Now why in the world would anyone write about this subject? I do so because, several years ago, I became a certified hypnotherapist through classes at the New Orleans Gestalt Institute. I did not wake up one morning and think, “I should learn hypnosis.” On the contrary, my wife and I were attending classes being taught by a psychologist/friend who, as a part of the class, wanted to illustrate how people move their eyes when they are lying. We started the exercise and I told several whoppers at which point the instructor responded, “I don’t understand, your eyes are not following the normal pattern.” I responded proudly, “That is because, as a magician, I am a professional liar,” putting myself in an elite group with many salesmen and most politicians. Later in a private conversation, she said, “You should study hypnosis.”
So I did. I went to the Gestalt Institute for several weeks where we learned how to apply hypnotic technique within the therapy framework of neuro-linguistic programming. If you are not familiar with NLP, it is way more than I can share here, but in essence it deals with how the brain learns and processes information. Hypnosis is simply a tool to get past the conscious mind to the subconscious. My initial goal was to become a hypnotherapist. In fact, I did work with a few people for a short time doing behavior modification, such as smoking cessation and eating disorders. But, having had several years of experience working in comedy clubs, I found it tedious.
What I did learn is that behavior modification can be a lot of fun at parties. My daughter was 12 at the time and I had done magic at several of her birthday parties. So that particular year she asked, “Can you do anything else?” “Why, yes I can!” I answered gleefully. I had not yet attempted hypnosis for fun or public humiliation, but this anxious group of pre-teens afforded a golden opportunity.
I would point to my recliner and tell them, “Everyone who sits in this chair goes into a deep trance.” “Really? Me first, me first!” They were halfway there already. I told this girl to relax, listen to the sound of my voice, stuff like that. Then I suggested that, when she awoke, she would be a lion. I woke her up and, just to make sure I did not seriously screw her up, I asked, “What’s your name?” Blank stare. I asked again…nothing. I was getting a little worried when I remembered, lions don’t talk. So I yelled, “GET OUT OF THE CHAIR!” She went, “ROAR” and crawled over the back of the chair, skulking down the hallway on all fours. Possibly even more fun than that was the look on the other eleven girls’ faces!
After awakening her, it was time for number two. For the next girl I suggested that she become a Chinese waitress. She would understand English but she would only speak Chinese and, when she did, she would say, “Yin yang, yin yang.” I woke her up and did the check of asking her name and again, no response. So I said, “Waitress!” She popped out of the chair and looked at me like, “What do you want?” “That lady wants to order,” I said, pointing to my wife, who was sitting there with her mouth wide open. Apparently she had never seen me do this before. Oh yeah, I had never done this before. But, being the cool professional liar that I am, I acted like I was in complete control. So she walked over to my wife as if she were holding a pad, and my wife looked at me like, “What do I do?” “Order something,” I said. She asked. “Do you have Moo Goo Gai Pan?” “Yin yang, yin yang,” the girl said and made a note on her “pad.” Then I said to her, “That lady wants to order, too,” pointing to a very shocked mom that had hung around for the spectacle. She ordered egg rolls or something and the game went on.
Now, was this real or were they just acting out to fool their friends? Let me answer with the most unbelievable event of the night. One girl had been trying to do a split earlier in the evening, and she could get down 85% of the way, but that was all. So I hypnotized her and suggested that, when she awoke, she could be anyone she wanted to be. I woke her up and asked her name, and she said, “Miss Barbara.” Since that was not her name, I said, “Great, what do you do?” “I am a ballet teacher,” she responded. This was getting good. “Can you give us a demonstration?” “Sure,” she said and started to dance all over the living room. But no one was as impressed as when she went into a split and literally bounced off the floor. No pain, no problem, it was a full split. Now, how was this possible?
I have thought about that over the years and this is what I believe happens. Under hypnosis, the body reacts to what the mind tells it is true. That is to say, she was always capable of doing a split but her mind told her she couldn’t because it might hurt. But under hypnosis, she was not herself, she was Miss Barbara, whom she knew was fully capable of doing a split. So when she made the attempt, the body relaxed sufficiently to allow the muscles and tendons to stretch enough to accommodate the move she knew she could do.
I have heard of people under hypnosis being blistered by a pencil eraser. This is how I believe it works. The subject is shown a pencil and told, “See this cigarette?” Notice they are not told, “This pencil is a cigarette,” because that creates a contradiction. But if they are told it is a cigarette and they believe it, then the body is prepared to react to the reality it perceives. So, if I point to the eraser and say, “See the fire glowing?” and they go, “Uh huh,” then I can touch them with the eraser and it will raise a blister. Why? Because the blister is not the result of fire, it is the result of the body’s defense mechanism against a threat regardless of whether that threat is real or perceived.
Please, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! All of this is simply to shed insight on a couple of issues. One, hypnosis is real, just ask the guy under the dental drill with no anesthesia. And two, now we know why my daughter is the way she is after having me around during her developmental years. Poor girl!