Are You Mesmerized Yet? An Introduction to Hypnosis

“Hypnosis is the oldest Western form of psychotherapy, but it’s been tarred with the brush of dangling watches and purple capes. In fact, it’s a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.” — Dr. David Spiegel, Stanford University

In this blog, I’ve invited a certified hypnotist and colleague (Emma Ehrenzeller, CH) to introduce us to the science and possibilities of hypnotism. 

When you think about hypnosis, cliches like a swinging pendulum or the words, “you are getting very sleepy,” may come to mind.

Despite its mysterious reputation, however, leading researchers at Stanford have begun unraveling the science behind hypnosis, and have shown its clinical efficacy in decreasing stress, managing chronic pain, alleviating anxiety, and more.

What is Hypnosis?

Before we dive into the latest hypnosis research, let’s cover the basics: What is hypnosis?

The National Guild of Hypnotists, the oldest and largest hypnosis association in the United States, defines hypnosis as “an altered state of consciousness where the subconscious mind is in a state of hyper-suggestibility” (Harte, 2015).

There’s a lot of jargon in that definition, so let’s break down what it really means.

First, hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness. In the hypnotic state, you are still conscious; you’re just more relaxed and focused on the hypnotic experience. You are completely aware of what’s going on and in control, contrary to a lot of cockamamie you have seen in the movies!

Second, hypnosis is all about working with your subconscious mind.

Your conscious mind is your thinking brain: the mental chatter; problem solving; the focus on your daily tasks; your ambitions, and how you decide to work towards them. The conscious mind correlates to your frontal lobe and prefrontal cortex, among other parts of the brain (The Human Brain, 2022).

Your subconscious mind is where we store our hardwired patterns, beliefs, and habits. “Subconscious” literally means “below consciousness,” so anything you do naturally, without thinking, is a result of the subconscious. The term “subconscious” is more elusive in neuroscience circles, but it can be thought of as hardwired neural pathways which developed from a young age, or with constant reinforcement (such as the process of building a new habit until it is second nature).

And lastly, the subconscious mind is in a state of “hyper-suggestibility” in hypnosis; this simply means that in the relaxed, peaceful state of hypnosis, the deeper layers of mind are open to new ideas or “suggestions.” Depending on one’s goals, those suggestions may be about managing stress, building confidence, cutting out old habits, and more.

Put simply, hypnosis is a deep, guided meditation with an outcome attached. Many people will leave their first experience in hypnosis comparing it to a very deep meditation, with surprise that they were aware of themselves and conscious the entire time.

Here is an interesting analogy: “A guided meditation is like sending your subconscious an email newsletter while hypnosis is like sending your subconscious a handwritten letter.” 
― Juliet C Obodo, Writer’s Retreat New York City: A Travel Guide For Writers, Bloggers & Students

Isn’t It Mind Control?

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Is hypnosis mind control?

It’s a very understandable question to ask. TV, movies, and other popular media generally show hypnosis as some woo-woo act on stage, or an oddball hypnotist using the tool for his or her own gain.

All of these notions are false, however. Per the official definition of hypnosis, a hypnotized person is stillconscious; in other words, they are still completely in control.

While in hypnosis, your conscious mind is still active. I often have people who say they weren’t sure if they were hypnotized because they still had thoughts pop up. This is normal, and actually comforting for many people: it confirms they are still in control. They are simply being guided by the hypnotist, and they choose what they want to follow.

What’s the brain up to?

A 2019 study from Stanford University outlined the three main brain areas that are specifically activated when someone goes into the hypnotic state. Now let’s get technical:

First, the part of your brain keeping tabs on everything happening in your environment – your dog barking, a car honking, an itch on your toe – is calmed, allowing you to focus more easily on the hypnosis.

Second, the connection between two areas of the brain resulted in a stronger brain-body connection, allowing the brain to more effectively process what is happening in the body.

Lastly, they observed that people in hypnosis enter a sort of “flow state.” As Dr. Spiegel, the senior author on the paper, describes, “When you’re really engaged in something, you don’t think about it – you just do it.”

These findings led researchers to believe that in hypnosis, there is less self-consciousness or doubt about carrying out a certain action or suggestion. It is easy for the person in hypnosis to follow along without devoting as much mental energy to worry about what they’re doing.

