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Thursday, 13 January 2011


Catch some alpha waves.

The possibility of measuring brainwaves with an EEC machine in real time (Strange phrase) means that researchers and neuroscientists have, in recent years, been able to see our brains in different states. Pop on the strange electrode peppered skull cap, and perform certain tasks, or enter different states of consciousness and the machine can see the difference.

Did you know, you generate four distinct types of brainwave?

Beta for busy. When you are involved in vigourous rapier sharp debate, on stage, playing chess, or deeply engrossed in sodoku; that’s when you are generating beta brain waves. These waves are fast and made of little waves (small amplitude high frequency)

Alpha waves. When you relax your mind and let your body go limp, when you are moving slowly and smoothly in the moment, when you are staring at the flickering flames of a fire, or find yourself staring from the window, or in a kind of dream watching the sea. Or indeed when you are in a hypnotic trance or in meditation. That’s when you are generating Alpha waves. Stronger but slower (Bigger amplitude, lower frequency.) It’s interesting to note that you don’t have to be inert to generate alpha waves. It could happen when you are “in the flow” – cycling, walking, running, playing an instrument, etc.

Theta waves: You are asleep and dreaming, or possibly in a state of deep meditation or deep trance. Even slower frequency.

Delta waves; dreamless sleep. When you are asleep but not dreaming, when you are unconscious. Very slow frequency.

Don’t go any slower or you are dead.

Interesting, but so what?  What does this mean for someone turning up for a session of hypnotherapy?

First thing to get straight is that a proper Hypnotherapist is not going to get you to run nude around the room imitating a chicken. Second thing: they couldn’t make you if you didn’t want to, in fact they can’t hypnotise you unless you want to be. Also you won’t get “stuck” in hypnosis – if nothing happened you would return to beta land in a while, and if there was an emergency you would pop back in an instant.

Research into hypnosis, hypnotherapy and neuroscience seems to fall broadly into two categories. One area is about what happens in the brain when you are in “trance” like states, and includes the study of things like the brainwaves mentioned above.

The second area is concerned with the effect of suggestions made to someone in a trance. There are hypnotic suggestions (which act during the hypnotic state such as “now I wonder if you can imagine the view from your window”) and post-hypnotic suggestions (which act after the hypnotic state is over, such as “when you next put your hand into your pocket and feel the edge of the cigarette packet you might take your hand out and decide instead to drink some cool clear water”).

So you might arrive for your session and there might be a fair amount of talk first, perhaps about the previous session, or how things are progressing, or how you feel about your presenting issue. Next there would be the hypnotic part of the session. You would be in a nice comfy chair, and you might be asked to relax and breathe more slowly, or something like that. The Hypnotherapist would probably speak a bit slower than usual, and you might close your eyes and go on a meditative journey.

This is where your brain waves would most likely change from beta to alpha waves. You probably wouldn’t fall asleep (although you could), and you would probably be actually very focused on the words and the voice and the journey. At least that’s what I experience.

In the alpha wave state you are very relaxed and receptive to ideas and connections and so on. If you were asked to imagine the colour Yellow you would probably (but not necessarily) really “see” yellow. Not the same as imagining it now while you read this. It’s also possible in this state to get rid of unwanted noise and clutter and really focus on one specific thing.

For example you might have seen this thing on some brain trainers where you have to point to the blue lettered word:


In our normal beta state our conscious mind is momentarily confused as it runs between two sets of conflicting data, we can’t easily turn off our automatic word reading function that we have built up with years of practice. One part of your brain is reading the word yellow, and knows it conflicts with another part of the brain which identifies the colour yellow.

It’s called the Stroop effect. But under hypnosis it might be suggested that the English words were meaningless squiggles and then it would then be easy to spot the word written in yellow, because the automatic reading would be turned off.

So if, in hypnotherapy, it was suggested that all doctors are not bad, and that you can see them as people rather than functionaries, and that next time you go to the hospital you might notice the human underneath the white coat (post hypnotic suggestion) it is possible that in reality you may well see “them” in a different light. (By the way that was my presenting issue at one point -I'm not saying that doctors are bad.)

Equally if your were relaxed into a very calm and peaceful state of consciousness, so that you were chilled as an ice cream, and then you were asked to pinch your forefinger and thumb together, you might find that afterwards, back in beta land, that if you pinched your forefinger and thumb together you might feel all calm again. (This is an anchor)

Not so weird when you think that if you heard one of your most favoured teenage tracks from way back when (that’s a long time ago for me) you might be transported back to . . . that time and place. Ahh . . .

So then, after a while, the Hypnotherapist would encourage you back into beta-land. You might be a bit “blinky” for a couple of minutes, and you might need to adjust for a short time. There would probably be some more talk at this point.  You might find that you had a distorted idea of how long it all took, and it’s true that some of the details might have faded.

So if you had, for example, Ulcerative Colitis, which was being whipped up by certain stresses in your life, you can see how this might be a good way to combat the stresses. In experiencing less stress you would have less of the stress hormones in your bloodstream.

Alarm response, resistance, exhaustion. This is the stress cycle. Something worrying happens you have an alarm reaction and flood yourself with adrenaline etc. If the stressor goes away you are able to return to normality, but if it keeps going you will have to resist. So you will constantly be releasing stuff into your bloodstream and feeling bad. If you have Ulcerative Colitis, and you are stressed by this, you may have to cope with it for several years with horrible peaks of stress during flare ups. Eventually you will be exhausted. And that is not good for you.

Even just generating alpha brainwaves, or being in a situation that brings them on could, I suggest, be a very useful thing to experience.

You can also catch some alphas in many other ways:

Meditation, yoga, listening to music to name but three.

So. . .

Just thought you might be interested . . .

I’m exhausted myself now – time for a nice cup of tea.

Oh by the way - I can't see a way to the follow this blog but I reccomend
Most fun and interesting.



  1. love this blog :D - thought provoking - I do believe that this could help many of us. I know I've been continually stressed here and that has kept me out of remission .... I fully intend to try hynothearpy when I get home :D

  2. yes, am interested - clear and helpful summary, substantial links to and overlaps with mindful meditation, but the latter can't supply an anchor or any post-hypnotic suggestion. Though actually in a way perhaps it can provide a less focused version of those things, and maybe that's what I mean when I say that mindful meditation seeps into other areas of your life. But how useful it would be if I could just say "Oh calm down Gloria," and pinch the back of my hand!
    Thanks Arkers, good stuff.

  3. I know we are moving away a little from UC here, but I have a correspondent who has just emailed this link in response to this post.

    Functional M.R.I. whilst improvising jazz or rapping.


I'm always interested to hear any thoughts or stories of your own. Please do comment.