppose someone loves boats and music, hates animals and has no sense of smell or humor then you can at once eliminate any references to scents or smells from your relaxation script but might go a long way with activating a sense of the rocking of a boat and some favourite music. Likewise if someone is mad about cats, but has no visual imagination or interest in much else then you would naturally start a script on the lines of thinking simply of sitting with a cat or two on the lap and feeling them purring and going to sleep. This will tend to produce the desired response in the subject.
So in short the approach that you are learning here gives you FLEXIBILITY, it enables you to PERSONALISE your approach and it helps you to UNDERSTAND what you are doing when you use a given script.
The scripts that we have used above can be called simple scripts because they focus tightly on using one specific system to produce a required change. By contrast most scripts that you will find in other books are compound or complex scripts, which is to say that they aim to produce a specific change by using a variety of different systems.
As a final exercise I would like you to read the following compound script which is designed to relax. Each paragraph is based primarily on one particular system, though to make it more like those you will find elsewhere I will in each case introduce three words or phrases that could activate other systems. You should not find it too hard to identify, for each paragraph, the dominant system being worked on, and also the three exceptions.
- (Primary mode: simple verbal suggestion of relaxation.) Now you are going to discover that you can relax. (Pause.) All you need to do is to listen to me and you will relax. (Pause.) Listen to my voice, it is relaxing. (Pause.) My voice will gradually make you more and more relaxed and peaceful. (Pause.) Your muscles will respond without you having to do anything. (Pause.) Just listen to my relaxing voice. (Pause.) You will feel quite happy. (Pause.) More and more relaxed and calm. (Pause.) It will be better than being on holiday in the most luxurious resort. (Pause.) Because you will be totally relaxed and at peace. (Pause.) All tension will go. (Pause.) Your muscles will relax and be at rest. (Pause.) And your skin will relax until it is as smooth as silk. (Pause.) Relaxed, restful and at peace.
- (Primary mode: activation of visual system with imagery of relaxing scene.) Next I would like you to imagine yourself lying in a boat which is drifting peacefully on a river. (Pause.) You are lying on soft cushions. (Pause.) The sky is blue with perhaps a few small white clouds. (Pause.) Someone else is taking care of the steering. (Pause.) On either side you can see green fields with a few bushes (Pause.) And perhaps a few cows or sheep. (Pause.) You are able to relax completely as you drift along. (Pause.) There are some rushes waving gently beside the water’s edge. (Pause.) And you will feel the boat is rocking gently with them. (Pause.) A little ahead there are a few ducks drifting along as well. (Pause.) And you might just see a few lazy trout deep in the river.
- (Primary mode; sensory systems.)You can trail your hand in the cool water. (Pause.) The water caresses your skin. (Pause.) It slides like silk giving a wonderful cool, clean feeling. (Pause.) You can see the little ripples your hand makes as it trails alongside. (Pause.) And the touch of the water is matched by a gentle caress of a breeze on your brow. (Pause.) The whole day is so relaxing. (Pause.). The very sunshine warms you deeply. (Pause.) You can feel the warmth sinking into your whole body. (Pause.) And the rocking of the boat lulls you into a deeper and deeper peace. (Pause.) You can hear the gentle lapping of the waves on the side of the boat. (Pause.) And feel their gentle touch on your hand (Pause.
- (Primary mode: activate emotions of peace and relaxation.) The boat ride is now drifting under the branches of overhanging trees. (Pause.) And they are giving you a deep sense of inner peace. (Pause.) The trees and river together make you feel safe and cared for. (Pause.) Feelings of love of nature are growing deep within you. (Pause.) There is a growing peace. A growing happiness. (Pause.) The trees are murmuring of peace. (Pause.) You can feel the water washing away all stains, all pains. (Pause.) You can feel an inner peace, and inner joy. (Pause.) With every minute feelings of greater and greater inner goodness, peace, love and joy are filling you. (Pause.) You are reaching the Deep Centre of All good feelings.
Because we have touched most of the bases – we have used four of the most likely systems to encourage the switching off of the muscular system – we are almost certain to have achieved our end. But as you become more experienced and professional you should acquire more flexibility and the ability to tune your approach more precisely to each client. (There could be the occasional person who has a fear of water, suffers from hay-fever in the country, has a strong dislike of the word “peace” or just feels very uncomfortable with closed eyes in public!)
A simple way to speed up relaxation.
In the above we have seen various direct ways of producing a relaxed, switched off state. If you are dealing with a very anxious person there is a good chance that they will not work, and even for an average person they can take some time.
It is therefore often an excellent idea, if you are doing hypnosis proper, to prepare the ground by means of a simple and obvious step first.
To see why it works you need only recall that the times when it is most easy to let your muscles relax is when they are demanding it: after exhausting exercise. So you can try out the following on yourself or a friend.
Start by sitting comfortably then raise your legs and arms to a horizontal position and hold them there for as long as you can.
After a while you should notice that the breathing will increase to cope with the demands the muscles are making, and the heart rate will also. The muscles start to feel tired, then more tired, and then perhaps to shake, and finally they are let go and the legs or arms are let fall. The exercise can be continued until both sets of limbs fall.
Then, with no further effort or suggestion or action they limbs will automatically become very relaxed simply from fatigue.
If you then use any of the above schemes to enhance relaxation you should find that they will work much more quickly and effectively.
FOR A FINAL EXERCISE it is worth sitting down and taking a theme of your own and writing down a compound script that you feel comfortable with. Then try it out on a few other people and ask for their comments and responses.
In this section we have laid a foundation for one of the most useful starting points in hypnosis: how to induce complete muscular relaxation. You will have explored the process of inactivating the muscular system via the verbal, visual, emotional, musical, humorous systems, and perhaps some others. Consequently you should be aware of the fact that using the systems approach you will be able to tailor your approach to each particular person.
In addition you have seen how a compound script can be put together, and have perhaps written one of your own.
Analysis of the compound script.
- Primarily this paragraph is verbal. We are using just simple words such as “relaxed”, “peace”, and “rest”. The departures from this are a) the use of the word “happy” which is more clearly designed to activate an emotion b) “holiday in the most luxurious resort” which is likely to conjure up an image or memory and c) “smooth as silk” which could arouse the tactile system.
- Primarily this paragraph aims at activating strong visual images of the boat journey. The main exceptions are the words a) “lying on soft cushions” which are more likely to arouse a sensation than a picture b) “relax completely” is a verbal rather than visual cue, c) “feel the boat rocking” evokes a sensory rather than a visual response.
- This primarily aims at activating the sense of touch, loosely including sensations of heat and motion. If you decided (correctly) that sensations of touch, temperature and orientation (rocking) are really different systems, then award yourself extra points! The main exceptional phrases are a) “See the ripples” which is likely to arouse the visual system, b) “day is so relaxing” is purely verbal c) “hear the gentle lapping” should arouse the auditory system.
- This paragraph is aimed at evoking a certain class of feelings. The sentences that stand out are a) the scene of the boat drifting under branches, which is visual, b) the word “murmuring” suggests an auditory stimulus and c) “feel the water washing…” may arouse the sensory system rather than the emotional one directly.