What can hypnosis be used for?

In short, just about anything. Clinical studies have found the efficacy of hypnosis for pain management, decreasing anxiety, and reducing stress, but hypnotists have used the tool to cut smoking habits, increase self-esteem, cultivate emotional balance, and much more.

The next post will dive deeper into the science of brainwaves, how those correlate with meditative and hypnotic states, and how you can use brainwaves to reprogram your brain on your own time.

How can I get started?

There are many hypnosis associations nationally and internationally.

To find a reliable hypnotist, ensure they have a form of certification. The National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) and Hypnotic World both have reputable training programs.

Titles can range between associations, but Certified Hypnotist or Certified Consulting Hypnotist are standard for those who have undergone foundational hypnosis training, and various board certifications are also possible for more experienced hypnotists as well. 

To find hypnotists through the NGH, click here: https://www.ngh.net/request-form/

To find hypnotists through Hypnotic World, click here: https://www.hypnoticworld.com/hypnotherapists/

Sources:

Elkins, G., Jensen, M. P., & Patterson, D. R. (2007). Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 55(3), 275–287. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207140701338621

Fisch, S., Brinkhaus, B., & Teut, M. (2017). Hypnosis in patients with perceived stress – a systematic review. BMC Complementary And Alternative Medicine, 17(1). doi: 10.1186/s12906-017-1806-0 

Harte, R. (2015). Lesson One—What Is Hypnosis? In Student Manual (pp. 1–2). essay, National Guild of Hypnotists.

Heidi Jiang, Matthew P. White, Michael D. Greicius, Lynn C. Waelde, David Spiegel, Brain Activity and Functional Connectivity Associated with Hypnosis, Cerebral Cortex, Volume 27, Issue 8, August 2017, Pages 4083–4093 <tel:4083-4093>

The Human Brain: Anatomy and Function. (2022). Retrieved 13 April 2022, from https://www.visiblebody.com/learn/nervous/brain#:~:text=The%20cerebrum%20is%20the%20largest,ourselves%20and%20the%20outside%20world.

What’s Growing in Your Backyard? An Introduction to the World of Herbalism

If you do not use chemical fertilizers or weed killers around your house (like me), then you may have some healthy herbs growing in your backyard. However, they can be tricky to identify, so as tempting as it might be, it’s best to leave the foraging to the professionals. With that in mind, we can still look to the vibrant, colorful plant kingdom for inspiration. Even if we aren’t going out and picking plants ourselves, exploring natural remedies can be rewarding.

In this blog, I’ve invited an herb nerd and colleague (Teaghan Aston) to take us on a journey to introduce us to the world of herbalism.  

Generally speaking, herbalism describes the intricate world of the use of plants to promote wellbeing. Most cultures have their own unique systems and beliefs surrounding how plants can be used to promote wellness, some of which have roots going back thousands of years. For example, Ayurveda is more than 5,000 years old, with Traditional Chinese Medicine following close behind, rooted in practices that began approximately 3,000 years ago.

While these two systems, in particular, typically incorporate many different modalities, herbs often play a huge role in how they work to improve balance in people’s lives.

The US is home to a plethora of valuable plants and herbal traditions of its own, which vary based on region. Many of these plants are still valued today by the herbalists and practitioners of holistic medicine.

Herbalism in Today’s World

Thanks to today’s training programs, modern herbalists have access to all sorts of information. As a result, many combine herbs from various traditions and parts of the world when working with clients. However, some specialize in traditional systems and stick to using herbs and modalities from those systems exclusively.

With that said, not everybody interested in using natural modalities can afford to work with an herbalist. With the ongoing increase in popularity of using natural approaches to foster wellbeing, all sorts of herbal products and formulations can be found online and in large chain stores.

Caution: The availability of herbal products makes it easy for people to explore these options, but access comes with a BUYER BEWARE warning.

  • Not all herbal products are created equally, and not all herbal products are for everyone.
  • There are herbs out there that have contraindications, which is why everyone, even those who have access to an herbalist, should still check with their doctor before adding an herbal product to their routine. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should never start working with a new herbal product or supplement without first consulting your healthcare provider.

  • Many herbal products are contaminated with heavy metals with sources of origin unknown or suspect. And you cannot tell from their online reviews.

On a more positive note, there are some things that you can do to reduce your risk while exploring herbal remedies.

Gather Your Information From Trustworthy Sources

While heading over to sites like Pinterest to look at other people’s recipes may seem quick and easy, it’s best to avoid finding information on sites like that when it comes to wellness, as anybody can put up anything, making it hard to discern what can and cannot be trusted.

Stick to Simple, Well Researched Herbs 

As mentioned above, there are all sorts of different herbal concoctions out there. However, complicated doesn’t always mean better, and when you’re working without the guidance of an herbalist, it’s generally best to keep things simple, and some herbs are more beginner-friendly than others. However, “beginner-friendly” is a very subjective term, and it’s important to use your discernment when assessing your comfort level surrounding the use of herbs for wellness.

Where to Begin?

Teaghan mentioned some herbs that she thought would be great to discuss in this post (purely for educational purposes). The herbs mentioned below are primarily a mixture of adaptogens, nervines, or nourishing herbs, although some (cinnamon) do not fall into the pre-mentioned categories.

Here is a great educational blog post from Mountain Rose Herbs, which breaks down the basics of understanding nervines and adaptogens that may be helpful if these terms are new to you.

Here are Teaghan’s top picks:

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn is a wonderful plant that may have cardiac trophorestorative (rectifies deficiency in organ/organ system) properties. It is a favorite among herbalists and people who are looking to provide their hearts with extra support. While popular as a general heart tonic, Research suggests that Hawthorn extract as an adjunct treatment (although most certainly not a “cure,”) may even be of benefit for symptom control in individuals experiencing chronic heart failure. Some people believe that Hawthorn can also be useful for soothing the “emotional” heart as well – although this is anecdotal. This makes sense, as in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Hawthorn is one of the many herbs used when creating herbal formulas for calming “disturbed shen” (spirit).

With that in mind, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing cardiac symptoms. If you are already receiving treatment for a cardiac condition, it is essential that you get approval from your healthcare provider before determining if Hawthorn is appropriate for you, as there is some important information to be aware of, including but not limited to how Hawthorn can increase the risk of bleeding after cardiac surgery.

Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms is experiencing a surge in popularity, which is no surprise, as there is much excitement in the herbal world surrounding their potential benefits. Reishi is thought by many to be a powerful ally for immune support, the nervous system, as well as a host of other things. While Reishi has a long, rich history of traditional use, the human research that we currently have available is limited although the studies that we do have are promising. For example, in this study, it was shown that a mycelium-based extract of Ganoderma lucidum may have been responsible for suppressing colorectal adenomas (precancerous lesions in the bowel).

In another human study, it was found that Ganoderma lucidum spore powder improved cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer patients during endocrine treatment. In this same study, the participants also reported overall improvements to quality of life, such as less anxiety and depression.

If you have mushroom allergies, Reishi products are not a safe choice for you. Additionally, Reishi may interact with anticoagulants/antiplatelets, immunosuppressants, and potentially other medications, such as those used for blood pressure and diabetes.

This is not a complete list of potential contraindications, so be sure to speak with your doctor before trying out Reishi mushrooms if it has piqued your interest.

Milky Oats (Avena sativa)

Teaghan says a tincture made out of fresh milky oat tops is one of her go-to choices when she’s feeling frazzled from the effects of stress and when she knows that her nervous system is in need of extra support. However, since oats are considered to be a “food” herb and are thought to primarily work through trophorestorative actions, they seem to work best when used consistently over time (from Teaghan’s personal experience), much like Hawthorn. Generally speaking, slower-acting herbs like these also tend to be more gentle than quick-acting herbs (although this is not always the case), which is why these “nourishing” herbs are typically the first ones that those new to herbs choose to experiment with.

However, research indicates that there could be some acute benefit, as we’ll touch on below.

While Teaghan’s knowledge of milky oat tops is mostly anecdotal, as human research is very limited, she did point out this study, which takes a look at both the potential acute effects as well as the potential chronic effects of Avena sativa (Green oat) extract.

Here is a brief excerpt from the study: “The results showed that both a single dose of 1,290 mg and, to a greater extent, supplementation for four weeks with both 430 mg and 1,290 mg green oat extract resulted in significantly improved performance on a computerized version of the Corsi Blocks working memory task and a multitasking task (verbal serial subtractions and computerized tracking) in comparison to placebo. After four weeks, the highest dose also decreased the physiological response to the stressor in terms of electrodermal activity. There were no treatment-related effects on mood. These results confirm the acute cognitive effects of Avena sativa extracts and are the first to demonstrate that chronic supplementation can benefit cognitive function and modulate the physiological response to a stressor.

It’s important to note that Milky Oat products are contraindicated for those who have celiac diseaseas well as those who have gluten sensitivities. There could also be other contraindications that we are unaware of, so be sure to double check with your provider.

Ceylon Cinnamon

If you’ve heard about the numerous reported benefits of Cinnamon, you’ve probably run into some confusion. When most people hear Cinnamon, they assume that there is only one kind, but there are multiple, and they are not all created equal. The variety that we are discussing here is Ceylon Cinnamon, also known as “true” Cinnamon, and its potential extends far beyond the spice cabinet.

According to this randomized, controlled trial, it was discovered that participants with type 2 diabetes who had been given Cinnamon experienced reductions in serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol, although it is unclear to readers which type of Cinnamon was used during the trial.

With that being said, Ceylon Cinnamon is generally thought to carry fewer risks than other varieties of Cinnamon, like Cassia cinnamon. This is because “True” Ceylon Cinnamon is believed to have lower amounts of coumarin (which can be toxic to the liver) than other varieties.

If you’re curious to learn more about Ceylon Cinnamon, Teaghan noted that this article published by Healthline appeared to do a great job of explaining it. However, while additional online resources are helpful, you still need to check with your doctor before pursuing cinnamon supplements. This is especially true if you are already taking diabetes medications or insulin, as mixing these with cinnamon products could lead to Hypoglycemia.

As you’ve probably determined, there’s a lot to consider even when working with seemingly basic herbs like the ones we’ve touched on here. If the research we’ve linked to is any indication, the plant kingdom holds a lot of potential power. While precautions need to be taken, such as those we’ve touched on throughout this post, we hope you’re left feeling inspired by some of the possibilities!

Genius Kitchen – Can I eat this?

I recently listened to an interesting podcast featuring Max Lugavere, a health and science journalist and author of a new cookbook called Genius Kitchen. His earlier New York Times bestseller, Genius Foods, has been published in 10 languages. Some of the research he has done for the Genius Kitchen is highlighted here in this blog. 

Dessert:

  • It’s fine to eat dessert and indulge every once in a while – that means infrequently, not every other day 😉
  • The best time to eat dessert is after some activity so your body can clear the glucose from the blood with exercise. So, eat dessert later in the day after a workout. Also, going for a walk after dinner reduces postprandial blood sugar.
  • Max recommends drinking apple cider vinegar (ACV) and taking cinnamon to reduce blood sugar spikes after eating starches. So if you’re going to treat yourself to that pasta dish, it may be a good idea to have a glass of ACV-infused water and some Ceylon cinnamon tablets. Here’s one to try:

Sugar:

  • Max likes non-glucose spiking sugars like monk fruit, stevia and erythritol. But sugar alcohols like erythritol may give you an upset tummy, gas and diarrhea although it is often better tolerated than xylitol and sorbitol. Did you know that prunes are a natural source of sorbitol? That’s why they’re widely used to keep the bowels moving.
  • Erythritol’s action is a bit different as it is fully absorbed in the small intestine and you’ll pee it out. Hence, it may be okay but given that everyone has different levels of tolerance, make yourself the guinea pig and test it out.  
  • There is a new sweetener called allulose which may be worth trying as it shouldn’t give you an upset stomach. I found this at my co-op and it’s used one to one with regular sugar. Here’s a brand you can try:

Dairy:

  • Dairy is a good source of protein like whey and casein. Whey is a highly bioavailable source of protein and the amino acid leucine which are required for muscle synthesis and maintenance. His bottom line is: if dairy doesn’t agree with you, do NOT consume it. Popping lactaid while indulging in foods your body cannot digest is not the solution.
  • Whey protein isolate is 99% free of lactose so you may be able to tolerate it. One of his favorite recipes is faux ice cream where he mixes whey protein, water and frozen berries. I may have to try this recipe – I’m lactose intolerant but the isolate may be something I can have every now and then.
  • If you can have dairy, Max recommends Greek yogurt (full fat) due to the high biological protein value (~19 g protein in a serving).
  • Full-fat dairy has a significant amount of vitamin K2. K2 is an underappreciated vitamin – it helps maintain calcium homeostasis so it stays in your bones and teeth and not in the arteries and kidneys. Vitamin K2 is present in higher amounts in grass fed cows and organ meats.
  • Here’s why Max recommends full-fat dairy:
    • Full-fat dairy has a compound called milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) and this MFGM encapsulates triglycerides in the dairy. 
    • Consumption of full fat dairy is associated with BETTER metabolic health and NOT associated with higher levels of cardiovascular disease. 
    • Heavy cream and butter are the same product but when you churn cream to make butter, you disrupt the MFGM. I found this fascinating: there is no impact on LDL cholesterol with heavy cream consumption but with butter, there is an increase in LDL. The protective effect is MFGM which encapsulates the fats. MFGM is also rich in phosphatidyl choline which is part of the brain cell membrane. So, the takeaway is: if you can handle dairy, enjoy products like full-fat cream that have intact MFGM, but go easy on the butter.  

Coffee:

  • It is the most commonly consumed psychoactive drug but it can be addictive so don’t over consume. 
  • Caffeine is a PCSK9 inhibitor which increases the efficiency of liver to recycle LDL particles.
  • Max recommends starting your day with a glass of lemon, electrolyte or ACV-infused water and then after about 45 minutes, drink coffee. Coffee can raise cortisol levels in the morning (when our levels are already high) which can contribute to the mid-body weight gain.
  • To make coffee healthier, he suggests using a paper filter for drip or a pour-over. Why? Because coffee has a compound called cafestol which is known as a powerful elevator of LDL cholesterol. So, while caffeine inhibits LDL, the cafestol elevates it. If you’re using a French press, filter the coffee before imbibing (I’ve been doing this anyway because I don’t like the small grinds in the cup but now I have an even better reason to do it).

Fat:

  • No need to fear fat. Foods like grass fed beef and fatty fish both have saturated fat but there are different types of saturated fat (i.e. stearic, myristic, palmitic) and not all are created equal. For example, stearic acid can boost mitochondrial function. Grass fed beef has a higher portion of stearic acid with less overall saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Breast milk is filled with saturated fat and that’s what babies thrive on.
  • As for fatty fish, the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks (mercury and toxins in seafood).
  • I was surprised to learn that ghee (which is clarified butter) has a prevalence of oxidized cholesterol so it’s not good to over-consume.
  • Max is not a fan of concentrated coconut and MCT oils and suggests eating the whole foods instead.

Salt:

  • Salt is important and unfortunately, most of what we consume comes from processed and canned foods. If you take out processed and restaurant prepared foods, only 11% of the dietary sodium comes from the salt shaker or is added to recipes. So, where are you getting your salt from? 
  • Did you know that the #1 source of salt in the American diet is from bread and rolls?
  • We need salt for good health and if you’re eating a low carb diet, you will need more sodium.
  • Flaked salt (vs. fine or coarse) is a great way to finish off the food.
  • About ~25% of the population are sodium sensitive so if you have hypertension, you have to be careful. But remember that added sugar also plays a huge role in the hypertension epidemic. It’s been shown that one single sugar beverage raised systolic pressure for two hours. So, it’s not just about the salt!
  • We used to consume 4X more potassium than we do now and it’s important to balance out the sodium intake with adequate potassium. Grass fed beef and wild salmon are good sources of potassium.

Bottom line:  Every food has benefits and risks and you have to know what works for you – it’s important to get blood work done annually to check your status so you’re not eating ‘in the dark’.

Here’s the podcast:

https://shows.acast.com/broken-brain/episodes/top-food-hacks-to-supercharge-your-health-with-max-lugavere

And here’s Max’s new book:  

www.Geniuskitchenbook.com